The Oakland Raiders last two victories revealed two things about their ground game success.
Running the ball was never a question of ability but choice. In addition, it showed that first-year head coach Bill Callahan and his staff's adaptability. The Raiders (11-5) closed out the season with wins over Denver (28-16) and Kansas City (24-0) to earn their third consecutive AFC West title and the conference's No. 1 seed.
Oakland had spent much of the 2002 season beating teams through the air as evidenced by its 60-40 play selection ratio in favor of the pass.
And why not, when you have a resourceful quarterback like Rich Gannon? Then, let's throw in two of the best receivers ever to play the game – Jerry Rice and Tim Brown along with the continually improving Jerry Porter and tight end Doug Jolley. In addition, running back Charlie Garner is one of the best in the game at his position in catching the ball.
The Raiders entered the final two games of the regular season averaging 96.1 yards on the ground but because of the heavy rain the Bay Area, Callahan constructed two different game plans – one for a dry field and the other for the wet surface.
The Denver game did not feature rain but Oakland ran the ball 37 times for 136 yards. The following week against Kansas City, however, featured enough rain to rival the climate in Seattle. The field looked like a small portion of the San Francisco Bay in some spots. The Raiders then pounded the Chiefs into submission by running 60 times for 280 yards.
Those two games have lifted Oakland's season average to 110.1, on the cusp of the league average which in recent years ranges from about 112-115. Also, you must consider that much of Oakland's short passing game is in lieu of a running game.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the game has changed and throwing the ball is the way to win. Not necessarily. Teams that throw the ball 40 or more times in a game went 37-88-1 (29.3%) while teams that run 40 or more times went 26-1-2 (89.6%). Also, teams with a 300-yard passer went 44-37-1 (53.6%) while teams with a 100-yard rusher went 91-35-1 (71.6%).
Since the Raiders have the weapons to throw the ball, that strategy make sense but the ground game must continue to be a genuine threat if Oakland is to win the Super Bowl.