Much ado about nothing

It was five weeks ago when the Oakland Raiders vowed things would be different.

They were hovering somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of yards per carry, indicating they had the potential to run the ball. They were struggling in pass protection and playing good defense.

Then came a 16-0 shutout loss to Seattle on Nov. 5, with the Raiders attempting only 14 rushes and gaining 64 yards. Running back LaMont Jordan had 63 yards on nine carries. Running back Justin Fargas, at the time Oakland's No. 2 running back, carried only once and lost two yards.

The Raiders, coming off two straight wins, fell to 2-5.

Coach Art Shell second-guessed the play-calling afterward, saying the Raiders didn't run the ball often enough. He got no disagreement from Jordan and Fargas, who essentially said the same thing.

Shell promised on his arrival a return to "Raider football" and a power running game.

It is nowhere in evidence.

Since the game in Seattle, the Raiders have gotten even worse.

Jordan went down for the season with a torn medial collateral ligament on Nov. 19, making Fargas the lead back.

In the give games since the Seattle loss, Oakland has gained 421 yards on 128 carries -- an average of 3.3 yards per carry. They've lost all five games. Oakland, ranked 32nd in the NFL in rushing in 2004 and 29th in 2005, is currently ranked No. 28 at 97.

It was the lack of a running game that doomed the Norv Turner regime. After finishing ranked last in the NFL, the Raiders added free agent LaMont Jordan. While Jordan gained 1,012 yards in 14 games, Oakland got little or no production from anyone else and the overall improvement was slight.

When Turner was fired, owner Al Davis cited Oakland's failure to run as a primary reason.

"I never saw the power running game," Davis said at the press conference announcing Turner's firing. "I just never saw it."

Like Turner, Shell came in stressing the run. He talked of a no-nonsense, downhill attack that would be productive.

Oakland's inability to run is as much a surprise to Shell as its 2-11 record. In practice, he sees something different than in games.

"We do very well in practice. Our guys are sharp about what they're supposed to do, when we're supposed to do them and how we're supposed to do them," Shell said. "But in the heat of battle, for some reason, it is not transferring from the practice field to the game, and that has been disheartening for us."

Fargas has run better as the backup for Jordan, but Shell said he has no intention of elevating Zack Crockett or ReShard Lee and restoring Fargas to the change-of-pace role.

"We've just got to get the right plays for Justin, plays that he can excel at and make sure we get as many hats on people as we can and he has to take care of the rest," Shell said.

Shell did say Zack Crockett, who has 34 carries for 151 yards, will get some additional carries.

In a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati, the Raiders reached rock bottom in one area. They got zero first downs, the first time that has happened since the 2003 season opener in Tennessee.

Their frustrations came to a head on a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter and the Raiders trying to stay within striking distance.

On his only carry of the game, Lee was dropped for a 3-yard loss by 380-pound plus defensive tackle Sam Adams, who somehow got past rookie guard Kevin Boothe without being blocked.

Unblocked defenders have been a constant problem for the Raiders, who have had to juggle things along their offensive line. Only two players, center Jake Grove and right tackle Langston Walker, have started every game.

Jordan is the team's lone 100-yard rusher, with 128 yards on 20 carries against Cleveland. The second-highest individual output is 71 yards by Jordan against San Francisco, followed by a 23-carry, 66-yard game by Fargas against Arizona.

The Raiders had only 16 running plays against Cincinnati because they were forced to play catch-up. Game circumstances forced Oakland's hand, but in several competitive games the Raiders have not been persistent with the run.

"You've got to run ball upward of 25 to 30 plays a game, then you're going to start having success," Shell said. "You've got to run it more."

Oakland is 31st in the NFL in rushing first downs and runners have been held for no gain or thrown for a loss 39 times -- the fourth highest figure in the league.

If the Raiders are going to get anything going on the ground, Sunday's game against the Rams provides an ideal set of circumstances.

St. Louis is giving up 154.8 yards per game, 31st in the NFL, and is surrendering 5.0 yards per carry.

Edgerrin James of Arizona, Frank Gore of San Francisco (twice), DeAngelo Williams of Carolina, Maurice Morris of Seattle, Larry Johnson of Kansas City, LaDainian Tomlinson of San Diego, Noah Herron of Green Bay and Mike Bell of Denver have all broken 100 yards on the Rams.

James and Kevin Jones of Detroit have had games in the 90s.

The Rams have given up 15 runs of 20 yards or more, tied with Cleveland for the most in the league.


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