Two games into the NFL season, the Oakland Raiders have scored just 27 points in falling to 0-2, haven’t been able to open any holes for running back Darren McFadden and saw their defense shredded last week in a lopsided loss to the Dolphins.
Now, with the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to Oakland Sunday, the prospect of falling to 0-3 (or much worse) looms, with Peyton Manning and the Broncos up next and the Atlanta Falcons after that.
Oddsmakers have made the Steelers a 3 1/2-point favorite.
Yet Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp – the object of much criticism already – is preaching patience.
The running game will get on track, he says. The zone-blocking scheme on the offensive line will start to click, he promises. There will be light at the end of this dark tunnel, he assures.
“Let’s keep things in perspective for a second here,” Knapp told reporters this week. “We’ve played two games in the regular season on offense. We’ve had two different centers and a right tackle who played half a game last week. We need some patience. You can’t develop a scheme in two weeks in a regular season.”
Going into 2012, the Raiders were hoping to rely on a solid ground attack with the return of McFadden from injury last season. McFadden is healthy and fit, but so far he has just 68 yards on 34 carries, a 2-yard average.
“It will take a little while,” Knapp told the Associated Press, answering questions about the new zone-blocking scheme. “I don’t know what the set time is. A lot of it will be changed week to week based on who we’re playing. It’s making progress, it’s making progress. It may not look up statistically, but in the execution on cut blocks, combination blocks, we’re seeing progress being made.”
Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer, too, says the running game is too important to give up on.
“Our goal is going to be to run the ball on people, and we’re going to do that,” Palmer told the Sacramento Bee. “It hasn’t worked the first two games, but we’re not going to change anything we’re doing.”
Added McFadden: “Eventually (it’s) going to start popping.”
The Raiders appear to be catching a break in that Steelers defensive standouts James Harrison (linebacker) and Troy Polamalu (safety) will be out with injuries.
Still, the Steelers are strong defensively, ranking No. 9 overall in the NFL and they’ve given up only 184 yards on the ground.
Pittsburgh opened with a 31-19 loss at Denver, but then rebounded with a 27-10 victory over the Jets. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is off to a fine start, completing 46 of 71 throws (64.7 percent) for 520 yards and four touchdowns.
His cast of receivers – including Antonio Brown (11 catches), Mike Wallace (9), Emmanuel Sanders (7) and tight end Heath Miller (7) – will provide a big challenge for a Raiders pass defense that has been ravaged by injuries and poor performances by backups.
The Raiders experimented this week with moving safety Michael Huff to corner, and brought in former Packers practice squad cornerback Brandian Ross.
The Steelers’ success in the air, plus Oakland’s weakness defensively, could lead to a big game for Roethlisberger.
“They’ve got a depleted secondary,” Roethlisberger told Inside Pittsburgh Sports this week. “They’ve got a lot of corners with injuries, so we’ll see how it goes.”