ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **On a per-play basis, Oakland's offense has slumped a bit during the team's recent 3-2 run back to respectability. Its yardage is down by 0.25 yards per play, and its yardage per pass play is off by over a half-yard (0.57), for which its improvement in the ground game (increase of 0.6 yards per carry) does not compensate.
But despite those numbers, the Raiders' total yardage per game is up 34 yards, bolstered by a 45.6-yards-per-game increase in its rushing tally.
For Oakland, it's all about doing a better job of sustaining possessions and chewing the clock. The Raiders' time of possession increased from 26 minutes, 16 seconds to 32 minutes, 44 seconds.
Typically in the NFL of 2014, time of possession means little. But for a growing offense that lacks consistent deep threats and focuses on avoiding mistakes and maximizing opportunities, the ability to control the flow of the game has been essential to giving the Raiders chances to win over three teams that were playoff contenders at the time they came to O.co Coliseum: Kansas City, San Francisco and Buffalo.
Quarterback Derek Carr's quarterback rating has seen a slight increase during the 3-2 run -- it's 79.3 after being 76.8 in Weeks 1-11. His interception rate has improved; opponents picked off just two of his passes in the last five games -- and both were in St. Louis.
Carr has begun to blossom in the last three weeks: 66-of-118 passing (55.9 percent) for 690 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a 90.0 rating and evidence that he's shaking the typical rookie ups and downs.
"[He] looks way more comfortable this time around than he was back in November when we faced him," said Broncos Head Coach John Fox. "So, I've seen a guy get better, and that's really what I look at more than years of service."
And with Latavius Murray and Darren McFadden providing a solid one-two punch at running back, Carr is no longer under the same pressure to carry the offense that he faced early this season, and has the play-action pass in his arsenal.
Murray missed the 52-0 loss at St. Louis in Week 13 because of a concussion, but in the other four games in the Raiders' 3-2 run, he and McFadden combined to for 108.5 yards per game and 4.88 yards per carry.
That's a lot of numbers for a handful of paragraphs. What they reflect is a franchise whose culture and mindset is changing as they begin shaking free from the darkness of 12 consecutive seasons without a winning record.
Carr's improvement and the potential for more than $50 million of 2015 salary-cap room to invest in improvement offer the Raiders hope that their long stay in the darkness could end in the next 12 months.
"I think just mentally we're starting to change the culture," Carr said. "We knew it was going to be hard when we started, we didn't know it was going to be this hard.
"Things haven't gone well here in a long time so this team wants to be the start of something new and so this team is definitely different, been talking to guys that have been here. This team is definitely different, definitely doing some new things and we're definitely starting to head in the right direction."
And Carr and an offense that can dictate tempo is leading the way.
OAKLAND BY THE NUMBERS**
- Yards per game: 287.7, 32nd
- Yards per play: 4.61, 32nd
- Giveaways: 27, T-27th
- First-down rate: One every 4.28 plays, 32nd
- Third-down conversion rate: 33.94 percent, 28th
- Yards per game: 209.53, 25th
- Yards per pass play: 5.09, 30th
- Sack rate: One every 24.72 pass plays, 4th
- Touchdown rate: One every 29.43 pass plays, 26th
- Quarterback hit rate: One per 12.12 pass plays, 2nd
- First-down rate: One per 3.72 pass plays, 2nd
- Drop rate (per STATS, Inc.):One per 12.19 opportunities, 29th
- Yards after catch per reception (per STATS, Inc.): 4.41, 31st
- Yards per game: 78.2, 32nd
- Yards per rush: 3.68, 27th
- First-down rate: One every 6.02 carries, 30th
- Touchdown rate: One every 79.75 carries, 32nd
Do you have a question for Andrew Mason? Ask it here and you might be in this week's Mailbag!
Check out five key matchups that could affect the result of Sunday's game against the Raiders.