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Raiders say they still believe in zone blocking scheme

The SportsXchange

The Raiders' goal of getting off to a running start in the 2012 season has hit a brick wall through two games.

Throughout training camp, coach Dennis Allen made no secret of his desire for the Raiders to be a run-first team, hiring Greg Knapp to install a West Coast style offense with play-action and bootlegs that are designed to complement a zone scheme running game.

Two games into the regular season, star running back Darren McFadden has 56 yards on 24 carries, the Raiders rank 31st in rushing -- ahead of only the Tennessee Titans -- and Carson Palmer has thrown 94 passes.

The Raiders are 0-2, and the zone running scheme is being called into question.

In the last two seasons under Hue Jackson, first as offensive coordinator and play-caller and then as head coach, the Raiders had a solid running game with McFadden gaining 1,771 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and scoring 11 touchdowns in 20 games.

One of Jackson's first moves when hired as offensive coordinator and play-caller under Tom Cable was to go directly to McFadden and ask what plays he wanted to run. McFadden wanted some gap and power runs.

Those runs were added to the offense, and suddenly the Raiders were no longer a zone scheme team.

The zone scheme was installed under Lane Kiffin in 2007, with Tom Cable as the line coach and Knapp as offensive coordinator.

In his first two seasons with the Raiders, McFadden was teetering on the edge of being called a bust, gaining 943 yards and averaging 3.7 yards per attempt in 25 games.

There were mitigating circumstances in that McFadden was seldom healthy, having turf toe on both feet as a rookie and also undergoing minor knee surgery in his second season to go along with a shoulder problem.

So when Knapp returned in 2012 on Allen's staff, and the Raiders returned to a pure zone scheme, there was a lot of attention paid to how McFadden performed. He looked fine during training camp and preseason before the Raiders were stuffed in their first two regular-season games.

With 14 games to play, no one is backing off from the commitment to the zone scheme -- and that includes McFadden.

"I'm very comfortable in this scheme," McFadden said. "I just feel like we have to get going. You hit one or two runs here, a 3-yard run there, and eventually it's going to start popping."

Palmer said mastering the scheme takes time.

"You don't just install a bunch of plays and get really good at cut blocking and give him those cutback lanes," Palmer said. "It's something that we have to continue to work at, and we will. He's 100 percent the right guy for this system."

Allen has the belief of his convictions gained from working on the other side of the ball that the offense as a whole -- led by the zone running scheme -- is the right one for the Raiders.

"I believe it's a matter of time for us to get going," Allen said. "Part of the decision was I've seen this system of offense work and be very successful. I believe in this.

"As a defensive coach I spend a lot of time defending different offenses and I believe this is one of the more difficult offenses to defend. Obviously we have to execute it better because we're not getting the results in the running game that we're looking for."

The problem against Miami was that defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai had their way with the middle of the Raiders line in left guard Cooper Carlisle, center Stefen Wisniewski and right guard Mike Brisiel.

Wisniewski was making his first start since the Raiders' first preseason game against Dallas after rehabbing a calf injury, and only his second start at the position after playing 15 of 16 games at left guard a year ago.

There was another in-game adjustment when starting right tackle Khalif Barnes exited with a groin injury late in the first half and was replaced by Willie Smith, a final-cut victim in Washington who was a waiver signing the day after the final cutdown for the Raiders.

"It's hurt our ability to get a cohesive group together where they can work together and understand the different calls and how everybody is going to fit up against certain fronts and stunts," Allen said. "It takes some time to get used to that and working together."

Said Wisniewski: "It's a block here, a block there. When you're in a zone scheme you've got to get every hat on a hat and a little bit of penetration, too. We're close. We're a block away from getting some big runs."
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