|Knapp's Raiders offense has been held to a combined 27 points in two losses. (US Presswire)|
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Greg Knapp knew what questions were coming.
As offensive coordinator for a team that has struggled to run the ball and score points in two straight losses to open the season, Knapp was prepared for the criticism.
He has one main response: patience.
Knapp said Thursday it will take more than two games to get the Raiders (0-2) up to speed with the timing of the passing game and intricacies of the zone running game.
"Let's keep things in perspective for a second here," Knapp said. "We've played two games in the regular season on offense. We've had two different centers and a right tackle who played half a game last week. We need some patience. You can't develop a scheme in two weeks in a regular season."
They certainly haven't so far as the Raiders have been held to 27 points in losses to San Diego and Miami, and now have a stout Pittsburgh Steelers defense coming to town on Sunday that has been the stingiest in the NFL against the run over the past decade.
That doesn't seem like the perfect recipe to jumpstart a running that has gained just 68 yards on 34 carries the first two weeks. Darren McFadden is averaging just 2.1 yards per carry with his longest run of the season going for just 8 yards.
"It will take a little while. It will take a little while," Knapp said. "I don't know what the set time is. A lot of it will be changed week to week based on who we're playing. It's making progress, it's making progress. It may not look up statistically but in the execution on cut blocks, combination blocks, we're seeing progress being made."
Knapp said the Raiders have been hurt by injuries on the offensive line with center Stefen Wisniewski missing almost the entire preseason and the opener with a calf injury and right tackle Khalif Barnes leaving last week's game with a groin injury.
They have also played two teams that were strong against the run in San Diego and Miami. That helped contribute to turning the Raiders from a team that wants to have a run-first offense into one that has thrown the ball at a higher rate on first down than any team in the NFL through two games.
The Raiders have run the ball on less than a quarter of their first-down plays, which is by far the lowest rate in the league and less than half the league average.
The lack of a running game on first down has led to long yardage situations on third down and is a big reason why the Raiders (0-2) have struggled to get much going offensively this season.
"We've got to play the game the way the game dictates and we had some play-action shots that had a chance last week and so, but yeah, we have to get in more manageable third-down situations," coach Dennis Allen said.
Oakland has been the worst team on third down this season, converting just 22.2 percent of its opportunities. Part of the problem has been too many third-and-long situations with the team going just 2 for 16 when needing at least 7 yards.
The Raiders have only been slightly better in more manageable situations, going 4 for 11 when needing 6 or fewer yards, but haven't gotten nearly enough opportunities on third-and-short.
"We can't do that to ourselves," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "That's absolutely our fault, not doing enough on first and second down, when we have our opportunities. We did a good job on first and second down with some big, explosive plays. But getting 4, 5 yards here and there to make it third-and-2 to 3, because you're not going to convert half of your third downs when you're third-and-long every time. We know that, we've talked about it, we've addressed it and we're going to continue to work at it."
Fixing first down will go a long way toward solving third down for Oakland. The Raiders have had 53 plays this season on first-and-10 and it's been a case of all or nothing.
They have had 13 plays - all passes - go for at least 11 yards, tied for the sixth most in the league. But Oakland has faced the second-worst second-down situations in the league, needing an average of 9.27 yards to go.
That can be attributed to a running game that hasn't gotten going so far this season. The Raiders have run the ball 14 times on first down for just 19 yards as the new zone blocking system is failing to click.
"I still have confidence in it and most guys still have confidence in it," offensive lineman Cooper Carlisle said. "We just haven't hit any big runs."
MLB Rolando McClain and CB Coye Francies returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday while recovering from concussions. ... CB Shawntae Spencer (sprained right foot) said he's hopeful he can return after the bye to play in Atlanta on Oct. 14. ... RT Barnes once again did not practice because of the groin injury. ... The Raiders announced that Sunday's game will be televised locally.