By Steve Corkran
Thursday, September 20th, 2012 at 3:24 pm in Oakland Raiders.
With the Raiders run game 31st after two games, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp has become a lightning rod for criticism. To that end, Knapp pleads for “patience.”
During training camp, Knapp likened the installation of his West Coast Offense to a start-up company, where it takes time to get in synch and to carve out a niche.
“You know who I’m talking to?” Knapp said. “I’m talking to my friends, who call me and let me know, ‘Hang in there, bud. You’ll be fine. I know they’re coming down on the run game.’ It’s like we tell the players: ‘We want success right away but we also have to understand that it takes a little time to develop.’ … I’m very confident we’ll be fine.”
Knapp said proof that the run game is competent comes in the form of Darren McFadden running the ball well in the exhibition games and in the first half against the San Diego Chargers in the regular-season opener.
It also hasn’t helped that the Raiders played Chargers and Dolphins teams that are pretty stout against the run.
“Let’s keep things in perspective for a second here,” Knapp said. “We’ve played two games in the regular season on offense. We’ve had two different centers and a right tackle who played half a game last week. We need some patience.
“You can’t develop a scheme in two weeks in a regular season, especially when last week we faced the No. 3-ranked rush defense from 2011 and the week before they held the number two rush offense in the league to 2.4 yards per carry, the Houston Texans. That was a good team we faced last week. The scheme will be fine. It just takes some time.”
Knapp said the run game flourished in Atlanta, here, Seattle and Houston, when he was with those teams before rejoining the Raiders this season.
It might take a little longer this time around, he said, because the Raiders are working with some young offensive linemen — third-year left tackle Jared Veldheer and second-year center Stefen Wisniewski, who missed all the offseason workouts, all but six snaps of the four exhibition games and the regular-season opener.
“A lot of it depends on who the parts are,” Knapp said. “At four different places, Atlanta, here, Seattle and then when I was in Houston, it was already in play. There was a different running back, five different linemen and a different coach. And all places they’ve had success where we did it at. It depends on that group of players.”
Indeed, Justin Fargas rushed for 1,009 yards in 2008 in Knapp’s offense with the Raiders in his first stint here.
McFadden has rushed for only 54 yards on 26 carries through two games this season, whereas last season he had 222 yards through the first two games.
Playing against a stingy Steelers defense doesn’t bode well for McFadden busting out this week, though the Steelers aren’t expected to have the services of linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu.
“It will take a little while,” Knapp said of the run game hitting its stride. “I don’t know what the set time is. A lot of it will be changed week to week, based on who we’re playing. It’s making progress, it’s making progress. It may not look (like it) statistically but in the execution on cut blocks, combination blocks, we’re seeing progress being made.”
– Few Raiders are as qualified to speak about the zone-blocking scheme as left guard Cooper Carlisle.
He spent numerous years executing the scheme with the Denver Broncos, when they featured one of the top rushing offenses in the league. He also has worked in the scheme during his Raiders career.
Carlisle said the zone-blocking scheme is a solid one and that it works once everyone is on the same page.
“Yeah, I’m definitely a believer in the system,” Carlisle said. It works. There’s potential flaws in any system you run or pass, or any defensive system. I’m a believer in it and I still think it’s going to work.”
Carlisle said it’s not anymore difficult to learn the zone-blocking scheme than, say, the man-scheme or power-blocking scheme.
Therefore, he isn’t sure what all the fuss is about with people clamoring for a return to the power-blocking scheme used the past two seasons under Hue Jackson.
“I still have confidence in it, and most guys still have confidence in it,” Carlisle said. “We just haven’t hit any big runs. The flow of the game hasn’t been conducive to runs, either, the last two games, especially in the second half.”
With that said, Carlisle said he is “somewhat” surprised that the run game hasn’t clicked yet. The Raiders amassed only 68 yards on 34 rushes their first two games.
“You go in thinking you’re going to play well and you want to play well,” Carlisle said, “so when it doesn’t work, it’s not ideal.”
– Raiders middle linebacker Rolando McClain said he is feeling better today than he did either of the first three days after he suffered a concussion against the Miami Dolphins.
Even so, he still hasn’t passed all the tests required of players that suffer a concussion. He needs to pass all the tests before he can be cleared by team doctors to play in a game.
McClain practiced today, which is part of the evaluation process, Allen said.
– Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer prepared for games against the Steelers 17 times during his eight seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003-10.
As a result, he has plenty of insight into what to expect when playing against one of the league’s best defenses year in and year out.
So it was that Palmer met with Knapp on the players’ off day Tuesday as a means of passing along some of that insight to Knapp.
“He had a lot of information because he’s … faced these guys quite a bit,” Knapp said. “At least half a dozen or so either the winner goes to the playoffs or was a playoff game. He gave me a lot of insight that’s very helpful for my mindset going into the game to attack this defense.”
– Knapp said rookie Tony Bergstrom is progressing well. He also said that Bergstrom now is getting some work at offensive tackle, Bergstrom’s natural position, in light of the groin injury to starting right offensive tackle Khalif Barnes.
Bergstrom was converted to guard as soon as he was selected by the Raiders in the third round of this year’s NFL draft.
– Much was made of former coach Hue Jackson pulling aside McFadden and asking which plays he is most comfortable running, and then going heavy on those plays.
Knapp said he has done the same thing with McFadden.
“Every place I’ve been to, it’s important that we find out, a guy with that kind of talent, what’s his comfort zone and what plays we like to do,” Knapp said. “So, we definitely seek his input, and that comes into play in some of the stuff we do.”
– Steelers coach Mike Tomlin coached against Palmer twice a year from 2007-10, so he has a pretty good take on Palmer’s skill set.
Even though Tomlin’s Steelers haven’t faced Palmer since 2010, he said: “He looks like Carson. He’s highly accurate, he’s very good in play-pass. He can turn his back to the defense and come up throwing, he has better mobility than people give him credit for. He’s a competitor. Got a great deal of respect for Carson Palmer.”
Palmer went 4-8 against the Steelers during his tenure with the Cincinnati Bengals.
– Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said it was tough to part ways with cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, given Van Dyke has a “boatload of talent.” Tomlin seems equally impressed by Van Dyke now that he’s with the Steelers.
“He’s done a nice job for us, man,” Tomlin said. “He’s provided some quality plays for us just in two ballgames. He downed a punt in Denver on the 1-yard line. He prevented a ball from getting down on the 1-yard line. Last week, he blew up a punt returner that created a turnover.
“He’s been an awesome surprise for us in (special) teams and really just beginning the process of acclimating himself to the defense, and hopefully once he learns what to do, he can be an asset for us there as well.”
Van Dyke tended to be hard on himself during his one-plus seasons with the Raiders. That philosophy about a cornerback needing to have a short-term memory never quite took hold.
Tomlin said he is prepared to judge Van Dyke on what he does from his time with the Steelers.
“We don’t care what happened with him there,” Tomlin said. “We just base our opinions on what happens with him here and how he works, and to this point he’s done a nice job working. He comes to work every day, he’s diligent and detailed and trying to learn what to do, and providing a shot in the arm along the way in the special teams capacity. So that’s our mindset regarding him.”
– If Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is licking his chops over the prospect of facing a depleted Raiders secondary, he isn’t letting on.
“You can’t do that,” Roethlisberger said. “Everyone is in this league for a reason. The biggest thing is, just not knowing who’s going to be out there to watch them on film. For us, the strength of this defense is, it kind of starts up front, and they will tell you that. It’s no disrespect intended for the rest of the guys, but their front seven, and especially their D-line, is just phenomenal.”