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Graney: It’s time for Raiders to solve red-zone deficiencies

There is a video of Raiders great Marcus Allen talking about one of his many talents that made him a Super Bowl champion running back and Hall of Famer:

“Getting over the goal line came by any means necessary,” Allen said. “We practiced going over the top because there wasn’t much of a running lane. I just did it. Run in, crawl in or be in the air — the bottom line is to score.”

These Raiders need to take notice.

Think about it. A team that ranked eighth in yards and 10th in offense in the NFL last season, that scored its most points since 2002, fell flatter than a can of non-carbonated soda once reaching the red zone.

The Raiders made a 20-yard quest for six points feel twice that in yardage. It was painful.

“We’re trying to get better in the red zone every year,” coach Jon Gruden said. “We emphasize it every day. We have to call better plays and run the ball better. Our red-zone run game is horrific.”

The good: The Raiders led the league in red-zone field goals last season.

The bad: That’s not the good any team wants.

Should be better

Of the 57 times the Raiders reached the red zone in 2020, they managed just 31 touchdowns, a success rate of just 54 percent. That ranked 23rd. The top five most efficient red zone teams advanced to the playoffs. So did six of the top eight and seven of the top 11.

You reach the end zone enough times from September to December, you’re playing in January.

Even worse, only Carolina and Dallas were less productive in goal-to-go situations. The closer it got to six, the more Gruden’s side would settle for three.

Things shouldn’t be this ineffective. Not with a running back (Josh Jacobs) who led the league in red-zone carries and a Pro Bowl tight end (Darren Waller) who was second in red-zone reception rankings. They just didn’t throw him the ball enough.

The addition of running back Kenyan Drake should add another threat. If the joker position is anything, it’s versatile. It would also help immensely if wide receiver Henry Ruggs could use his speed and Bryan Edwards his length to cause favorable red-zone matchups.

Gruden needs to improve as much as anyone. He needs to call better plays. Less conservative ones. Field goals don’t win in this video-game scoring era. If place-kicker Daniel Carlson gets any closer on some attempts, he’ll be standing under the goalpost.

This isn’t anything new. Over seven seasons as head coach in Tampa Bay, the touchdown rate of Gruden’s offenses in the red zone was just over 47 percent. It’s a pattern and a concern.

Lean on Marcus

It’s not just one issue for the Raiders. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said the team bases its red-zone evaluations on where certain efficiency categories rank compared to 31 other sides.

“We’ll have a chance to fix the situation during training camp and three preseason games,” Olson said. “And we’ll hit the ground running when the season gets going.”

Meanwhile, Jacobs is leaning on every available edge.

This includes constant conversations with Allen, whose team rookie rushing record he broke.

“I talk to Marcus all the time about how he used to attack the red zone,” Jacobs said. “What did he see? What was he thinking?”

He asks him questions like, “What were you looking for when you have it at the 1-yard line?”

Finding the right answers is “about what kind of team we are and what our identity is going to be in the red zone,” Jacobs said.

Run in, crawl in or be in the air. The Raiders need to do all of it — and then some — much better.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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