ALAMEDA (AP) — As a coaching disciple of Bill Parcells, Oakland Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano has long believed that a powerful offense starts with a strong running game.
Reviving the NFL’s worst rushing attack is high on Sparano’s to-do list ahead of his debut Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.
The Raiders (0-4) rank last in the NFL in rushing at 61.5 yards per game and last in rushing attempts with just 72, for an average of 18.
Running back Darren McFaddon leads the Raiders with 151 yards rushing on 45 carries. At 37.8 rushing yards per game, he ranks 43rd in the NFL. Maurice Jones-Drew, who missed two games this season with an injured hand, has carried 11 times for 12 yards.
Sparano said the poor rushing numbers are largely because the Raiders falling behind early and abandon therunning game.
“I’ve been really happy with both Darren and Maurice,” Sparano said. “Again, unfortunately we haven’t had a chance to really ride those guys a little bit. We want to get to that. We want to get to a point where we’re doing that.”
Sparano took over Oakland coaching duties after Dennis Allen was fired on Sept. 29. The day before, theRaiders lost 38-14 to Miami in London for their 10th straight defeat dating to last season. He ran practice this week after a bye week.
Sparano has a history of giving his running backs a heavy workload. In each of Sparano’s four seasons as Miami’s coach from 2008-2011, the Dolphins averaged between 27.8 and 31.8 rushes per game. They ranked third in rushing attempts in 2009, sixth in 2011, 11th in 2010 and 12th in 2008.
The Dolphins ranked fourth in rushing in 2010 (130.4), 11th in 2008 (118.6) and 2011 (124.2) and 21st in 2010 (102.7).
As the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator in 2012, Sparano stayed true to his running roots. The Jets averaged 30.9 rushes per games, sixth most in the NFL, and averaged 118.5 rushing yards per game, 12th overall.
“He’s the offensive line coach, and as offensive linemen we love to run the ball,” said Raiders guard Austin Howard, who played for Sparano with the Jets in 2012. “That being said, Tony is very smart. He knows when we need to run, he knows when we need to pass. He’s had a lot of success as an O-line coach and as a head coach and as an offensive coordinator. We have full trust in Tony.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who will continue to call the plays Sunday, said there won’t be “a bunch of wholesale changes,” in the offense, but he has made some adjustments after a thorough “self-evaluation” during the bye week.
“I think probably grossly overestimated a little bit about where we’d be right now, just overall offensively,” Olson said. “We went back and looked at things we were doing good and looked at things we weren’t doing so well. Part of it is staying committed to (the run) and being able to stay in the games to where we don’t have to abandon the run.”
To run the ball extensively against the Chargers (4-1), the Raiders will have to keep the score close and sustain drives, Jones-Drew said.
“We have to be in those games. In order for us to be in those games, we have to execute our offense and stay on the field and stay on the field after third downs and continue to convert on third downs,” Jones-Drew said. “Those are things we weren’t able to do those first four games.”
NOTES: Right tackle Khalif Barnes (quadriceps) missed his third straight practice, and it appears likely that backup tackle Menelik Watson will start Sunday against San Diego. ... Starting OLB Sio Moore (ankle) , who was inactive the past two games, practiced limited for the second straight day but continued making progress. ... Quarterback Derek Carr (knee, ankle) was limited at practice again but continued taking most of the snaps with the No. 1 offense.