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26 Jul 2012

Walkthrough: Bolts and Raiders

by Mike Tanier

Raiders Top Five Running Backs

1. Marcus Allen

Allen belongs to a small subset of players like George Blanda and Jim Marshall: guys who had a brief peak, then hung around for so long that they eventually became folk heroes, their every accomplishment trumpeted by play-by-play guys. Doug Flutie is also in this camp, though he was not nearly as good as the others.

Allen had three very good years, then an outstanding one, plus an incredible 1983 playoff performance capped by one of the signature plays of NFL history. He then spent seven seasons battling injuries and Al Davis, slowly descending from featured back status to a committee situation, then to a bit role as Davis punished him for holding out during training camps and other alleged transgressions.

There appears to be a school of thought that pencils in 1,200 yard seasons for Allen in the 1991-92 Davis-as-Nero years and perhaps another 1,200-yards in 1988 and 1990, the Bo Jackson years. That is, Allen’s reputation was so great after his USC career and the 1982-86 seasons that he is given benefit of the doubt for things he never actually accomplished.

The problem is that Allen never had any of the hypothetical seasons he might have had if not for Bo and Al, and the seasons he did have were pretty unspectacular. Frankly, I think Davis would let Allen play even if Allen peed in the owner’s coffee if Allen were still playing at 1983-85 levels by 1988 and beyond. Allen had slipped to the point that he was a committee back. Davis knew it and wasn’t going to overpay for his services.

Allen is a Hall of Famer, but he is a lower-tier guy. I realize that this is a minority opinion, but I cannot understand why.

2. Mark Van Eeghen

Van Eeghen was the bruising fullback for the great John Madden Raiders teams of the mid-70s, and hung around to help beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XV. The Raiders offense of that era was wide open and daring for the times, but it was still a 1970s offense, and Van Eeghen churned out 324 carries in 1977, most of them between the tackles.

Van Eeghen is not quite a Hall of Famer, but he is underrated among players of the mid-1970s. The Raiders themselves are partly to blame for the fact that players like Van Eeghen and Cliff Branch are not better remembered. Their Sons of Anarchy image overwhelms the accomplishments of individual players, so when it comes time for NFL Films to look back at the 1970s Raiders, there are shots of guys on motorcycles and crazy costumes and defensive players talking about how brutal they were. The Steelers get to live on as individuals; the Raiders are stuck being Davis’ hooligans. Van Eeghen was a great running back for a few years, not a biker stereotype, so he doesn’t get a lot of screen time during the montage.

3. Marv Hubbard

Hubbard was Van Eeghen’s predecessor, a punishing fullback who averaged 4.8 yards per carry in the early 1970s, with the help of one of the three or four best offensive lines in history.

4. Clem Daniels

The all-time AFL rushing leader, Daniels is also the anti-Marcus Allen. Al Davis loved Daniels, built his first pro offense around Daniels, and even let the running back get involved in game planning. Daniels was a do-it-all size-speed marvel who could even pass a little, but he attended Prairie View in an era when NFL scouts didn’t pay much attention to black colleges, so he wound up kicking around the AFL. The usual early-AFL caveats apply, but Daniels was one of the three or four best players in that league in the early and mid-1960s, so there is little doubt he was pretty darn awesome.

5. Pete Banaszak

The Kevin Faulk of the old Raiders dynasty, Banaszak hung around as the second or third running back for the Raiders from 1966 to 1978. In 1975, he was the team’s designated short-yardage runner, scoring 16 touchdowns. In most seasons, however, he played special teams and filled in for guys like Hubbard, Clarence Davis, and van Eeghen. Banaszak is best known for scooping the ball forward on the Holy Roller play.

Davis was the halfback behind Hubbard and later Van Eeghen. He was good, but the Raiders running game of that era was built for the fullbacks, and Davis only carried more than 130 times in one season. (His receiving numbers were nothing special, either.) Napoleon Kaufman ranks fourth on the Raiders’ all-time rushing list, which seems shocking until you realize that guys like Davis, Daniels, Charlie Smith and Banaszak leeched carries off each other for so many years. Kaufman averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 1997, rushed for over 1,200 yards, and ended up with -38 DYAR. Success Rate can be a real killer.

Bo Jackson? Bo rushed for 2,782 career yards, 271 of them on his three best carries. That’s just about 10 percent of his career production on three plays. He was breathtaking to watch when healthy, which wasn’t often, but in addition to the durability issues he had no receiving value. He played just enough to convince us of how great he could have been, but not enough to be great.

The Raiders had a lot of running backs who were good for a year or two, like Tyrone Wheatley, or committee guys who were good for years, like Charlie Smith. But let’s give a shout out to poor Charlie Garner here. He could not make the insanely great 49ers list, and he did not do enough with the Eagles. He had three excellent all-purpose seasons with the Raiders, but this is yet another tough list. Garner gets an At Large Honorable Mention.

Chargers Top Five Running Backs

1. LaDainian Tomlinson

The 2004-09 Chargers are going to be one of those teams historians will have to re-excavate 30 years from now, our modern version of the Rams of the late 60s-early 70s or the Colts of the mid-1970s. The 2006 team will bubble up as a footnote in the Patriots saga, but the rest of the team will fight to not be forgotten. Tomlinson could even get the Cris Carter treatment for the Hall of Fame, because he lacks "the signature play" that some voters claim in dead seriousness that an inductee needs, and because "he didn’t win anything" is apparently a valid argument against any non-champion these days.

Those Chargers teams were very good and fascinatingly flawed. Their coaches present interesting conundrums. Who is Marty Schottenheimer except a slightly better Chuck Knox? Norv Turner is the strategic and spiritual son of Ted Marchibroda. Both gave Tomlinson the chance to thump and thump, and he answered the call as a primary weapon for teams that won 12, 13, and 14 games.

2. Paul Lowe

3. Keith Lincoln

The Chargers’ running back history is unspectacular after Tomlinson. There are a bunch of guys with one or two good seasons, and everything from the merger to Don Coryell’s arrival is a big void. Lowe and Lincoln were the 1-2 punch for Sid Gilman’s AFL Championship team, combining for 2,300 yards from scrimmage in 1963. Lincoln was also both the kick returner and the kicker in 1964, which reminds us how far back in time we were, in a league that was still playing catch-up. Between Gilman’s scheme and the competition level, it’s hard to tell how good Lowe and Lincoln were, but nobody else on this list strung enough good years together to challenge them.

4. Chuck Muncie

Muncie was brilliant in 1981 and strike-shortened 1982, but age and hard living took their toll after that. Coryell’s offense was insanely pass-oriented for his era, but one place where it was old-fashioned was near the goal line: inside the five-yard line, even the innovators still pounded the ball (and still do, to a lesser degree). Muncie scored 19 touchdowns in 1981, benefiting from the offense around him as much as his own talents: 13 of them were one-, two-, or three-yard plunges, usually as part of 42-31 or 31-17 games.

5. Tie: Marion Butts and Natrone Means

Two fun-to-watch bowling balls who each had one great season, then plugged along for a few years as a battering ram while Chris Berman made sound effects. Means got to be on the Super Bowl team that got pummeled by the Niners. Butts cranked out 1,200 yards for a bad 1990 team coached by Dan Henning, whose name came up on some of our other message boards last week. Henning was a great coach if you wanted a Joe Gibbs one-back power running game and absolutely, positively nothing else.

Ryan Mathews could make this list with a couple more seasons like 2011.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 26 Jul 2012

45 comments, Last at 01 Aug 2012, 7:59am by dryheat


by Junior :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 12:21pm

Was Allen the only guy that banged Al's wife or was that a rite of passage to anyone that made the roster?

What I liked about him was that no defender ever really seemed to get a clear, direct shot on him. Maybe "slippery" is the word. Whenever he did get hit, he'd generally fall forward and get an extra half yard or so, seemingly every single carry. He'd have runs where you'd think "Damn, they really stuffed him" as he slipped through the line for 4 yards. He's not the only RB with that quality, but he was the best at it. As a Chief, he could always be counted on to have two of his best games of the season against the Raiders.

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 12:23pm

I understand why he didn't make your list of top Raiders backs, but many thanks for mentioning Charlie Garner. He's one of my favorite 49ers; in my opinion an underrated guy for most of his career who, because he was undersized, had to fight and claw just to get playing time. Example: when the Niners brought him in, they planned to use him as the backup to Lawrence Phillips. The backup. To Lawrence. Phillips. Shortly after Phillips ended Steve Young's career, Garner got his shot.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 1:01pm

I am assuming Garner was kept off just by longevity. He only played for the Raiders for three years and the last of those was a major drop from the first two.

As a Bronco fan, the '99-'02 Raiders had the most annoying offense I have ever seen. It seemed like they never ran the ball and threw it within five yards of the line of scrimmage on every play. You would think that such a one-dimensional offense would be relatively easy to stop, but it just didn't happen.

A goofy sidenote about Garner: I had an SNES football game as a kid that included high school, college, and NFL modes. You couldn't see the players' ratings in college mode, but Tennessee had a RB who outran "RB #20" on the Lions, whose speed rating was full. You could pitch to him on the outside every single play and score every time because he was just so ridiculously fast. Tennessee's main running back in the season when that game is set was Charlie Garner, so I assume it's him.

by Travis :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 1:07pm

Super Play Action Football?

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 1:36pm

Yes. Sorry I forgot to put the title in there.

by tuluse :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 1:37pm

Isn't that what the '10 and '11 Patriots pretty much do?

When you have a hyper-accurate quarterback and physical receivers/tightends it seems like it is just about impossible to stop.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 1:59pm

The '10-'11 Patriots are much better running teams than those Raiders were.

And I'm not saying that it should be stoppable, just that it felt like it.

Probably a big part of the reason is really just this game: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200211110den.htm
Rich Gannon completed 21 straight passes at one point. They weren't doing anything after the catch. Their running game was awful when they tried it. It was a painful game to watch. (Of course, it didn't help that my team was quarterbacked by post-injury Brian Griese and as I recall he was playing through yet another injury during this game.)

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 2:07pm

Yeah, I remember Dr. Z called the 2002 Raiders offense the "gnat attack." Short, positive pass play after short, positive pass play. It really was dink-and-dunk in its most extreme and effective form.

by Alaska Jack :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 3:01pm

I also remember those teams for Gannon's running, not just throwing. He was very athletic, and always seemed to get seven yards on third-and-six.

lllll Alaska Jack

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 5:08pm

The Raiders were pass-heavy ... week 2 2002 against the Steelers - Gannon was 43 of 64 - 403 yds. But week 17 - when Gannon had the opportunity to set some passing records - it rained like anything against the Chiefs. The Raiders ran the ball 60 times for 280yds and passed 7 of 14 for 75yds ...

But in 2000 the Raiders had the #1 run offense with almost 2,500 yds. However after the Ravens destroyed their run offense in the 2000 AFC championship game; I guess it convinced them to go to the air particularly as they had picked up Jerry Rice and Jerry Porter to complement Tim Brown.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 6:35pm

1999 Passing: 569 plays (rank 23), 3609 yards (11), 6.3 NY/A (6), 5.7 ANY/A, 32.6% DVOA (2)
1999 Rushing: 488 plays (7), 2084 yards (3), 4.3 Y/A (7), 7.1% DVOA (4)
2000 Passing: 503 plays (25), 3306 yards (15), 6.6 NY/A (8), 6.7 ANY/A, 32.0% DVOA (6)
2000 Rushing: 520 plays (3), 2470 yards (1), 4.8 Y/A (3), 10.7% DVOA (7)
2001 Passing: 580 plays (11), 3707 yards (4), 6.4 NY/A (8), 6.6 ANY/A, 31.6% DVOA (2)
2001 Rushing: 450 plays (12), 1654 yards (24), 3.7 Y/A (26), 6.8% DVOA (7)
2002 Passing: 655 plays (2), 4475 yards (1), 6.8 NY/A (3), 6.9 ANY/A, 37.2% DVOA (2)
2002 Rushing: 414 plays (23), 1762 yards (18), 4.3 Y/A (13), 23.6% DVOA (4)

So I guess they really were such an extreme pass-heavy team just in '02, though they were consistently a better passing team than they were a rushing team. It's funny how memory works, because in my mind that entire period is all the same, when that's clearly untrue.

by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 07/27/2012 - 9:46am

It is amazing, in a way, that by conventional stats, the Raiders went from the #1 rushing team in 2000 to the #1 passing team in 2002. Of course, both of those units failed them in their playoff losses (though they have the distinction of losing to BOTH of the two greatest defense-first championship teams of the past 20 years or so).

I wish that group of Raiders got together earlier in their primes. Gannon was the perfect QB to make it work, and by 2002, it utilized everyone perfectly. Garner was also a perfect back for it (90 catches in 2002).

My favorite Raider memory was their final great game, the 2002 AFC Championship Game, where through three quarters, the Raiders called one running play. They still put up 27 points (aided by turnovers, sure).

It is sad that 03-09 happened, for the obvious reasons mostly. None more than the fact that it will probably, over time, obscure the memory of what was a really nice team from 99-02 that Al put together. His last glorious turn at taking a bunch of old castoffs (Rice in a way, Garner, Gannon, the o-line, Romanowski, Rod Woodson) and turning them into something that won 12, 10 and 11 games, and without a certain Tuck Rule, would have made three straight AFC Title Games.

by chemical burn :: Fri, 07/27/2012 - 1:32pm

I loved Garner when he was playing for the Eagles and I think Mike's affection for Garner has to be tied in a funny way to his hatred of Ricky Watters. I remember in 1995 screaming for Garner to get more carries and not be the back-up to Watters because Garner was clearly a billion times better - in fact, I remember thinking "Garner looks better than Emmitt Smith" which would generate laughs when said outloud. When the 1995 DVOA was released, that was the first thing I looked up and goddamn it felt good to be right: Garner was #1 in DVOA, his 30.8% way above Watters' 29th ranked -2.8%... and even significantly better than Smith's 2nd ranked 21.5%. Garner was #1 in Success rate, to boot - with Rodney Peete as the Eagles' starting QB.

Next year he was almost as good with 21.4% DVOA. He should have been the Eagles' starter for another 6 years.

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Fri, 07/27/2012 - 1:45pm

I was annoyed to an irrational extent (evidently enough to still remember it) when FO included Garner on a list of average-to-mediocre backs who had fluky 200-yard games, like Derrick Ward and Timmy Smith. Garner's no HOFer, but there was nothing fluky about him having a big game. He had quite a few of them.

by chemical burn :: Fri, 07/27/2012 - 3:09pm

Yeah, Garner is definitely who I think of when I think of "players who produced at a high level but never really got their shot." That actually would be an interesting list for FO to compile: guys with really good advanced stats (or promising stats) who never got their chance to seize control of their destiny...

Philly really has quite a tradition of smaller, shifty speed guys with a surprisingly lot of power who are originally projected to be 3rd down backs: Garner, Westbrook, McCoy... Rhodes not realizing what he had in Garner is one of the many, many things that separates him from Andy Reid. Rhodes really did like "warriors" with "mental toughness," so I can only assume that's what Garner was lacking.

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Fri, 07/27/2012 - 3:34pm

I don't know, Garner was a star in the second half of his career with the Niners and Raiders so I don't really see his career as an example of unfulfilled potential, but merely delayed fulfillment of that potential. I can see how Eagles fans might feel differently.

by Dean :: Fri, 07/27/2012 - 3:59pm

You mean guys like Rock Cartwright?

by Dean :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 12:25pm

I recently watched a couple complete games from the 70s on youtube. One was an early-season Raiders/Dolphins game from 1975. Van Eeghen was one guy in particular who really surprised me at just how good he was. Granted, this was against a Dolphins D that was missing Manny Fernandez, Dick Anderson and Nick Buonoconti, (not to mention the losses of Kiick, Czsonka and Warfield on the other side of the ball) but he still looked really good.

by dryheat :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 4:15pm

Van Eeghen's daugher is married to Dan Koppen. Useless, but interesting fact.

by Travis :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 12:45pm

[Bo Jackson] was breathtaking to watch when healthy, which wasn’t often, but in addition to the durability issues ...

Plus the 5-6 games he'd miss every season until the baseball season ended.

by Eggwasp (not verified) :: Mon, 07/30/2012 - 3:25am

Indeed - did he have durability issues once he joined the team each season? According to PFR, he played every game until his last... I wonder if Mr Tanier has looked up the games played total and forgot he was a Royal for a month & a half each season...?

I wonder about the lack of receiving value also - those Raiders were still very much of the view that if you completed a pass for less than 15 yards it was a waste & of course they had Marcus Allen for that as well. I think a better OC could have come up with a gameplan that would used Bo better in that part of the game.

by Travis :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 12:58pm

Tomlinson could even get the Cris Carter treatment for the Hall of Fame, because he lacks "the signature play" that some voters claim in dead seriousness that an inductee needs, and because "he didn’t win anything" is apparently a valid argument against any non-champion these days.

Curtis Martin just went into the Hall of Fame on the second ballot, and Tomlinson's case is better across-the-board. (Martin did make the Super Bowl as a Patriot his rookie year, if that matters.)

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 1:30pm

Tomlinson no doubter for Hall of Game. Gerat rb if even play for crappy Chargers.

Top 5 chargers
1. Tomlibson
2. Lowe
3. Lincoln
4. Muncie
5. Means

Dick Post pretty good for spell too. Once ran a mod clothing store.

1. Allen
2. Mark van Eeghen (v lowcasrd)
3. Daniels
4. Davis
5. Banaszak

by TomC :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 2:34pm

Mike, I'm just going to point out that Raiderjoe has corrected your spelling. That is all.

by Jerry :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 5:43pm

While we're at it, two Ls in Sid Gillman.

by Travis :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 1:53pm

Was Ronnie Harmon considered for one of the Chargers' positions? He was a third-down back, so he didn't get many carries, but he was a very productive pass catcher for six seasons.

by Alaska Jack :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 2:59pm

As a Raiders fan, oh how I hated that little motherf*$#er. And I mean that in the most respectful way.

lllll Alaska Jack

by BroncFan07 :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 2:28pm

I had heard once that one of the main things that landed Marcus Allen in Al Davis' doghouse was his fumble in OT against the Eagles at the Coliseum in 1986. The Raiders were in Eagles' territory and driving for the winning score, and the ball was returned to the Raiders' 1 yd line and the Eagles won. The story goes that Davis never forgave him for that, but it could be urban legend. Perhaps Eagles/Raiders fans remember this better than me?

I always wonder what did more for Bo Jackson's legend: the Monday Night in Seattle, or Tecmo Super Bowl.

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 2:36pm

Monday night in Kingdome and wall running in Cleveland think it was which was signature plays. Most remembered for general great athleticsim. Also bunch of commercials

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 3:35pm

I'd say Tecmo. It didn't take very long to realize that The Boz was all hype, but Tecmo Bo was awesome forever. People STILL play Tecmo SB.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 4:57pm

If you read "You're ok it's just a bruise" ... by the Raiders then team-doctor Rob Huizenga ... it has a chapter about Marcus Allen's downfall.

1) he got injured in about week 3 of the 1986 season. His injury couldn't be diagnosed, Davis thought Allen was just bluffing.
2) the OT fumble against the Eagles was definitely a nail in the coffin. It was returned (by Andre Waters) about 86-yards for a TD when the Raiders had been in FG position.

If there was a moment in the history of the Raiders when the franchise's fortunes turned around - I would nominate that fumble against the Eagles. Prior to 1986 the Radiers had been to the playoffs for the umpteenth time in years ... in 86 they opened 0-3, went 8-1 to get back to 8-4, then lost to the Eagles and then their laast 3 games including the Colts in week 16 - a team that opened 0-13. A year later the strike occurred, the Raiders had a 9-game losing streak, Flores was fired, then Shanahan came in and the Raiders have at best had average success since.

by Smade (not verified) :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 5:02pm

Another thing not many people remember is that Allen hurt his knee in 1986. It didn't require surgery but he did miss a handful of games and lost some of his agility afterward. He was never the same back as a result and bringIng Jackson in was completely justified. He played some downs as a wideout and would probably have been very sucessful following a Gifford path.But his ego refused to accept facts and he instead became a grumbler.

by sswoods (not verified) :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 4:14pm

"The Raiders offense of that era was wide open and daring for the times, but it was still a 1970s offense"

I thought this was interesting. We remember the deep passing game and the colorful personalities, but the Raiders were run-heavy even by 70's standards. They finished with the 2nd most rush attempts for the decade (after the Rams). From '72 to '77 they ranked in the top 8 is rushing attempts every year, leading the league in '75 and '77 by averaging over 45 attempts per game. Only 10 teams in NFL history (post WWII) have run that much.

by tuluse :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 4:16pm

Is that run heavy, or did they have a good offense that ran more plays total?

by clark :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 4:32pm

That's run heavy even for that era. The Raiders often had a large lead, and teams with a large lead would run, no matter how feared their passing attack was.

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Fri, 07/27/2012 - 12:18pm

You raise an interesting point -- it's hard to separate a team's offensive philosophy from how effective that team is. Meaning, a team's propensity to run the ball when it *doesn't* already have a large lead may be a better indicator of whether it's philosophically a run-heavy offense than just counting up the total number of running plays. Similarly, a team that looks to have a pass-wacky offensive philosophy may just suck, and be throwing the ball all the time as they try to overcome big deficits.

by ChicagoRaider :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 4:42pm

Wide-open depended some on the opponents. The games against Air Coryell often had really, really wide-open offense. Sometimes mind-blowingly so. With a lead a good pass rush and good cornerbacks meant it was the defense's turn to make big plays.

by Mark Finzel (not verified) :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 8:22pm

1977 Raiders hold all time team rushing attempts mark - 681 in 14 games, yet. Considering how often teams pass now, will be tough to top that one.

by Anonymous234234 (not verified) :: Thu, 07/26/2012 - 6:47pm

wooooo Charlie Garner and Tyrone Wheatley, those names make me smile.

god, the Raiders have had some mediocre backs in the dark ages. Lamont Jordan, Fargas, Amos Zeroue (!).

by ChicagoRaider :: Fri, 07/27/2012 - 4:03pm

Justin Fargas did a great job for a couple of years. But as we know, running backs can burn of fast. It took Justin time to ramp up too. He set himself up for some of the most incredible blows with his running style, so his fast decline was to be expected.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 07/28/2012 - 8:53am

I'd be amazed if Fargas is walking in 20 years time with the hits he took week-in, week-out. Lotta respect for the guy though.

by LionInAZ :: Tue, 07/31/2012 - 12:03am

I remember Cliff Branch from those days in the 70s when I was learning about football, but I had never heard of Mark van Eeghen until this article. That's pretty anonymous for a player who was the 2nd best RB in team history.

by Ryan D. :: Tue, 07/31/2012 - 10:49am

He's not an all-time great by any means, I just thought I would have read the name "Napoleon McCallum" by now.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 07/31/2012 - 7:06pm

One of two gruesome injuries involving Ken Norton.

by dryheat :: Wed, 08/01/2012 - 7:59am

Muhammad Ali being the other, of course.