3 Headed Monster
One of the Raiders' biggest strengths going into the 2009 season will be the offensive rushing attack. I believe that one of the most important elements to the Raiders overall success as a team will be determined by how the RBs are utilized.
It will be imperative for Head Coach Cable to use his trio of backs in a creative, diversified, and prudent manner. Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and Justin Fargas are each more than capable of being the "lead" back. Each component of the 3 headed monster has a different running style and brings a different skill set to the table.
In the case of Darren McFadden, he would seem to be the prime candidate to be the lead back due to his explosive talent and overall versatility. The way that I view Run DMc is that he is the type of weapon who deserves as many touches and time on the field as possible. When 100% healthy, #20 showed his electric play making ability vs. K.C. in week 2. In this game, McFadden ran the ball 21 times for 164 yards (7.8 YPC) and 1 TD. After suffering through multiple bouts of the dreaded turf toe, McFadden gutted through the rest of the season. The turf toe kept McFadden's season rushing attempts to a minimum (113) yet he was still productive at 4.4 YPC and 499 rushing yards and 29 receptions.
One of the most important goals Cable should have for each game is to creatively mix and match his complement of running backs to maximize matchups. It is also critical from a strategic standpoint to keep McFadden on the field the vast majority of snaps. Here are some of the sets where McFadden forces the opponent's D to account for his presence:
* McFadden as a single back; 3 WR set
* McFadden in the I formation with Neal as his lead blocker
* McFadden in the I formation with Bush; McFadden motions out of the backfield as a WR
* McFadden in a 2 RB set with either Fargas or Bush
* McFadden lined up in the slot as a WR
* McFadden out wide as the Z WR
* McFadden as a QB in the wild cat formation; run/pass option
Run, catch, and pass ... McFadden is a big play waiting to happen.
CJ's prediction: McFadden - 272 rush attempts (17 per game) x 4.5 YPC = 1,224 yards; 45 receptions
Michael Bush's extraordinary performance vs. TBay in the last game of the season sets things up for him to move to the #2 back in terms of carries. Prior to the TBay game, Bush received very little playing time and opportunities to show off his talent. Playing a Bucs team gunning for a playoff berth, Bush demonstrated his future worth to the Raiders by ringing up 177 yards on 27 carries (6.6 YPA) plus 2 TDs. This breakout performance was no fluke. Bush was one of the most productive running backs in the history of the NCAA. It was an awakening for Raider fans and coaches alike because it was the first time in Bush's 2 year career that he received 20+ carries in a single game.
Bush would have been a sure-fire 1st round selection in the 2007 draft if not for suffering a broken leg in his senior season at Louisville. He has a unique combination of attributes which makes him a perfect complimentary back to McFadden. His size (245lbs) strength, and straight-line speed is ideal as a 1 cut and go, between the tackles, downhill locomotive for the Raiders ZBS. Michael also has very soft hands as a pass catcher and the ability to pass on selected trick plays.
Bush - 144 rush attempts (9 per game) x 4.4 YPC = 633 yards; 32 receptions
Justin Fargas, aka "Test Crash Dummy", is the ultimate selfless team warrior. Last year he led the team in carries (218) but produced only 3.4 YPC. His reckless, hard-charging running style does serve a valuable purpose. Fargas all-out efforts and determination is an inspirational reminder to the rest of the team. However, with the emergence of Bush at the end of the season and McFadden being a player capable of becoming an elite back, I believe Fargas' carries will be minimized to roughly 6-8 carries per game. As a back-up, change of pace, and injury insurance, Fargas will still be a key cog in the 3 headed monster. Each game in a 16 game season has unique and varied circumstances. Depending on injuries, opponent, weather conditions, and other variables, each back has an opportunity to be a difference maker.
Fargas - 112 rush attempts (7 per game) x 4.0 YPC = 448 yards; 15 receptions
CJ's prediction on the 3 Headed Monster's production: 528 rush attempts for 2,335 yards