The National Football League can become a bit confusing when it comes to the importance of tiny details. However, the next two weeks for the Las Vegas Raiders are incredibly simple; win your games against the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers, and you’ll make the postseason for the first time in half a decade.
Fortunately for Rich Bisaccia and company, it appears they may be rediscovering a recipe for success within the myriad of injuries and COVID absences.
Josh Jacobs Is The Key To Shocking The World
In Week 16, Raiders running back Josh Jacobs demonstrated that he is a more than capable bellcow ball carrier, rushing for 129 yards on 27 carries. That 4.8 yards per carry is his highest average since a Week 9 loss to the New York Giants. Sunday also continued the team’s overall success whenever they feed “28” early and often. The Raiders have an 11-3 record when Jacobs finishes with at least 20 carries.
The funny thing is, if you only watched the first half of Sunday’s tilt at Allegiant Stadium, these numbers may surprise you.
Sunday’s Performance Was a Tale of Two Halves
The former first round pick spent the first half of last Sunday’s contest with the Denver Broncos giving Raider Nation reason to question whether or not the Alabama alum deserved to have his fifth-year option exercised. This goes beyond the obviously horrendous fumble he would essentially hand to the Broncos defense. It’s rooted in his inability to consistently take what his blockers give him.
This is not an indictment against the previous Raiders offensive line or the currently improving unit in Silver and Black, but Jacobs’ current running style is indicative of the number of defenders he’s been forced to either elude or run over before gaining daylight. Even in his very impressive rookie year, Jacobs would finish with 842 yards after contact and 69 missed tackles.
This is also part of the problem with Jacobs. His year one performance and the deterioration of the blocking in front of him over the last two seasons caused the third year back to believe he couldn’t trust the sometimes obvious holes being created in front of him. On film, it looks like he’s trying to make everything happen himself, bouncing carries outside for a one-yard gain, or worse, that could’ve been five yards or more had he put his head down, followed his blockers, and made the defense deal with his physicality.
This was on full display in the first two quarters of Week 16.
Angry Jacobs Back?
In the second half, it was like Jacobs went back in time. Rather than looking to get outside on nearly every carry, Jacobs was patient and punishing, churning out chunk runs that created manageable downs and distances for the offense. This led to some very impressive runs. Runs that brought back memories of 2019. This mindset allowed Jacobs to get his longest carry since Week 12 and his first 100-yard game since last season.
Run Raiders Run
With an offense that has looked lethargic since Thanksgiving, a Jacobs resurgence couldn’t come at a better time. And while the defense has looked great the last two weeks, those showings came against poor quarterbacks. Keeping the ground game alive not only helps to spark an offense that is missing multiple weapons on the outside, but it also limits the number of cracks that mostly healthy squads like Indianapolis and Los Angeles will have against a Gus Bradley unit that is missing a few starters.
By the way, this shouldn’t be a newsflash: true playoff teams can run the football effectively. Of the teams remaining in the playoff hunt in both the NFC and AFC, the Raiders are one of only three teams to average less than 100 yards per game, sitting just above the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.
If the Raiders want another taste of January football, all they need is Jacobs to perform like the player he was in 2019.
Once again, its that simple.
*Top Photo: AP Photo/Isaac Brekken