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Raiders need to improve their ground game

‘It’s only preseason’ only goes so far. Our eyes don’t deceive us, and numbers don’t lie.

The Oakland Raiders run game is still a work in progress. With no clear leader in the backfield, and undrafted rookie running back Jalen Richard missing his second straight preseason game, the Raiders could have a major problem.

Not many teams can be truly good without a rushing attack, and the Raiders have yet to prove they can be dangerous on the ground. Like Latavius Murray‘s 19 yards on six carries — one-third of the yardage coming on one attempt — reinforces the school of thought that the Raiders needed to be more aggressive in adding to his competition this offseason.

It’s fair to counter that with the fact that the free agent pool wasn’t deep enough to avoid committing a decent but not unreasonable allotment of the salary cap to the only runner coming off a big season, Lamar Miller, who signed for $6 million per year over four seasons.

A position which carries a tremendous rate of injuries and even more parity is tough to invest in, especially when there’s one Kelechi Osemele that can improve multiple areas for less value than spending on a running back would.

But the Raiders also failed to use their draft capital to add impact talent. There wasn’t the positional depth in 2016 as there will be in 2017, but general manager Reggie McKenzie had options like Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon (taken by Baltimore at the end of the 4th round) or Wendell Smallwood (Eagles, fifth round).

They keyed in on DeAndre Washington and pulled the trigger. Him alone. The conviction is to be applauded, but a small school guy who wasn’t as accomplished as others in the draft shouldn’t have been the only one selected.

Considering former Washington running back Alfred Morris was signed in free agency for a reported $2 million per season, and Miami added Arian Foster for a million and a half, the Raiders should have done better.

Because when Washington carries the rock five times and only manages eight yards against a team that hasn’t invested much in their defensive line, you’ve got a problem.

It’s preseason. These results are not indicative of how the season will play. Not entirely, anyway.

But the Raiders saw Packers running back Eddie Lacy carry the ball nine times, amassing 45 yards and six points during the opening drive of Thursday’s loss at Lambeau Field. That’s a drive that should open eyes, especially considering the Packers were without most of their offensive weapons.

What happens if the Raiders are in the hunt when December rolls around, and Amari Cooper misses a game, or Clive Walford goes down, or if the worst case scenario of Derek Carr missing a few games hits Oakland?

Who’s there to shoulder the load?

Not Richard, who looked exceptional in camp and now is nowhere to be found. Not Marcel Reece — he’s going to miss three games due to a suspension from 2015, in which he contends was the result of his body metabolizing a legal substance into a banned substance.

Not George Atkinson III, who had two breakout runs in the preseason opener, only to gain three yards on as many attempts versus Green Bay.

There will be cuts. Perhaps there will be trades — the more logical manner in which the Raiders can shore up their offensive backfield.

It’s only preseason.

The loss to a unit of almost all reserves, while the Raiders first team was trying to move the chains, doesn’t matter in the grand scheme. But there was a glimpse into the maladies that they will need to overcome.

Winning with a lackluster run game, though, just doesn’t happen often.

No team in the 2015 playoffs had anything less than a solid rushing attack. The only squad with a bad running game to make the 2014 postseason were the Lions, armed with Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, and respective duties. Then a barren landscape in the years prior.

History has shown us that the one thing a team really needs to go the distance is a run game. Bad defense? Meh. Underwhelming quarterback play? That can be overcome. Even a head coach — no offense to Marvin Lewis — who can get far but not win a playoff game can eventually change tides.

To win in the NFL, the Raiders must be able to run the football. They need to run it how they feel. They need to run it up the middle and outside of the tackles. They need to be able to do it, period.

And after the second ‘it’s only preseason’ game of 2016, it sure doesn’t look like a reality.

Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at for full coverage of Raiders football.

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