Updated October 13, 2021 - 7:46 pm
The Raiders’ run game and short-yardage issues could be getting two pairs of helping hands soon, with one arriving as early as Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
Backup quarterback Marcus Mariota doesn’t address the club’s woeful offensive line. But his presence as a run threat, especially on third downs, can give the Raiders a lift in some problematic situations.
Mariota has been on the injured reserve list since re-injuring his calf in the season opener.
Before resigning as head coach late Monday, Jon Gruden said that the dual-threat quarterback could return to practice this week and could suit up against the Broncos.
“I can’t make an official announcement whether we’ll activate him or not. We’ll probably see how it goes on the practice field Wednesday and Thursday,” Gruden said. “He’s at all the meetings. He says he feels very good. So let’s see where it is Wednesday and Thursday when he cuts it loose.”
The plan coming into the season was to carve out a role for Mariota that tapped into his threat as a runner and passer. That was evident in the opener when, upon being inserted into the game on a third-and-1 situation, he broke off a 31-yard run.
Mariota, though, was injured on the play and has been inactive ever since.
The Raiders, meanwhile, have fallen to 13th in the NFL on third-down conversions, turning just 41.43 percent of their 70 attempts into first downs. They are 3 of 9 on fourth-down attempts.
Both areas were sore spots in the Raiders’ loss to the Bears on Sunday. They converted just 5 of 14 third downs and just 1 of 3 fourth downs.
A healthy Mariota could have certainly helped in those situations. Moving forward, the Raiders are eager to find out if he can help.
“He might,” Gruden said. “He might. I don’t know. But it’s a thought.”
Meanwhile, the Raiders are cautiously optimistic that left guard Richie Incognito, who has not practiced since mid-August after injuring his quad during training camp, could return in three weeks after the bye week.
If so, Incognito could suit up on Nov. 7 against the New York Giants.
“He’s getting better, that’s the good news,” Gruden said.
The loss of Incognito has been particularly painful for the Raiders, who were counting on his high level of play and leadership to help their rebuilt offensive line find its way.
After trading away veteran center Rodney Hudson and guard Gabe Jackson during the offseason, the Raiders envisioned veteran guards Incognito and Denzelle Good flanking new center Andre James, with Good playing alongside rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood.
“He’s not only a really good player, he’s a great leader, a great communicator,” Gruden said. “He sees stunts and twists.”
That plan went awry when Incognito went down and Good soon followed him with a season-ending knee injury in the first half of the season opener. The Raiders have been in flux ever since, including making a big move last week by sliding Leatherwood to right guard and inserting veteran Brandon Parker at right tackle.
While the new line had some positive moments on Sunday, the Raiders still struggled to run the ball and quarterback Derek Carr continually operated under duress. And as the woeful third- and fourth-down conversion rate showed, they could not get the necessary push up front in short-yardage situations.
For now, Gruden said Leatherwood and Parker will stay put.
“It’s going to be painful at times,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to play better. We will play better.”
And soon, some help might be on the way.
Who: Raiders at Denver Broncos
When: 1:25 p.m. Sunday
Where: Empower Field at Mile High, Denver
Line: Broncos -3; total 45