ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Quarterback Carson Palmer is convinced the Oakland Raiders are doing the right thing by sticking with the running game, even though they have the worst ground game in the NFL this season.
With a running back like Darren McFadden to hand the ball to, Palmer says the Raiders would be foolish to do otherwise.
"Running the ball is what we want to do," Palmer said Wednesday. "Obviously we want to do it better than we have and that's why we continue to work at it. But it's what gets the play-action game going, it's what gets explosive plays because Darren can score from anywhere."
It makes even more sense this week facing an Atlanta defense that has struggled defending the run but has been sharp against the pass. The Falcons already have nine interceptions, second-most in the NFL behind the Chicago Bears.
Palmer is on pace for career highs in attempts, completions and yards passing but the big numbers haven't translated into wins. The Raiders are 1-3 coming off the bye heading into Sunday's game against the undefeated Falcons.
McFadden, who was supposed to be the centerpiece of Oakland's offense, has been a disappointment and the team's zone blocking schemes have been heavily criticized by fans and the media.
The fourth overall pick in 2008, McFadden missed 19 games over his first four season due to injuries but has had no health issues this year. Yet he's had just one 100-yard game this season and was held to under 35 in each of the other three. McFadden's 3.5 yards per carry are also 1.3 below his career mark heading into the year.
Overall, the Raiders are last in the NFL at 60.8 yards a game.
"It may not look it statistically but we talk about run game efficiency," Palmer said. "I know a lot of people outside of this facility are discouraged in our run game but we're not going to stop running the football. If anything we're going to run (it) more. That puts the ball in our best player's hand."
Oakland coach Dennis Allen said the Raiders made a few changes to the running game during the bye week in hopes of taking advantage of Atlanta's problems against the run.
The Falcons are giving up nearly 143 yards rushing per game and are 27th overall against the run.
"You can't throw everything out and just start over in the middle of the year," Allen said. "There have been a few tweaks, a few emphasis points but nothing like a drastic change other than we've got to execute better. We'll see what it looks like when we play on Sunday."
The lack of production from the ground game has forced Palmer and the passing game to pick up the slack. Statistically, at least, he has.
Palmer has completed 99 of 162 attempts for 1,081 yards in four games, with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
It should help that the Raiders' banged up receiving corps is starting to get healthy. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore, the projected starters coming out of training camp, are expected to be in the lineup together in Atlanta for just the second time this year.
Heyward-Bey returns three weeks after sustaining a concussion and neck strain after being knocked unconscious by a helmet-to-chin hit by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Mundy.
"He caught the ball really well today," Palmer said. "There wasn't one instance in practice or in meetings where he seemed a little foggy at all. That's always the issue. It's time. With the work we got in last week and this week we hope to really kind of take off with those two guys on the outside."
Notes: Tight end Richard Gordon (hamstring), cornerback Shawntae Spencer (foot) and right tackle Khalif Barnes (groin) were held out of practice. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski (groin) and defensive tackles Tommy Kelly (foot) and Richard Seymour (knee) were limited.
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