Over the past two games, Michael Bush has found fewer holes to run through. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
What do you say after your team just got hammered 34-14?
How do you explain away the end of a three-game winning streak to a team that lost its first seven games this season?
After the Raiders lost to host Miami Sunday, Raiders players told reporters they felt as flat as they looked on the field.
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vittorio Tafur, “We didn’t play with much juice or energy.” Added defensive tackle John Henderson: “We came out flat. Just flat.”
By losing Sunday, the Raiders lost their one-game lead over the Denver Broncos in the AFC West. Now, both teams are 7-5, with four games remaining.
Raiders head coach Hue Jackson told Tafur, “I didn’t prepare this team as well as I can,” and summed up their performance succinctly: “We couldn’t run. We couldn’t stop the run. We didn’t pass very well.”
The Raiders’ failure to establish a running game against the Dolphins may be the most worrisome point for a team that prides itself on being a physical, run-first team.
Oakland had just 46 yards on 14 carries in Miami – its worst game of the season on the ground – after just a 73-yard output in a win over the Bears a week before.
Though the team misses No. 1 running back Darren McFadden, who has missed the last five games with an injury – and was leading the NFL in rushing when he was healthy – the Raiders continued to run the ball effectively with Michael Bush.
Now, Bush has hit a wall. Against Miami, he gained just 18 yards on 10 carries.
Bush explained the failure to run against the Dolphins as just running into a good defensive team that played well and kicked their tails.
But guard Stefen Wisniewski told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group that it’s up to the Raiders to make the running game work.
“Our offense is only going to work when we run the ball,” Wisniewski said. “We’re a run-first team and the last couple of weeks haven’t been running it like we should have been, and that’s why we’re not performing at our highest.”
McDonald notes that in the first four games following McFadden’s injury – beginning with the Week 7 game against the Chiefs when McFadden had to leave after just two carries – Bush had 461 yards rushing on 96 carries for a 4.8 average per carry. In the past two games, Bush has 87 yards on 34 carries, a 2.6 average.
The Raiders now face a trip to Wisconsin to face the NFL’s only undefeated team, the defending Super Bowl-champion Packers. There’s no word yet on whether McFadden will be able to return, but Oakland needs to regroup in a hurry. The Raiders are in a four-game race to the playoffs with the Broncos.
“You’ve got a chance for redemption if you beat a team that’s undefeated,” quarterback Carson Palmer told the Chronicle. Because on Sunday in Miami, Palmer said, “We got physically beat. It’s very discouraging, very disappointing.”