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Graney: Raiders need to fix yo-yo of running game

Like a yo-yo, up and down, that’s been the Raiders’ rushing attack this season. There have been lots of knots in those strings.

Is there such a thing as a must-win in Week 10 of a 17-game schedule?

There might be for the Raiders — who have lost two straight and looked awful doing so — when hosting the Bengals on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.

Which means it’s imperative the hosts rediscover some sense of offensive consistency. Which means they better stay on the field a whole lot longer than when falling to the Chiefs 41-14 last Sunday night.

How? Run the ball successfully.

“If we do that, we get a lot more looks,” said Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. “We had some creases and things like that against (Kansas City), but then we would turn the ball over and they would score. … We have to stay on the field.”

Critical downs

His point: The Raiders had five drives in the first half against Kansas City of seven or fewer plays . When you’re going three-and-out or five-and-out or six-and-out, what you can call becomes limited.

The Raiders have also been terrible on third down of late, converting at just 26.7 percent in the last three games.

So when you’re facing short yardage on the most critical of downs, those false-start penalties that have defined the offensive line in losses make converting all the more difficult. And often take run plays off the table.

There have been glimpses of good when handing off. The Raiders were one of the league’s worst run teams through six games before generating consecutive 100-yard efforts against the Eagles and Giants. Went for 119 yards in beating Philadelphia and 117 in falling to New York.

But at least there was a pulse.

Things would flat-line against the Chiefs, with the Raiders managing just 50 yards on 14 carries.

It’s pretty bleak overall — the Raiders rank 28th across the league in rushing yards per game (85.0) and yards per carry (3.7).

This is also obvious: They need to get third-year starter Josh Jacobs going. Banged up some again, Jacobs has missed two games this season and not generated much at all in terms of production.

Forgettable numbers

According to the Associated Press …

In the past two seasons, Jacobs is 27th among 29 eligible players in yards per carry (minimum 200 carries); 44th of 44 in converting on 3rd/4th-and-1 (minimum 10 carries); and tied for 51st with three runs of 20-plus yards.

This season, he ranks 31st among all running backs in scrimmage yards per game (63.6).

As a rookie, he ranked 8th, and he was 15th last season.

He’s not turning 5-yard gains into 20. He isn’t running away from many people. That’s not his game.

His backup, veteran Kenyan Drake, averages 22.9 yards rushing per game.

But as the Raiders continue searching for an offensive identity, getting Jacobs moving in a more positive direction should be paramount. It would also help if the line had better run blockers.

It’s all relative.

There has been definite improvement up front, but you have to first consider the early depths from which it arrived. Of the five starters, only left tackle Kolton Miller has a better-than-average run blocking grade, per Pro Football Focus.

“It’s all very fixable,” Jacobs said. “It’s all preventable with a little more discipline. We need to just mentally refocus on the task. Just get back to basics as a team. Be who we think we are.”

Not sure what that is.

It has looked like a yo-yo.

Guessing that’s not the goal.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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