Raiders stress commitment

One word above all else has been the theme this week - "commitment". It can be broadly used to cover a lot of what the Oakland Raiders need to bring to the table when they face off against the Tennessee Titans. But, there is a specific area it really touches upon.

The rushing average of the Oakland Raiders is falling faster than mortgage rates.

The Raiders were riding high heading into their bye week, boosting their per-game average to an NFL-best 194.2 yards per game after running for 299 yards in a 35-17 win over the Miami Dolphins in Week 4.

After a week off, the Raiders took their new muscle to San Diego and ran for 53 yards on 23 carries, with their average falling to 166 yards per game. Then they hosted Kansas City, another AFC West rival, and gained 54 yards on 24 carries, with their average dropping to 145.8.

With 107 yards in their last two games, the team that used to be ranked No. 1 in the league in rushing is now ranked fourth. Next up is a road game at Tennessee, which just happens to be the NFL's No. 1 team against the rush, giving up just 59.7 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry.

Even coach Lane Kiffin, used to gaudy stats during his time as co-offensive coordinator at USC, didn't expect the Raiders to sail through the NFL approaching 200 yards per game rushing.

But barely breaking 100 in two weeks wasn't part of the plan, either, even if the Raiders had the NFL's 32nd-ranked running game in 2005 and were No. 29 in 2006.

The Raiders improved largely because of a new zone blocking scheme instituted by line coach Tom Cable and because opponents hadn't seen them run it yet. It helped that some of the first opponents, Miami in particular, were forgiving against the run.

San Diego and Kansas City responded to the Raiders' rushing prowess by crowding the box and daring the Raiders to pass.

Against the Chargers, Kiffin came out throwing in an attempt to loosen up the Chargers, and all it did was get the Raiders behind 14-0 in the first quarter.

Against the Chiefs, Kiffin remained persistent with the run, and while it kept the score closer, the end result was the same.

The Raiders are 2-4 heading to Tennessee, and it sounds as if Kiffin has no intentions of turning Oakland into an air show.

"Every week is going to change a little bit as you do what you believe will work against that team," Kiffin said. "But this offense is not built to be a 50-times-a-game passing offense. It has to run the ball or you won't see good results.

"That is part of our philosophy and our makeup. We just need to be better at it. Obviously the last two weeks we have not run the ball well at all. We'll need to continue to run the ball and find ways to get better."

Although the Raiders didn't rush for good yardage against the Chiefs, the threat of the run had its advantages. Unlike the game against San Diego, in which outside linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips charged in from the outside, the Chiefs remained more honest defensively.

When the Raiders broke loose and scored a touchdown after a 59-yard completion from Daunte Culpepper to Jerry Porter and then a 21-yard scoring pass to Ronald Curry, both came on play-action passes with the Chiefs respecting the run.

Still, the Raiders need yards, and not attempts, if they hope to regain their four-game identity as a running team to be reckoned with. "We need to do a better job up front," left tackle Barry Sims said. "We need to get back to what we were doing the first four games, wearing people out and running the ball."

Running back LaMont Jordan was among the NFL leaders in rushing until gaining 71 yards on 29 carries in the last two games.

"Teams are going to stack the box against us. They're going to do what the two teams have done the past two weeks," Jordan said. "You can run against those fronts. When we looked at the San Diego tape, we saw that we had nothing but gaping holes. If we just get that one block or I make that one cut, it's there."

Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, a firm believer in a strong running game, thinks he knows a good running game when he sees one.

"There's no doubt they are one of the top five rushing teams in the league, up there with an elite group," Fisher said. "Defenses are going to load up occasionally, they're going to give you everything they've got, and they're going to win some things on the line of scrimmage.

"But the commitment is there, and when you see the commitment, you usually see results. The scheme is completely different than it's been in years past. This is a different team."

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