Raiders looking to fix recent red zone woes; Shilique Calhoun returns to practice, Stacy McGee, Karl Joseph still out


ALAMEDA — It wasn’t long ago that the Raiders were humming along as one of the best red zone offenses in the league.

Nobody was better over the first four games and as recently as two weeks ago, the Raiders were seventh in the NFL with touchdowns on 64.3 percent of their possessions.

Two bad weeks — with two touchdowns on their last 11 trips — and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is suddenly answering questions about what happened to his once dynamic unit.

“A number of factors,” Musgrave said Wednesday. “We’re ready to get back on track, that’s for sure.”

The Raiders had one touchdown and three field goals on seven trips inside the 20-yard line against the San Diego Chargers. (One red zone possession was following a turnover and led to the game-ending kneel down).

It’s gotten so bad that, even taking that kneel down possession out of the equation, the Raiders are averaging just 2.9 points per red zone trip in these last two games. After producing at least a field goal on 41 of their first 42 drives inside the 20 over the first 12 games, they’ve had five scoreless red zone drives these past two. It’s happened numerous ways — a bad snap on a field goal, a turnover on downs, a fumble, an interception and then that kneel down.

Musgrave admits it hasn’t been up to snuff.

“It’s not enough to get to down there,” he said. “We want to finish the right way. So we’re working hard on that, count on being better moving forward.”

Musgrave blamed the struggles on a “couple uncharacteristic mistakes,” which include Latavius Murray’s first lost fumble of the season on Sunday and Carr’s first red zone interception of the year.

“We don’t want to just sweep them under the rug,” Musgrave said of those mistakes. “We want to address them, get them fixed and get back on track.”

Carr, as he did after Sunday’s win over the Chargers, insisted it was more about the defenses they’ve been playing. That may be the case against the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago — they have the sixth-best red zone defense and eighth-best scoring defense — it’s not so true against a San Diego team near the bottom of the league.

One thing the Raiders do discount is that the struggles are a result of the necessity to go from the shotgun or pistol formations because of Carr’s right pinkie injury.

That was a popular talking point after the Raiders failed to score a touchdown on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line in San Diego, but as some players pointed out, they’ve still be pretty successful along the goal line since abandoning snaps from under center for the past three and a half game.

“We got stopped once. I’m not about to make a big deal out of it,” Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn said. “The week before when we scored on the goal line, it was no issue. The week before that when we scored on the goal line it was no issue. One time, they stopped it. It’s not an issue an all.”

Penn’s right. Against the Chiefs, the Raiders faced first-and-goal at the 1 at the end of the second quarter and Murray plowed in for the touchdown.

The week before against the Buffalo Bills, they scored touchdowns on all three of their goal-to-go situations, including two on the ground. It happened with relative ease too with Murray scoring on first down from the 1 and then from the 3.

Overall, the Raiders have run well since Carr’s injury, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Take away the second half of the Carolina Panthers game in which he was hurt (.ie, when the Raiders had a chance to practice and get used to exclusively going from shotgun) and Oakland’s averaging 4.6 per attempt.

“You’re only as good as your last game,” center Rodney Hudson said. “We didn’t score. We’ll fix it. We’ll come in, I’m sure we can do some things better. We’ll watch the tape and correct it. No matter what we’re in, we’ll just try to execute, no matter if we’re in the gun or under, as player, just try to execute and take advantage of the opportunities.”

— A day after doing some work on the side, Raiders rookie outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun was back at practice on Wednesday.

Calhoun has missed the past four games after having a minor knee procedure following an injury suffered Nov. 21 in Mexico City against the Houston Texans.

On the season, the team’s third-round pick out of Michigan State has eight tackles, three of which are on special teams, and a half-sack.

— Defensive tackle Stacy McGee, who has missed five of the past seven games with an ankle injury, remains out of practice. Same goes for rookie safety Karl Joseph, who seems poised to miss his third straight contest with a toe injury.

— Linebacker Bruce Irvin was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording six tackles and two sacks in the Raiders’ 19-16 win over the Chargers. He also pressured and laid a hit on San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers that led to the game-sealing interception.


Jimmy Durkin

Sports writer for the Bay Area News Group, covering the Raiders.