Published November 20, 2014
Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders have done a fairly good job moving the ball down the field so far this season.
Getting the ball into the end zone has been a different case.
The Raiders (3-4) have been one of the NFL's least efficient teams when it comes to red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on only about one-third of their trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
As encouraging as it has been to get close to the end zone, Palmer said it is even more discouraging to have to settle for field goals from Sebastian Janikowski instead of consistently turning those trips into seven points.
"We want touchdowns," Palmer said. "As much faith as we have in Seabass, if you cross the 50 he's in his range, we want to get seven points. We've been fortunate. Our defense played so well that we haven't needed seven points on every drive, but there's going to be those games where the other offense is on fire and you'd better score 70 percent of the time when you get down there if you want to win the game. We need to improve on it, and we will."
While most teams typically wait until Fridays to work on their red zone offense, the Raiders began work on fixing those problems earlier in the week after struggling inside the 20 last week against Kansas City.
The Raiders reached the end zone on just one of six red zone trips in the 26-16 win against the Chiefs, although one ended in a kneel down at the end of the game and coach Dennis Allen admittedly got conservative on another trip when Oakland needed a field goal to make it a three-score game in the fourth quarter.
"Execution has got to step up," offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said. "It has always been in my background of going to a new offense, (red zone) is the longest part of the team to develop, because things happen faster, because of where you're at on the field. It takes a little more precision, and that just takes time and repetition."
The performance in Kansas City dropped Oakland's touchdown efficiency rate to 34.8 percent, second worst in the NFL and down from a 51.1 percent mark in 2011.
The problems have come whether the Raiders have tried to run or pass. Their red zone rushing is fourth worst in the league at 2.27 yards per carry, including just 1.86 yards per carry and one touchdown for Darren McFadden.
There were questions about how Oakland would do in short-yardage situations this year after losing bruising back Michael Bush in free agency to Chicago. But Bush averaged just 1.48 yards per carry inside the 20 a year ago.
"It's just executing and making the plays when they're presented," McFadden said. "We've had opportunities in the red zone. It's just a matter of executing plays when they're presented to us."
Knapp said the team has altered its running style a bit, mixing in more power blocking schemes instead of the zone scheme that was primarily used in the opening month.
"We definitely increased our gap run-blocking scheme to get a better balance and keep defenses honest, and we've done it well, so we'll keep that same kind of formula working," Knapp said. "It's a good changeup for us to have some kind of gap scheme with that outsize zone."
With the ground game struggling near the end zone, the Raiders have actually passed the ball more than running it in the red zone. But Palmer has completed just 16 of his 36 red zone passes, with six of the plays ending up in touchdowns.
Half of those scores have come from Denarius Moore, who has been Oakland's most reliable red zone player, catching seven of the nine throws in his direction. Palmer is just 9 for 27 when throwing to everyone else.
"He just kind of has a knack to get in the end zone," Palmer said. "He can contort his body and dive, and he can run full speed at angles. A lot of guys have to be going straight ahead. He can be running at an angle full speed which makes him difficult to tackle. The last home game against Jacksonville, the one he got in on didn't look like there was room for a touchdown there and he cut upfield and contorted his body."
NOTES: Janikowski won AFC special teams player of the month for October after hitting 10 of 11 FGs, including an OT game-winner against Jacksonville. It is the fourth time he has won the award in his career and third in the past two seasons. ... The Raiders received a one-day extension to sell enough tickets to avoid a local blackout Sunday against Tampa Bay.
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