Friday, June 2 2023

Las Vegas Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi said running back Josh Jacobs is one of his favorite players because of the unrelenting way he runs the football.

“He’s old-school and wants to get the ball downhill,” Lombardi said. “And he wants the ball.” 

Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels gave Jacobs the ultimate compliment, calling him a “football player.”

“He’s as tough as they come,” McDaniels said about Jacobs. “He takes a lot of hits and keeps coming. He plays his best in the second half, almost every week. I’m running out of terms, but when you describe someone as a ‘football player,’ that’s what he is.” 

Riding a three-game winning streak entering their Thursday night game at the Rams, the Raiders have turned their season around and have crept back into the playoff conversation at 5-7. One of the driving forces behind that effort has been a return to a physical running game, led by Jacobs. 

The Alabama product leads the league in rushing (1,303) and scrimmage yards (1,634) this season and is tied for third with 10 rushing touchdowns. Jacobs is on pace to break the franchise record for rushing yards set by his mentor, Marcus Allen, who ran for 1,759 rushing yards during his league MVP season in 1985. 

Jacobs has been at his best during his team’s three-game winning streak, averaging 160 rushing yards a game. Overall, Jacobs has rushed for more than 100 yards six times this season. Five of those have been wins for Las Vegas. 

So, how have the Raiders consistently sprung Jacobs loose for big gains? They’ve leaned on a traditional personnel grouping, employing fullback Jakob Johnson and using two-back, one-tight end sets to play bully ball up front. This season, the Raiders have used two-back, one-tight end sets (21 personnel) on 148 of their offensive plays, or 20% of the time. 

Over the past three games, the Raiders have run the ball 45 times for 318 yards and five touchdowns with two-back, one tight end sets. 

In the first game of the three-game winning streak, an overtime victory in Denver, the Raiders totaled 15 carries for 64 yards in 21 personnel. The following week, an overtime win against the Seahawks, the Raiders had 11 carries for 164 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner, an 86-yard touchdown run by Jacobs. Last week in a home win over the Chargers, the Raiders had 15 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown in 21 personnel.

According to Next Gen Stats, Jacobs leads the NFL in yards after contact with 1,064. That means the offensive line, receivers and fullback are doing an excellent job blocking at the point of contact. Jacobs also has a league-high 799 rushing yards in-between the tackles, showing his elite ability as an inside runner. 

The use of a fullback like Johnson to clear a path has been key to Jacobs’ success. Per Next Gen Stats, the Raiders average 5.8 yards per carry and 15.1% of Jacobs’ carries gain at least 10 yards with Johnson in the game. Without Johnson, Jacobs averages 4.9 yards per carry and 12.9% of his carries gain at least 10 yards. 

“The more we do our job right, the more we give those playmakers a chance to do what they are blessed to do,” Johnson said. “I can’t zu-zu like that, but if I can open up the hole for Josh, then we’re going the right way.” 

Case in point: Jacobs’ long touchdown run for a score in overtime against Seattle, when he went virtually untouched. 

“We felt like a lot of the runs were close, but we just had to strain a little bit more and pay attention to the details,” Jacobs said about the play. “We told the guys at the end of the first quarter, one of these is going to pop. It just happened to be the biggest play of the game.” 

Added center Andre James: “He makes our jobs easier with the way that he runs the ball. He runs it with super big passion, so it’s nice blocking for someone like that.” 

Jacobs’ ability to serve as the engine of the offense also creates more opportunity for receiver Davante Adams and the passing game. Adams has posted at least 125 receiving yards and a score in four of the past five games for Las Vegas. 

And Adams helps Jacobs, too. Per Pro Football Focus, the Raiders have faced the most Cover 2 shell defenses this season, which means fewer defenders in the box for Jacobs and the Las Vegas offense when the Raiders run the ball.

Las Vegas selected Jacobs No. 19 overall in the 2019 draft, but the Raiders declined his fifth-year option, meaning he will be an unrestricted free agent next season. Las Vegas could apply the franchise tag this offseason or seek an extension that keeps the 24-year-old runner with the team long-term. 

The Raiders have already consummated long-term deals with several offensive playmakers, including Adams, quarterback Derek Carr, tight end Darren Waller and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. With the season he’s putting together, Jacobs would seem next in line, but he’s more focused on finishing out the year strong.

“Still got to maintain a high level of play,” Jacobs told the Las Vegas Review Journal when asked about his contract status. “They only remember you for your last [game]. We’ll see how this next one comes out.” 

Top stories from FOX Sports:

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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