McFadden the X factor for Oakland's offense

Darren McFadden won't be in the running for NFL Rookie of the Year. A pair of turf toe injuries that cost him three games and limited his production in several others took care of that. Yet the young running back is salvaging what he can from his first year in the league and giving Oakland fans hope for a better future.

Though he rushed for only 38 yards last week against Denver, McFadden scored twice and gave the Raiders offense a spark it had been missing.

Not only did the young rookie call his own shot on the first of his two touchdown runs against Denver, telling interim head coach Tom Cable to call a play the Raiders hadn't designed, but he forced the Broncos to divert their attention -- and pass rush -- away from Oakland's second-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

The result was that Russell produced one of the most efficient passing days in team history. By making good on 10 of his 11 passes, Russell's 90.9 completion percentage was tied with Ken Stabler for the second-best mark ever by a Raiders quarterback. He also threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Ashley Lelie and directed an offense that converted a season-high 62 percent of its third-down opportunities.

"(Defenses) have to account for him and you really saw that last week," Cable said of McFadden. "People had to go match up to him and they were late getting matched up a couple of times. It's just his ability, his explosiveness. In a sense, a true play-maker."

While it's true Oakland has had numerous issues on offense this season, from a serious lack of pass protection to a receiving corps beset by injuries and lack of production, perhaps the biggest factor has been McFadden's absence.

He was just getting into his groove in Week 2 when he suffered the first of his two turf toe injuries against the Chiefs. Though McFadden went on to finish that game with a Raiders rookie record 164 rushing yards, he wasn't the same afterward and wound up having to wear a protective boot and miss critical practice time.

Just as he was getting healthy, McFadden injured the big toe on his left foot. Again the turf toe was diagnosed and again his foot was placed in a protective boot.

It's no coincidence the Raiders had their three worst games while McFadden was out, getting blown out by Baltimore, Atlanta and Carolina.

Granted, he didn't have a huge day against Miami and the Raiders lost. And his production against the Broncos was minimal. But the only stats that mattered were that he got into the end zone twice. For an offense that had been avoiding the end zone like the plague, that was a huge lift.

In addition, for the first time since he was healthy earlier in the season, McFadden presented a real problem for Denver. He lined up at quarterback and at receiver, in addition to his normal spot in the backfield. It created mismatches, some which Oakland took advantage of and others it didn't.

Still, the point is that the Raiders are a far much better offense with McFadden on the field than without him. While Justin Fargas is a solid running back who produces hard yardage as good as anybody in the league, McFadden is the true home run threat, the one guy capable of going the distance on any given play no matter where he lines up.

The Raiders are more than thankful to have him back.

"We can continue to expand (his role) now that he's healthy," Cable said. "He really kind of cut it loose last week like we talked about during the week, and certainly in the game. We'll get him more opportunities for sure."


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