ALAMEDA — The Raiders’ running backs need a pick-me-up.
There’s no better cure for a run game than the Los Angeles Chargers’ run defense.
Sunday’s matchup comes at a perfect time for Oakland’s backs, who are coming off a much improved performance from the two weeks prior. Against Washington and Denver combined, the Raiders rushed for 56 yards on 28 carries for an abysmal two yards per rush. Oakland wasn’t stunning against Baltimore by any means – 25 carries for 108 yards – but it gave the Raiders’ backfield a slice of momentum heading into a favorable matchup.
The Raiders rank 23rd in the NFL with 90.6 rushing yards per game. The Chargers’ run defense ranks last among 32 teams, surrendering 161.2 yards on the ground. With a subpar rushing attack facing an even worse unit to stop it, something has to give.
“Just because they’re the worst rushing defense in the league right now, we’re not really looking toward that,” Raiders’ backup Jalen Richard said. “It’s just looking toward what are they doing as a defense and what can we do as an offense to make sure that we have some efficient runs.”
Richard, not starter Marshawn Lynch, has been the more efficient runner this season. He’s averaged more yards per carry than Lynch in four of five games. Lynch’s longest carry of the year was 14 yards in Week 1, and Richard has recorded the Raiders’ longest rush in four of five contests. While Lynch’s two rushing touchdowns have come from inside the five-yard line, Richard reeled off a 52-yard score against the Jets in Week 2 and has chipped in a handful of lengthy gains with Lynch failing to do the same.
Since Week 2, Lynch hasn’t logged a rush of double-digit yardage.
Richard received the most carries he has in any game this season last week (nine), a trend the Raiders may want to continue of they want to move the chains more than they have. Richard outlined offensive line coach Mike Tice’s philosophy for desired run yardage: at least four yards on first down, then at least half of what’s left for a first down on second. So far this year, the backup has been more useful to fulfill those goals.
Lynch started to meet them against Baltimore. Further doing so against the Chargers could help dictate a matchup in the trenches that Oakland’s running backs should win.
“Watching the run plays from the Baltimore game, you can see like, oh man, we’re doing some really good things,” Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr said. “Then you can see a couple where man, we’re a hair away. We’re just a right step away or a footwork away or a quarterback boot away. I think a couple in the Denver were, man if my boot was better or if I could hold the backside guy.
“I always see those kind of things, too, where maybe it’d be a bigger play. We see some good stuff, but we also see some five-, six-, seven-yarders that could be 12-, 15-, 20-yarders.”
If Oakland’s run game gains traction, it’ll make life easier for Carr upon his return to action. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram compose one of the more dangerous pass rushes in the league, and the more pressure off Carr’s ailing back the better for Oakland. The two worst games on the ground for the Raiders this season, at Washington and Denver, have also been the two worst passing games for Raider quarterbacks.
Fixing the run game should in turn fix a lagging aerial attack. If the Raiders can own the ground game like it seems they should on paper, maybe the free-fall stops on Sunday.
“The message every week is stop the run and then get after the passer, but obviously when you can’t do that it’s going to cause some trouble for us,” Bosa said. “They’re going to be able to run play action and other sorts of things when we can’t stop the run game. It’s definitely an emphasis going into this week and every week.”
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