All season long, one of the biggest story lines for the Oakland Raiders has been the complete and utter lack of a run game. After putting up some of the worst rushing numbers in the modern era through the first ten weeks of the season, the Raiders finally decided to give third-string back Latavius Murray a shot at running the ball. Over the next two weeks, Murray received eight rushing attempts and put up 155 yards and two touchdowns. He then missed the next game against the St. Louis Rams due to a concussion, but is slated to return for this weekend’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.
When asked about Latavius Murray and how much of a work load he can be expected to receive, head coach Tony Sparano said:
“It’s hard for me to sit here with a player – I think the world of this kid and his improvement – and think that guy is a workhorse,” Sparano said. “Until I can hand him the ball 15, 18, 20 times and see how he responds. … You have to get him going in that way before I think he can handle that many carries. In college, he carried the ball quite a bit. I’m sure he can handle the workload. He just hasn’t in a while.”
“For right now, Latavius is a guy who’s going to be a guy you have to continue to rotate.”
So basically Sparano wants to see more of Murray before he is willing to give Murray more touches. In a way that makes sense, especially since he’s coming off a pretty vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from Chiefs safety Kurt Coleman, suffering a head injury that kept him out of last week’s game against the Rams. On the other hand, it’s a continuation of the frustrating tendency of this coaching staff to be stubborn. When the Raiders played the Chiefs, it appeared they were ready to give Murray more touches, but he sustained a concussion and had to leave the game early. He also missed his entire rookie season after being placed on the injured reserve. So part of the issue has been Murrray’s struggles to stay healthy.
The problem is, now that Murray has shown himself to be a player with explosive potential (no player in NFL history had run for over 110 yards on less than five carries before Murray did against the Chiefs), it’s inexcusable not to give him the shot at starting for the team. Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew have both shown that they are not capable of breaking big runs. At times, they have seemed incapable of breaking a run longer than four yards. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from playing McFadden and MJD over Murray, but there is a lot to be gained from making Murray the starter.
Having a run game will take a lot of pressure off of rookie quarterback Derek Carr. The Raiders have asked him to carry the offense all season, and it’s beginning to look like it may be stunting his growth a bit. Giving him an explosive back who defenses have to account for will go a long way in easing that pressure. Then there’s the experience factor for Murray. As I noted above, he missed his entire rookie season and has barely played at all this year. Now that the Raiders know he has this kind of talent, they need to get him more reps if they have designs on using him as their primary back.
At this point in the year, there is nothing to lose for the Raiders other than the number one pick so unless the hesitancy to start Murray is due to a desire for that draft position, there simply is no reason not to give Murray the start.