Don’t get the Oakland Raiders wrong. They love Derek Carr’s arm and they believe their third-year quarterback has a chance to be a legitimate franchise quarterback.
However, they just don’t want him to throw the ball too much in 2016. The Raiders threw 605 passes last season with Carr throwing 573 passes and Matt McGloin throwing 32 times.
In his second season as Oakland’s head coach, Jack Del Rio is determined to have a balanced offense. The Raiders ran the ball 370 times last season, meaning they ran just 38 percent of the time. Ideally, coaches want a balanced 50-50 offensive attack of passing and running. But coaches are realistic.
In today’s game, and because of the natural circumstances of a 60-minute game, it is not going to be a totally balanced attack. NFL teams are going to throw more than they pass, that’s just the way the game is. However, it is reasonable to think a team can get up to a 55-45 or a 54-46 percent split. It surely needs to be closer than 62-38 percent in the favor of throwing.
It is clear that’s what Del Rio is striving for from his offense this year. An increased emphasis on the ground game has been a priority during training camp and during the preseason.
“I want to have more rushes,” Del Rio said strongly early in training camp.
Of course, along with everything in football, accomplishing the goal of running the ball more relies on other aspects of the game. The Raiders didn’t run the ball as much as it wanted to last season for various reasons. Among them was that Oakland often fell behind and had to play catch-up. Attempting to come back by having Carr throw to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree is an easier approach than trying to come from behind on the ground and eating up the clock. So, the Raiders have to play better defense and not give up too many points early in games to allow the offense to stick to its balanced game plan.
The key player to getting more out of the ground game is Latavius Murray, although he will get some help from some young running backs. Murray made the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season in his first season as a full-time tailback. But the Raiders want more from Murray. Despite the Pro Bowl nod, Murray left plenty of room for improvement last season as he averaged. 4.0 yards on 1,066 rushing yards. The Raiders often had trouble establishing an effective ground game. Murray, 26, had 49 yards or fewer in seven games in 2015. He was even benched late in games a few times because of inconsistency.
Oakland is hoping Murray will learn from his first season as a starter. Plus, Oakland spent big on top guard Kelechi Osemele in free agency. Oakland’s offensive line should be a top-five unit. So, there is hope for more success on the ground and more rushing plays in general. Del Rio said it starts with Murray.
“I don’t want him to have less. If anything, maybe a little more, but I want him to be more productive,” Del Rio said. “We want other guys to be involved and be able to run it as well. We’re working on becoming a team that’s capable of running the ball well. We never really, truly established that last year. It had to be good numbers for us to be able to run it well. We want to be able to run it well, period, whether the numbers are good or not.”
The Raiders are also excited about the ground game because they feel like they will have some decent third-down options. Last year, Oakland, which could still scour the waiver wire this week for more help at running back, paid Roy Helu in free agency. But he was injured often and never productive. He is no longer on the team. This year, the Raiders made it a priority again, drafting DeAndre Washington out of Texas Tech in the fifth round. They also signed Jalen Richard out of Southern Mississippi as an undrafted free agent.
Both Washington and Richard looked promising at times in the preseason and both will get a chance to be a factor on third down and to spell Murray. Carr is particularly is excited about what he has seen from his new teammates and how they can assist Murray.
“I think that they’ve done a great job,” Carr said. “Obviously, Latavius has proven he’s our guy, he’s our starter, he’s the one that’s going to get all the carries. At the same time, he and I have talked and I’ve told him he can’t take every carry. That’s crazy. If I was in his shoes, I’d be the same way though. You want the ball every time. I told him that he’s got to take a deep breath sometimes, especially in this league. The hits that those running backs take, that’s got to be one of the hardest positions to play in all of sports, is running back in the NFL.
“It’s ridiculous. You’ve got to do all that and at the same time, you’ve got to pick up blitzes. You’ve got to be smart and pick up protection. That’s what he does. That’s where those young guys are learning. That’s the only thing that takes young guys a little bit longer, is in protection. They’ve come a long way from when they got here. I’m sure by Week 1, Week 2, they’ll be fine with protection and stuff like that. Especially with the way (running backs) coach Bernie (Parmalee) and (offensive line) coach (Mike) Tice work with them, they’ll be good.
“Running the ball, like I thought after postgame, I say the same thing after watching film: They weren’t anxious. They weren’t nervous. They went in there and put their face in there and broke a lot of tackles against guys that are a lot bigger than them, and that’s good to see.”