Despite heading into Week Eight with twice as many losses (four) as wins (two) and some horrendous performances in the first quarter of the season still fresh in our memory, there really is no reason for the Raiders to be panicking.
They have looked like one of the league’s worst teams at times in lopsided losses to the Dolphins (Week Two) and Broncos (Week Four), but expectations for the Raiders were never high in what is still likely to amount to a transitional year for the organization.
Head coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie had their hands tied to a degree this offseason by the moves of their predecessors, and the AFC West was largely viewed as a three-team race between the Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs heading into the season.
Yet, the Raiders are only a game out of securing a share of first place in the division with a winnable game Sunday, when they will travel to face the 1-5 Chiefs. The fact that the Raiders are not in a much deeper hole even though the player who was supposed to carry their offense, RB Darren McFadden, has looked like a shadow of his old self almost every week, is a bit of a surprise.
McFadden was regarded as the player the team could not afford to lose this season. However, aside from Week Three, when he broke off a 64-yard TD run in a win over the Steelers, the Raiders really have not had him — at least not the dynamic playmaking McFadden, who rushed for more than five yards per carry in the 20 games he played over the past two seasons.
Through six games, McFadden is gaining only 3.1 yards per carry (103-324) and, after the 64-yarder, his next longest run is 14 yards.
Allen expressed confidence in McFadden this week. He said McFadden is still an explosive player, and challenged the offensive line to do a better job of creating holes for him. Allen has to wonder, though, what might be this season if McFadden breaks out and returns to form.
Five of Oakland’s next six opponents have a run defense ranked 21st or lower. They each are allowing at least 124 rushing yards per game, which would seem to bode well for McFadden’s chances of heating up. A favorable matchup vs. the Jaguars, who had been allowing an average of 163 rushing yards per game heading into their Week Seven meeting with the Raiders, didn’t help McFadden much last week, though. Jacksonville limited him to 53 yards on 19 carries (2.8 average).
The Raiders still pulled off a comeback win vs. the Jaguars. They have done a decent job of weathering whatever storm McFadden is stuck in.
But will they be a team that simply weathers the storm, hovering below .500 all season, or can they take advantage of a muddled, mediocre AFC and claw their way into contention for a playoff spot by the final quarter of the season?
The latter is not out of the realm of possibility. McFadden has the power to make it a reality.