Raiders searching for a win

Josh McCown was the quarterback when the Oakland offense, and more specifically the running game, was rolling. Perhaps he is the spark the Raiders need to get back in the win column.

The Raiders have a scheduling conflict, and it has nothing to do with their venue.

"We have a pretty good offense when we're on schedule," left guard Robert Gallery said. "When we're not, that's when we have problems."

"On schedule" for the Raiders means staying in a reasonable down-and-distance.

It was something they did well through four games, with Josh McCown completing 30 of 40 passes in the opener for 313 yards, and a running game that ranked as the best in the NFL carrying the load in Games 2 through 4.

But two things happened that left Oakland's offense waiting at the station. First, McCown, who was prone to turnovers anyway, sprained one foot and then broke a toe on the other, forcing him out of action.

That brought in Daunte Culpepper, who brought with him a different skill set and forced some offensive changes. Because Culpepper, recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, doesn't have the drop-back skills McCown has, the Raiders went to more shotgun formations.

The Raiders don't run as well out of the shotgun, and when faced with AFC West foes San Diego and Kansas City, and then a road game in Tennessee, didn't run well out of any formation.

Add to that a glut of penalties, particularly against Tennessee, and the Raiders' offensive schedule was shredded beyond repair.

The problem peaked against the Titans, when down-and-distance was a day-long nightmare against a formidable front seven that teed off without fear of reprisal.

The Raiders racked up 14 penalties for 100 yards. Eleven of those were on the offense, and eight were on offensive linemen. There were six false starts -- including three by left tackle Barry Sims and two by replacement tackle Paul McQuistan.

Oakland spent all afternoon attempting to dig itself out of holes, and it was a minor miracle the Raiders were still within striking distance until the game's final moments.

The Raiders' average third-down snap came from just under 12 yards away.

"You hope to have only a few of those a game, and that was our average," coach Lane Kiffin said. "We don't have the kind of personnel to throw the ball 50 times a game, and if you get in that situation too often, that's what you have to do. We can't survive that way."

The Raiders were always playing catch-up, not only on the scoreboard but in making up for their own mistakes with sacks and penalties.

"It's tough to stay on schedule because it's not easy to be in second-and-20. Even first-and-15 adds 5 yards, and you think, 'Well, OK, if we just get 5 yards on the next play, we'll get it back,'" Kiffin said. "Well, that doesn't do it. That gives you second-and-10, not first-and-10. That's always tough, especially on the road in a close game like that."

The losses forced Kiffin at one point in the second half to have Culpepper throwing from deep in his own territory on third-and-20 against a Titans team that had been rushing him all afternoon.

Culpepper fumbled, the Titans recovered, and the Raiders got lucky when the Titans dropped two potential touchdown passes and were forced to settle for a Rob Bironas field goal.

"You look at those things, and you always second-guess yourself," Kiffin said.

If the Raiders can eliminate the penalties and stay in better situations, they have more of their offense at their disposal.

Culpepper was at his best throwing sparingly, rather than throwing to carry the offense. From halftime of the Cleveland game through a win in Miami, the Raiders ran the ball 74 times and passed it 25, with Culpepper compiling meager passing stats but hitting some key throws.

Since the running game has struggled, Culpepper is throwing from the shotgun to a receiving corps without a real deep threat and fighting off his own inconsistencies and the pass rush.

Still, Culpepper fares better when he doesn't have to drop back from under center, where his footwork gets him in trouble.

"Daunte performs better in the shotgun," Kiffin said. "It's just a better rhythm at this stage in his career. That's the direction we've gone because we feel it helps our team. Does it limit you a little bit? Yes, it does, because you don't have the same run game, you don't have all the plays you have when you're under center. But it's something we need to do with Daunte."

The only problem - McCown is starting on Sunday.

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