The Oakland Raiders have a couple of talented backfield pieces in running back Darren McFadden and fullback Marcel Reece, and new offensive coordinator Greg Olson is already formulating plans for how to use the duo. Olson has five full years experience as an offensive coordinator with the Rams and Buccaneers. In that time, he has built a reputation as someone who gets the most out of his running game. The Raiders are hoping he can do just that to wake up a moribund ground attack.
McFadden saw a major drop in effectiveness in 2012, but has showed that he can make big plays on the ground by averaging over five yards per carry in 2010 and 2011. The former Arkansas star is still just 25 years old and has the potential to flourish in the right system.
Reece has the ability to gain ground in short yardage plays and exploit a defense in the passing game. Olson is excited for what he can do with both of the Raiders' backfield weapons, as transcribed by Levi Damien at Raiders blog Silver and Black Pride:
"Marcel Reece is a different kind of a fullback, so what does he do well and how can we get him involved in some of the matchups that will create problems for defenses?" Olson told reporters Wednesday. "Darren McFadden... is a downhill runner. So we'll get back to some of the gap scheme and the things he does well."
Olson has been fortunate to coach premier running back in Steven Jackson while with the Rams. He helped St. Louis to an above average performance in 2006, but 2007 was a different story. Olson was given the play-calling duties and St. Louis plummeted to to the bottom among the league's worst offenses.
The Buccaneers gave Olson another shot at coordinating an offense in 2009, and Tampa Bay showed great improvement in his second season at the offensive helm. That didn't last in 2011, and Olson was once again out of the job.
So, will Olson be able to do as he hopes, and maximize the talents of McFadden and Reece? His history shows mixed results, but there are some positive indicators.
Football Outsiders' has a metric called DVOA that measures an offense's efficiency relative to the defenses it has faced. The chart below shows where Olson-led offenses have finished overall, in passing, and in rushing:
As is shown, Olson's running game has been the strength of his offense in all but one of his seasons, but it was still near the top 10 of the league that year (2010). He also was above league average in the run game in his most recent two seasons as a coordinator.
What is less encouraging for Raiders fans is the fact that Olson has led a top 10 overall offense just once in his five seasons as an offensive coordinator, and was among the league's worst one year.
That 2007 season can be excused somewhat, as quarterback Marc Bulger and Jackson each missed some significant time. However, he still had them both for 12 games, so the offense was just bad that year all-around. In the case of Jackson, his performance seemed to change very little based on Olson, or any offensive coordinator for that matter.
Better news for the Raiders is that Olson was able to get the most out Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount in 2010. That was far and away Blount's best year, in which he averaged five yards a carry, well above what he has done since. Blount was still solid in 2011, but his production dropped sharply in 2012 after Olson's departure.
Should the Raiders expect to become an elite offense with Olson in charge? Probably not, as he has had just one top offense in five seasons. Should they expect an jump from their 2012 30th place finish in rushing DVOA? That seems far more likely.
If Olson is able to clean up the running game, the Raiders could move closer to the middle of the pack in offensive effectiveness, as that will open things up for quarterback Carson Palmer. At the very least, Olson is advocating change, and that is something desperately needed in Oakland.