Jalen Richard

Evolving Raiders run game showing signs of progress

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USATSI

Evolving Raiders run game showing signs of progress

Miami had the Raiders run game figured out. The Dolphins held the ground game to six yards on eight carries so, when the Raiders lined up in the shotgun on 3rd-and-3 with three receivers on the left, there was little doubt Derek Carr would be charged with a conversion attempt.

Not so. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing stuck with the run. Carr gave it to Lynch, who cut right behind a Marshall Newhouse block for six yards and the first down.

Then the Raiders lined up heavy, with two receivers left and two tight ends on the line, suggesting Lynch would get the ball again.

Nope.

Carr faked the handoff, held on and launched a 44-yard strike to Johnny Holton. That’s some complimentary football, right there. The Raiders haven’t done that much this season.

Downing said the Raiders run game evolved in the first half. Melding Lynch’s rushing style and preferences with a hulking offensive line took some time. We’ll see if the attack’s hit a steadier stride as the season wears. There were signs of progress against the Dolphins, especially with Lynch in the backfield.

“Sunday was better than it has been,” right guard Gabe Jackson said. “I’m not sure about the stats, but you could see it just looking at the tape that it was better. We still thought some big plays and big opportunities were missed that we need to capitalize on in the future.”

Lynch had two yards on six carries prior to the aforementioned 3rd and 3. He had 55 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries after that.

Downing’s commitment to Lynch helped him get going, even after a rough start. The Raiders must do the same in the season’s second half. More balance is required of run game ranked last with 21.4 attempts per game – that stat’s a bit skewed because the Raiders’ total play count is shockingly low – to keep defenses honest and away from focusing on the pass game.

“We have to continue to get that going,” Carr said. “We have to continue to run the ball well and take pressure off of our wide receivers and tight ends in the pass game. It helps our offensive line. When you’re running the ball like that, the pass rush on the first and second downs is different. The calls coming in from the defensive coordinator are different. If we can continue to do that, it will only help us going forward.”

The Raiders ran pretty darn well last year. Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington paced an attack that earned 120 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry.

Numbers are down across the board this season, averaging 33 yards less per game on six fewer attempts.

Downing is a new play caller and Lynch is a new ball carrier, but the Raiders believe familiar fixtures are responsible for the lack of efficiency on the ground.

“I think they guys need to continue to sustain blocks,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “A runner is a runner, who is trying to get a feel for the guys in front of him. We have to block better. We have to run better. We have to get better all the way around. I don’t think getting used to people is that big an issue.”

The Raiders have the NFL’s biggest offensive line. They have the most expensive line in NFL history. The bar’s sky high for that group. The team expects more of the engine that makes this offense go, even with some schematic adjustments enacted to help Lynch feel comfortable. .

“It should be better,” McKenzie said. “That’s something we’re trying to improve on.”

The Raiders are looking for flow in the run game, something they definitely didn’t have a fortnight past in Buffalo. Lynch was suspended for unsportsmanlike conduct the week before, and the Raiders missed him dearly. Richard and Washington are quality compliments, but haven’t proven they can carry a full workload.

Raiders players and coaches said Lynch was supremely motivated upon return to the team, and it showed once he got going in the second quarter. Consistency is required in the run game, and Downing spent the bye looking for ways to put his backs and blockers in proper position to succeed.

“Each back has their own style,” Downing said. “One thing that we don’t want to do is get pigeon-holed into only doing certain runs with certain players. There are schemes that certain backs on our roster are a little bit more effective at. We want to be able to give them a chance to highlight their skill sets certainly, and Marshawn is comfortable in certain segment of schemes. So, we’re going to give him an opportunity to be as successful as possible for us. That’s my job as a coordinator to identify who we should have in and at what times.”

Richard, Washington could spark Raiders with Lynch suspended

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AP

Richard, Washington could spark Raiders with Lynch suspended

ALAMEDA – Raiders running back DeAndre Washington’s number was called on second-and-goal from the Kansas City 4-yard line. That’s typically a spot where Marshawn Lynch works his magic.

Lynch was in the Oakland Coliseum stands at the time. He got ejected from Thursday night’s game for making contact with an official after joining an on-field scuffle from the sideline.

The situation demanded a power run, even without the Raiders’ power runner. Washington gave them one. The second-year pro channeled his inner Marshawn running to his left. He slammed a shoulder into one defender at the line of scrimmage, kept his balance, bowled through another to reach the end zone.

“When you’re that close to the line, you know you’re going to have to go through some bodies,” Washington said. “After I got through the first guy, I had to find a way to reach the end zone. At that point, it’s about refusing to be denied.”

That was an important showing for a Raiders offense playing Sunday in Buffalo without their main power source. The NFL suspended Lynch one game for the unsportsmanlike conduct that got him ejected.

That leaves Washington and Richard to pick up the slack. There’s confidence that duo can get the job done. Operating without Lynch will be different considering his bruising mentality contrasts Washington and Richard’s slash and dash.

“They don’t have the size and the power but they have a little more quickness, they catch the ball a little easier, better route-runners, things like so,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. "So, if you’re playing a little more wide open, in some respects they give you a little more juice.”

Lynch ranks among the best tackle busters in NFL history. Richard and Washington won’t offer that ground and pound. They offer more physicality that you might think. Washington proved that with Thursday’s run, and Richard averaged 3.3 yards after contact per touch last season.

Elusiveness is key. Richard and Washington have that in spades.

“They call me the little guy and stuff, but I weigh a good amount,” Richard said. “I’m strong in my weight. I believe that I can break tackles and make people miss. Yards after contract are big, and it’s somewhat overlooked in my game. It doesn’t mean you have run somebody straight over. You can give them half of your body and slip right off. I have that in my game.”

Richard and Washington have split the workload before. Latavius Murray missed two games with turf toe last season, and the Raiders ran decently well. Jamize Olawale helped out once, and that trio averaged 3.56 yards per carry in a win. Richard and Washington ran another show last year, but didn’t get many opportunities playing catch-up against the 2016 Chiefs.

They churned out 67 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries last week after Marshawn went down.

While they bring a dynamic quality to spread formations, the running backs insist they can operate any page in the playbook. That might make add unpredictability to the Raiders run game.

“We don’t have too many tendencies when we’re out there,” Richard said. “We do a lot when DeAndre and I are in the game. We’ll be able to spread the offense out and it might be tough to figure out what’s going on. We want to use that to our advantage.”

Left tackle Donald Penn knows the Raiders will run well with a simple plan. The front will create space. Backs just have to run through it.

“If they follow us,” Penn said, ‘they’ll be fine.”

Lynch won't go alone: Richard, Washington vital to Raiders offense

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AP

Lynch won't go alone: Richard, Washington vital to Raiders offense

ALAMEDA – The Raiders announced offensive starters before Sunday’s home opener against the New York Jets.

Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington aren’t in that class. The second-year rushers were headed out to the field with everyone else when Marshawn Lynch halted the advance.

“We were getting ready to go out and he was like ‘Hey, I want you all to come out with me’. I was like, ‘They cool with this?’” Richard said. “He said ‘It doesn’t matter what they say. You boys are coming out with me.’”

It seemed off. This was, after all, Marshawn’s homecoming. A sellout Oakland crowd was waiting to cheer their favorite native son.

Marshawn didn’t care. He wanted the running backs to go out as a unit.

“They’re my (boys),” Lynch said.

Marshawn jogged through a deafening roar, flanked by his protégées.

“That just got me pumped from the get-go,” Richard said. “That just lets you know how much he believes in us, the confidence in us. It makes us play harder.”

The kids have played hard, and listened to Lynch’s sage advice. That’s a requirement in this offense, because Lynch can’t do it alone. Not anymore. Not at age 31.

The Raiders plan to use all three backs in rotation, with Lynch as its lead dog. He carried 18 times in a season opening win at Tennessee. He had 12 in a 45-20 victory over the Jets.

Thus far Lynch has started most games and can close games where the Raiders hold a late lead.

Washington and Richard will have moments in the sun. They generally split remaining touches – unless, like Sunday, Cordarrelle Patterson gets in on the action – to bring a change of pace.

They might also pull a star turn.

Richard did so the Jets, even on Marshawn's big day. Richard registered 109 yards of offense and a touchdown on just eight touches. That included a 52-yard run blocked expertly by tackles Marshall Newhouse and Donald Penn, with Seth Roberts doing dirty work downfield.

“I caught the ball and felt somebody rush up the field,” Richard said. “It made me come inside. The whole week they were telling me to wait rather than get out, so I waited and the Jets overflowed. I put my foot in the ground and creased it. The safety couldn’t see me because I had a blocker, he went this way and I dipped right and then I outran everybody to the end zone and scored. IT was a great blocking play, great game plan play. It was cool.”

Richard also had a 39-yard reception where he took advantage of open space, proving adept finding the right time to turn on the afterburners.

Washington will have his turn making big plays in the backfield, with an efficient track record as a rookie. Lynch has a certain set of skills, able to get tough yards by brute force. The younger guys are game breakers in their own right – Richard proved that Sunday – and will be counted on at times to make the offense go.

“Jalen and DeAndré, they’re both explosive,” quarterback Derek Carr said last week. “We all know that. Really good hands, good route runners, they’re really good in pass protection… I think that with both of those guys in the game, they do similar things, but they give us two options. They give us two fresh bodies so to speak.”