Stats to watch for Russell, Raiders

As the Raiders meet for another three-day OTA starting Tuesday, they’ll continue to restructure their offense and indirectly be seeking to upgrade some statistical yardmarkers which will give an idea of how JaMarcus Russell is progressing in his second full season as a starter.

Warren Sapp was fond of saying “stats are for losers,” and it’s true a statistic can be pulled and stretched in different directions. Here are a few numbers that, if improved, will mean Russell’s performance has improved as well because of better help from his offensive line, more explosive playmakers and improved accuracy:

Rushing yards, first-and-10: A strong indicator of how the offensive line is playing, given the New York Giants and their heralded line was first with 1,333 yards. The Raiders were 14th in the NFL at 865 yards.

The two rookie quarterbacks who led their team to the playoffs last season got a lot of help in this area. Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens operated in offenses which ranked second (1,253 for Atlanta) and fourth (1,202) in this category.

If Justin Fargas is to hold off Michael Bush, first-and-10 is where he has to excel.

Percentage of first downs per pass attempt: The Raiders were 28th at 26.7 percent. This means Russell needs more targets than Zach Miller when he needs to keep the chains moving. Based on the mandatory minicamp and first OTA, Chaz Schilens has the best chance to be that player.

Percentage of third down conversions on pass plays–The Raiders were 31st at 23.3 percent, ahead of only the Detroit Lions. The standard, not surprisingly, is the 47.7 percent figure by Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

As much as the Raiders talked about “staying on schedule” and keeping down and distance manageable, Russell is going to have to stick a bigger number of third down throws for Oakland to have any hope of being a successful offense.

Yards after catch for receivers– Well thrown-balls mean receivers catch the ball in stride and in a position to do some damage. Ideally, Darren McFadden would rank among the NFL leaders in this category, since running backs are often among the leaders.

Russell has had consistency issues on these throws, both last season and this offseason.

Pass plays of 25 or more yards–The Raiders were 23rd last season with 20. With the help of passing game coordinator Ted Tollner, coach Tom Cable has restructured the Oakland passing game to include deeper routes which play to Russell’s strengths.

If Russell has a bread-and-butter pass at this point, it’s the slant, which he can throw both medium and long-range. A chemistry with rookie Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Media availability for the OTA will be Wednesday . . .

Youth camp

Having stopped in at the Raiders youth skills camp in the past for an interview a time or two, it’s worth a look of you live in the area and have a child who likes to play football.

Sometimes it’s tough to tell who is having more fun _ the kids or the participating players (usually rookies or players who live locally) who are conducting the drills.


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer