ALAMEDA — The Oakland Raiders have who appears to be their missing weapon back.
Latavius Murray, who scored twice on four carries while gaining 112 yards against the stingy Chiefs run defense has been cleared to play after a spearing hit to his helmet left him concussed. And while the statistical sample is small, the Raiders are excited to have him back.
After noting that the sample is too small to feel totally confident, head coach Tony Sparano said:
“I love the way Latavius runs the football. I like what I’ve seen. I’ve seen eight carries. And I want to see more of them. I’m curious too. I’m curious just like the fans are curious. In other words, I see it in practice, I’ve seen it get better and better to the point where we try and push the envelope to get him involved. If it was that much better earlier, we would have made the decision then.”
Neither veteran has been even mildly effective, and Murray was given a real shot in Week 11.
Murray gained 43 yards on four tries then in a loss to San Diego, while prognosticators ask the question “what if Murray was the starter, and played like this, from day one? How many wins would the Raiders have then?”
It’s a fair question, though nobody will ever know.
A rookie quarterback needs a run game to relieve the pass rush and open plays down the field, but it came far too late. The Raiders missed Murray last Sunday in a blowout loss at St. Louis, a game Murray said was hard to watch from home:
“It’s tough, you want to be out there and get out on the field. But I had to be smart. Now I’m back cleared, and ready to go.”
Murray said he was cleared Monday, though the decision was made official Tuesday.
After torching one of the league’s best run defenses two weeks ago —a Chiefs defense that hadn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season before Murray hit them in the end zone twice — a new test awaits.
The 49ers are tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns allowed, ranking eighth in rush yards allowed per game at 98.3. They’ve played against some solid runners, too, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte, among others.
The 49ers have had the most trouble defending against hefty, downhill runners — words that fit Murray well.
6-foot-2 and 223 pounds at the time of his 2013 Central Florida pro day, Murray still mustered a sub 4.40 second 40-yard-dash while hoisting 22 reps on the bench press.
His size and speed combination is unique, and a major factor in the decision for Oakland too draft him in the sixth round of 2013.
San Francisco’s key run stuffer this year — rookie linebacker Chris Borland — is a mere 5-foot-11, and Murray clearly has the size advantage. Borland isn’t fast, either, which gives legs to the notion the Raiders may have a distinct advantage between the tackles.
It’s a major boost to the Raiders game-planning, too, if Murray can help alleviate the blitzes that quarterback Derek Carr faces so often.
The Raiders have struggled finding opportunities to throw downfield and much of the onus falls on a struggling run game. The games Carr has had success throwing deep are also games in which Oakland has run the ball effectively.
It’s no coincidence.
Tackle Menelik Watson (foot and ankle), tight end Brian Leonhardt (concussion) and safety Jonathan Dowling (back) did not practice Wednesday. Cornerbacks Tarell Brown (foot) and Neiko Thorpe (hand), along with Murray(concussion), were limited. … Several Raiders players have mentioned the geographical rivalry and how much it means to the fans. To the team, though, Sparano said that any kind of win in big, no matter who it’t against. Sparano is aware, though, of how much this game means to fans. It’s bragging rights to fans, and the Raiders haven’t had a home win in Oakland since 1979, Tom Flores‘ first season as head coach and when O.J. Simpson played for the 49ers.