Moving the football on the ground hasn't been easy against Tampa Bay's defense this season. Despite already facing four of the top nine rushers in the league, the Buccaneers rank sixth in the NFL in yards allowed per game, third in yards allowed per play and first in run stuffs. With so many running plays against the Buccaneers resulting in negative yardage this year – 36 run stuffs in all, six more than the second place team – opposing backs have had to work extra yards to get their numbers into the black.
That's fine with Oakland's Darren McFadden, the next starting tailback who will get a crack at the Bucs' 'D.' He's ready for the grind.
"One of the main things that stands out to me is that those guys are out there flying around, getting to the ball," said McFadden after reviewing videotape of the Bucs' first half of the season. "Their front seven is really getting after it, so we're going to have to come with our 'A' game. Those guys have been great against the run every week. We just have to go out there and try to stick to our game. Go out there and grind those guys and keep playing hard."
That is exactly what McFadden did last week in the Raiders' 26-16 win over Kansas City, gaining a season-best 114 yards but needing 29 carries to do it. That's somewhat how the season has gone for the fifth-year back, as he has surpassed 4.0 yards per carry in just one game this year and overall is picking up just 3.3 per tote. His perseverance – and the Raiders' decision to stick with the rushing attack – paid off last week as he was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage five times but just kept pounding away.
"I think, for me personally, it's just been a slow start," said McFadden, who had a career average of 4.8 yards per carry coming into 2012 and eclipsed 1,100 yards in his last full season (2010). "The offense got a slow start to the season. It's one of those things that we have to just keep sticking with the offense, keep grinding out there. I feel like our offense is starting to come together and we're starting to move well together. It's been getting better every week.
"We just keep getting after it and eventually our run is starting to hit."
There were quite a bit of changes at Oakland headquarters leading into McFadden's fifth season, most notably the arrival of new Head Coach Dennis Allen. Allen brought a zone blocking scheme over from Denver for the Raiders' rushing attack, but there is a perception that the team has switched back and forth between ground approaches this year, searching for an identity. McFadden says that's not an issue, and that the offense as a whole has simply been taking some time to come together.
"I think that's kind of overblown," he said. "For us, it's just one of those things. We're just going to keep sticking to our running game and keep grinding. I don't think we've gotten away from [the new rushing scheme]. We've used it every week; we've just been getting better every week."
McFadden's own numbers have actually been up and down, but it's true that the Raider offense has started to hit its stride in recent weeks. Over its last three games, Oakland has averaged 390 yards per outing, winning twice in that span and narrowly missing out on an upset in Atlanta. It could get even better if the Raiders can get their big-play tailback into a groove.
"Obviously, McFadden is one of our biggest explosive-type of players and we're continuing to try to find ways to get him the ball and let him be effective," said Allen. "We've got to continue to improve in our running game; I think that's probably the one area where we haven't quite made the progress that we had hoped or anticipated. But we're still continuing to work on that and I still believe that will be a main part of our ability to be successful."
If so, McFadden may be able to take his place where many believe he belongs, among the top runners in the league. Right now, however, he's focused on helping the Raiders win.
"I try not to think about it," he said. "I consider myself one of those elite running backs in the NFL, but I let the media and everybody else determine those things. In my head, I just go out there and play ball and run hard on every down."