Week 9 will once again test the Las Vegas Raiders’ run defense as they visit Jacksonville. Waiting for them is one of the most explosive running backs in the league right now, Travis Etienne. Needless to say, the Raiders are in trouble again if their struggles stopping the run persist.
Individually speaking, many defensive players on the Raiders are having solid seasons in terms of run defense. The Raiders are currently seventh with 760 rushing yards surrendered to their opponents. By the same token, they’ve shown in the last couple of games that they’re susceptible to big plays and surrendering yards in chunks. Both the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints exploited this in those contests. Texans running back Dameon Pierce gashed the Raiders, averaging nearly five yards per carry (4.6). On top of that, he caught four passes for 25 yards.
The Raiders Need To Resharpen Their Run Defense
Last week, both Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill followed suit. Hill, one of the most unique weapons in the NFL, averaged more than six yards every time he ran the ball (6.1). Meanwhile, Kamara ran in for a touchdown and totaled 62 yards. When you look at the streak that Etienne is on (despite the Jaguars losing), it doesn’t bode well for Patrick Graham’s defense. He himself talked about the type of challenge that Etienne brings to the table earlier this week.
“It’s a tough matchup, and you can see that the league goes in different directions… there’s always been backs that can catch the ball, there’s no question. But in my 14 years in the league, you saw at one point where it was, ‘Okay, let’s go with the two tight end system and try to get the tight ends more involved in the passing game.’ Then, all of a sudden, it transitioned to getting the backs more involved. It’s just the offensive coordinators being innovative, finding ways to get the backs in favorable positions and matchups, and it just becomes difficult because they do two things: they catch the ball and they run. You look at Jacksonville; they have some backs that can catch the ball, that are dynamic in the pass game and also dynamic in the run game, and that presents a challenge for this week. We got to figure out the plan and figure out the best way to take it away.”
Travin Etienne has been on a tear this season
The Jaguars made it clear that Etienne was going to be their future. They further backed up this notion by trading away James Robinson earlier this season. Etienne has accumulated 356 rushing yards in the last three games; you can also tack on two touchdowns to that total. Etienne has also been slowly getting incorporated into the passing game more and more. Trevor Lawrence has targeted Etienne ten times in those three games. Considering what Hill, Kamara, and Pierce accomplished, the possibility that Etienne breaks off from the backfield is going to be ever-present on Sunday.
Not a lot has gone right for the Jaguars this season, but their ground game has been noteworthy. In fact, they have the seventh-ranked offense as far as rushing yards go (1,153). Their nine rushing touchdowns are just shy of the top five (6th) this year as well. A lot of this stems from the solid run blocking fans have seen from the Jaguars, in particular from Cam Robinson on the left side.
Travis Etienne nimbly slides around the diving edge defender.
Throws his right leg out in front & whips his left leg around to avoid contact. Excellent balance and adaptive problem-solving. pic.twitter.com/iNv9Wnfn0M
— JetPack Galileo (@JetPackGalileo) November 3, 2022
It’s going to be interesting to see how Graham plans to neutralize that side of the field. Chandler Jones has been adequate in run defense, so much of that task will likely fall to him. The thing with Etienne has been the big plays. In four games this year, he’s had four gains of more than 30 yards, with three of those being for 48-plus yards as well. It won’t be an easy task for the Raiders, and if they hope to salvage this season, figuring out Etienne will be one of the main keys.
*Top Photo: Mike Carlson/Getty Images