OAKLAND (AP) — The one constant for the Oakland Raiders through the first nine games was the ability to run the ball no matter the outcome, the defense or the running back.
That’s why the lack of a ground game during this current two-game lull is so surprising to the Raiders. Oakland has gained just 77 yards on 28 carries in back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Miami that have knocked the Raiders out of first place in the AFC West.
“The biggest thing is our running game,” tight end Zach Miller said. “That makes everything work for our offense. It makes play action open, it makes throwing the ball a little bit easier. Once we get that running game back on track we’ll be all right.”
The Raiders (5-6) know they need to fix it soon if they are to have any hopes of staying in the playoff hunt. They travel to San Diego (6-5) on Sunday to face a Chargers team that has won four straight games and allowed the third-fewest yards on the ground in the league this season.
Establishing the running game early will be the top task this week for the Raiders, who have been unable to generate any consistent offense on the ground the past two games.
“I don’t feel like we’ve got going from the jump, from the first play to the last,” running back Darren McFadden said. “I don’t feel like we’ve got in a groove. It’s very hard when you’re the running back. You want to be able to get the ball and get in the groove. The offensive linemen like to get in the groove also. So, you just want to try to do that and just keep running the ball.”
The Raiders have been unable to do that the past two weeks. McFadden, who led the NFL with 108.1 yards rushing per game before this stretch, has been held to 16 yards on 18 carries the past two games.
He was hit for losses five times in those two games, including on his first three carries against the Dolphins. He had just five carries the rest of the game.
“He is as good a runner as there is in football, and I think he’s proved that,” coach Tom Cable said. “I think we’ve got to get back to re-establishing who he is and what he brings to the table that way.”
The Raiders have been able to get McFadden the ball in the passing game, where he has caught nine balls for 79 yards the past two games.
“It’s always great to make plays,” he said. “But at the same time, as a running back, you want to do it on the ground.”
Led by McFadden, the Raiders had the league’s second-best running game through the first nine games. They averaged 162.2 yards per game and topped 100 in every contest.
They averaged 4.9 yards per carry and had success with both McFadden and Michael Bush, who topped 100 yards in one of his two starts when McFadden was sidelined with an injured right hamstring.
With a passing game that isn’t nearly as accomplished, teams are putting more and more focus on stopping Oakland’s running game.
So whether it’s by hitting a few big passes to open up the running game, or finding success against those stacked fronts, the Raiders need to find someone to get the ground game back on track.
“This isn’t anything new for us,” Cable said. “You’re going to see eight- and nine-man boxes. That’s what happens when you’re a good running football team. So you have to be able to handle that. Our system has been built to handle that. That’s part of the deal.”
Injuries to Miller have made running the ball even more difficult as he was their best receiving threat and was used often on play-action.
Miller has just three catches the past two games as he has been slowed by plantar fasciitis and then a bruised leg. That has allowed safeties and linebackers to focus even more than usual on defending the run.
“Teams are going to look and see what you were successful at in those games and they’ll try to stop it,” Miller said. “They do plan to stop the run against us. But we’ve seen that before and still been able to run the ball. We got to keep improving and get it right and get it back to how we want to run the football.”
Notes: The Raiders signed QB J.T. O’Sullivan and placed QB Bruce Gradkowski on injured reserve with a separated right shoulder. … CB Chris Johnson did not practice and is making little progress recovering from a groin injury. … DT Richard Seymour (knee) and MLB Rolando McClain (foot) also did not practice. … CB Nnamdi Asomugha (ankle) and S Tyvon Branch (shoulder) were limited.
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