McFadden fails to deliver big plays for Raiders
ALAMEDA – Darren McFadden entered the NFL a year ago with a reputation for being a big-play running back capable of breaking off a long touchdown on almost any play. The Oakland Raiders are still waiting for that to materialize at this level.
McFadden has been unable to get loose at all this season to show off his breakaway speed. The lack of big plays from McFadden is just one of the reasons the Raiders have struggled so much offensively.
McFadden has carried the ball only 80 times for 251 yards for a 3.1 yards per carry average this season, while missing four games with a knee injury.
“I’ve been sitting back waiting, waiting for them to call my number,” McFadden said. “Just trying to make the best of it whenever they do.”
Among backs with at least 50 carries, only San Francisco rookie Glen Coffee is averaging less than 3.1 yards per carry. What’s been particularly frustrating for McFadden and the Raiders has been the lack of explosiveness from a back who ran for 41 touchdowns in three years at Arkansas, including nine that went for at least 50 yards.
“This is the NFL. I think your ability to make people miss at that level is much different than this level,” coach Tom Cable said. “People are more pure tacklers, surer tacklers and it’s just a matter of getting into space and creating it. We’ve had a few weeks now where he’s been able to stay out and be healthy and not have to come out of games so I think the more that happens the more he’ll get back to where he wants to be.”
It was that home-run threat that led the Raiders to draft McFadden fourth overall in 2008 – 20 spots ahead of Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, who leads the NFL with 1,626 yards rushing this season and five touchdown runs of at least 50 yards.
The Raiders have often been criticized for drafting speed over production, most recently with their choice of receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree. But even when they passed up on Johnson and his 4.24 time in the 40 for the more productive McFadden, it hasn’t worked out.
McFadden’s longest run of the season has only gone for 15 yards. There are 132 players with longer runs this season. In fact, McFadden hasn’t had a run of at least 20 yards since the second game of his career. Since having four long runs that game against Kansas City, McFadden has been unable to get loose.
He was slowed by a pair of turf toe injuries and a bum shoulder as a rookie and injured his knee this year. But even when healthy, he hasn’t been able to come through.
“Think about his time both last year and this year,” Cable said. “It’s been in for three, maybe four games at most and then back out for a month. I think it’s just that consistency of being healthy and being able to feel it and stay in there.”
McFadden made perhaps his biggest contribution of the season in last week’s loss to Washington, catching two long passes after lining up at receiver. He went 48 yards on a slant pattern in the first quarter and then caught a 26-yarder from Bruce Gradkowski on a slant-and-go on the final play of the opening quarter.
After JaMarcus Russell replaced an injured Gradkowski to start the third quarter, McFadden didn’t get any more opportunities lining up wide.
“It was the biggest yardage game I’ve had in a while,” McFadden said. “It just felt great to get out there and at least rip off a big play, whether it was running the ball or receiving. It just felt good to get that in and get out there, move the ball around to me a little bit, felt good to move around out there.”
Cable said he’d like to spread McFadden out even more this week against Denver if the circumstances dictate it, allowing the Raiders to get another potential playmaker on the field.
“We have done a little bit of it,” said teammate Justin Fargas, who lines up at running back when McFadden goes out wide. “It is something that I feel would be to our advantage to utilize.”
NOTES: TE Zach Miller did not practice as he recovers from his second concussion of the season. Miller will undergo tests Friday to determine if he can play this week. … WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) did not practice. … DE Matt Shaughnessy was limited by a strained groin, but looked to be fine, Cable said.
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