Although the Raiders defense has been abhorrent to start the season, their offense has been firing on all cylinders.
Through two games, the Silver and Black have one of the top ranked offenses in the league. They average a league best 470 yards per game, and rank second in rushing with 161 yards a game.
The vastly improved run game is a far cry from the significant struggles the team had running the ball last year.
With only tailback Latavius Murray to rely on, the Raiders running game was stagnant at times. Murray carried the ball 266 times in 2015, for 1,066 yards and six touchdowns.
Quarterback Derek Carr was second on the team in rushing yards, with 138. The lack of backfield depth was a huge problem, and as a result wore down Murray over the course of the season.
This year’s revamped backfield and offensive line has a large part in turning around the Raiders rushing game. Carr said he loves the difference he’s seeing in the run game so far:
“I love handing that ball off and all the sudden you just see them going. I remember my rookie year for whatever reason, that wasn’t the case. It’s gotten a little better, and then this year it’s taken off here in the first two games. I hope it continues. Like I said, I hope we run for 40 touchdowns this year. I don’t care, as long as we’re winning and moving the ball I’m good with it.”
The Raiders actually have quality depth behind Murray, and it’s been paying dividends. Fifth round pick DeAndre Washington showcased his pass-catching abilities in the first and second games of the season, and undrafted free agent sensation Jalen Richard has been a battering ram.
Against the Saints in the Raiders season opener, Richard ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run. He showed a tremendous combination of vision and speed.
He squeezed through a small hole at the line of scrimmage, and galloped all the way to the end zone.
Murray said the running back-by-committee approach is keeping him fresher in the fourth quarter:
“Obviously we have a rotation going. Yes, I’m not in there as much so definitely less taxing on my body so I feel a little bit fresher.”
Murray said his lessened workload allows him to be more physical later in games, something he’s been able to do consistently this season by running through and over defenders.
“This year, I’m making sure I use my size to my advantage, breaking tackles and trying to run over guys. I guess when that ball is in my hands, whoever is on the other side becomes the victim of angry ‘Tay.’”
The Raiders’ running game sets a physical and nasty tone at the start of the game, led by left guard Kelechi Osemele. Osemele who came to Oakland on a five-year, $58.5 million contract.
On a line already filled with maulers, Osemele sets the tone with his aggressive run blocking style.
On Richard’s 75-yard touchdown run against the Saints, Osemele blocked a linebacker eight yards downfield, and planted him into the ground. The block was instrumental in springing Richard free.
The running backs notice the gaping holes opening up on a consistent basis, and Carr said he has an appreciation for it as well:
“(Osemele) is super physical. It’s not just him, it’s everybody. I turned the film on and watch the film, and there is pancake after pancake.”
The run game also translates into improving the passing game, where the Raiders rank sixth in the league with 309 yards a game.
Carr said he’s been taking what the defense gives him, and he isn’t trying to force anything into coverage:
“Depends on the coverage. I’m not ever going to change, no matter who comes up and says, ‘You have to throw it deep.’ I’m going to do what’s best for the team in those situations. Obviously you want to push the ball downfield, and the first few games we have. … As long as we are staying explosive I think that’s the main thing we want.”
The Raiders will get a chance to keep their offense rolling against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. With the blocking up front and the three-headed monster in the backfield, the Raiders running game won’t just be good this year.
It will be elite.