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Loss of zone-blocking scheme gives Darren McFadden hope again

Darren McFadden's 3.3 yards per carry in 2012 was teh lowest of his career. (Jeff Chiu/AP)Darren McFadden's 3.3 yards per carry average in 2012 was the lowest of his career. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Darren McFadden averaged a measly 2.6 yards per carry when rushing behind or outside his offensive tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus' numbers. During the 2011 season that number was 5.9; in 2010 it was 5.2.

The Raiders' 2012 attack was a classic situation of trying to attack with a square peg in a round hole, orchestrated by offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. In his second go-round calling the shots for Oakland's offense (Knapp was also the coordinator from 2007-08), Knapp tried to move the Raiders into a zone-blocking scheme on the ground.

It failed miserably, in no small part due to McFadden's inability to adjust. His numbers suffered across the board, but particularly when he ran to the sidelines -- McFadden's ability to break contain and turn the corner in Oakland's old offense was wasted in the zone-blocking world, as he had to wait for those blocks to set up.

Not surprisingly, McFadden's thrilled about the arrival of new offense coordinator Greg Olsen and the return of a traditional run game.

Via the San Francisco Chronicle:

"This is very exciting for me," McFadden said. "I am the type of guy who likes to go downhill, make a cut and go; that's my thing. We'll mix it up like we used to, and get some zones in there, but for the most part, I will be keeping my shoulders toward the line of scrimmage."

...

"I'm looking forward to Darren McFadden having a great season this year," (Raiders GM Reggie) McKenzie said. He's a "north-south runner, not a lateral mover."

These reactions make it easy to wonder exactly what Oakland was thinking when it re-hired Knapp prior to last season. Knapp pushed the zone-blocking scheme forward during his initial stint in the Black Hole, before Tom Cable unceremoniously stripped him of play-calling duties during the 2008 season.

McFadden, then in his rookie year, rushed for 499 yards. He managed just 357 (and a 3.4 yards-per-carry average) in 2009.

But the light flipped on for him in 2010, Cable's final season in Oakland, with Hue Jackson inserted as offensive coordinator. McFadden totaled 1,664 yards from scrimmage in 13 games, then was on pace to top 1,750 yards the next year before an injury robbed him of his final nine games.

It's those stats that have the Raiders understandably excited about McFadden's potential in 2013. McFadden also finds himself in a contract year, adding to his motivation.

Perhaps it is easy to forget, amid their coaching changes and general missteps, that the Raiders were the league's second-best rushing team in 2010 and seventh-best in 2011. Three of the linchpins from the '11 season are still in place, too: LT Jared Veldheer, C Stefan Wisniewski and RT Khalif Barnes.

The Raiders may not be a dominant offense this coming season or even be all that good as a team, but with Olsen returning them to a more comfortable scheme and Matt Flynn in place at QB, there are reasons for optimism.

Even that is a step forward for the struggling Oakland franchise.

And the dream of a resurgent 2013 team (or at least a competitive one) starts with the playmaking ability of McFadden. The departure of the zone-blocking scheme should only help bring that talent back to the surface.
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