OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) With leading rusher C.J. Anderson sidelined by a knee injury, the Denver Broncos struggled to get off the ground in their AFC West showdown against the Oakland Raiders.
Rookie Devontae Booker was bottled up from the start and Denver ended up abandoning the run in a 30-20 loss to the Raiders on Sunday night that dropped the defending Super Bowl champions out of first place.
Booker was held to 22 yards on 10 carries and Denver (6-3) ran for just 33 yards on 12 attempts against what had been one of the league's worst run defenses the first half of the season. It was the least productive game for the Broncos on the ground since they were held to 28 yards on 10 carries in a loss to St. Louis on Nov. 16, 2014.
''We've got to find a way to run the football somehow, some way, to help our football team,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ''Obviously the last two weeks it's been pretty much non-existent.''
Denver's running game took a big hit two weeks ago when Anderson was placed on injured reserve because he needed surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Anderson was coming off his best performance of the season, having run for 107 yards on 16 carries in a win against Houston. He was averaging 4.0 yards a carry and had run for four TDs at the time of his injury that forced Booker into a more prominent role.
In two games as the lead back, Booker has run for just 76 yards on 29 carries.
The running game was more of a luxury in recent years for Denver when Peyton Manning was controlling the game at quarterback. But during Manning's struggles last season and with rookie Trevor Siemian at the controls this year, the Broncos need to rely more heavily on the run game if they want to have success offensively.
They came out throwing against the Raiders and went three and out on their first four possessions. Siemian threw eight passes out of the 12 plays, with Booker running four times for 10 yards.
Denver struggled to stay on the field, converting just 3 of 11 third downs and possessing the ball for only 18:32.
''Part of that is on me,'' Siemian said. ''Some of those third downs, you can't run the ball if you're not on the field. Converting those third downs and staying on the field and getting into a rhythm - it's not just the quarterbacks and receivers but the offensive line, everybody. It's something we'll work on and we'll get it fixed.''
Siemian managed to hit a few big plays in the passing game later on, connecting on a deep 36-yard TD pass to Jordan Norwood in the second quarter and a 69-yard TD on a short pass behind the line to Kapri Bibbs in the fourth quarter.
But with little threat of the run, Oakland's pass rushers were able to tee off on Siemian, and Khalil Mack had two sacks, including a forced fumble that he recovered. Siemian also threw a late interception that sealed the win for Oakland.
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