Before this season, the analytic website Pro Football Focus graded the Raiders as having the sixth-best run-blocking offensive line in the NFL.
There certainly was reason to believe the offense of head coach Jon Gruden would lean heavily on Marshawn Lynch and the other running backs to pound the football on the ground against opponents in 2018.
Wrote PFF: “This was a top-three run-blocking offensive line in 2016 before taking a fairly sizable step backward last year with the same core personnel. At their best, left guard Kelechi Osemele has a career-high run-blocking grade of 91.0 (2015), center Rodney Hudson of 82.4 (2016), right guard Gabe Jackson of 76.8 (2015) and right tackle Donald Penn of 90.1 (2016).”
But five games into this season, the Raiders rank just 24th in the NFL in rushing at 124 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry.
And, last week without the injured Osemele and Penn, the Raiders rushed for just 41 yards in a 26-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. In that game, Jon Feliciano started for Osemele at left guard and rookie Brandon Parker subbed for Penn at right tackle.
Now, the Raiders are getting ready to face the Seattle Seahawks Sunday in London, and it appears Osemele won’t be able to play again. In fact he missed practice Wednesday and was unlikely to even make the trip to England, meaning Feliciano will get a second straight start.
Gruden told reporters that with Osemele out, “We’ll have to rearrange our short yardage and goal (offense) again.”
Osemele, who has a left knee injury he suffered in the overtime win over the Browns, can make a huge difference in the running game. He’s a physical mauler at guard, able to control defensive tackles. He's been selected to the Pro Bowl the past two seasons and in 2016 was a first-team All-Pro pick.
Feliciano had to come in for Osemele against Cleveland, and played 18 snaps before getting his start against the Chargers. Gruden says Feliciano held his own last week and says the injury gives Feliciano a “great opportunity.”
Feliciano says it’s up to him to play up to Osemele’s level.
“My grandfather was telling me, ‘Play your game,’ ” Feliciano recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It’s nothing new. I believe that I’m just as good as K.O., and that’s saying a lot, but if you don’t believe it, then who else is?”
The 1-4 Raiders and 2-3 Seahawks are set to kick off at 10 a.m. PST Sunday.