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Josh Jacobs’s ability to fight for yards in tight spaces is just what Raiders need vs stout Bears defensive front

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Jacobs had shown promise at Alabama, but he also came with a lot of question marks. He was never a starter for the Crimson Tide, so there were durability questions. And just the questions that came with why he was never given the workhorse back role.

He showed enough in those limited reps to earn first round back status and the Raiders pulled the trigger on him at 24 overall. Over the first four games of his NFL career, he has gone about checking all those boxes and answering the questions about his abilities at the NFL level.

Namely, he has shown an impressive ability to run between the tackles as well as break tackles. Currently he is fourth in the league in forced missed tackles per touch.

How does he do it? What’s the key? Well, instincts are good. Those are intangible skills that can be honed but can’t be taught. Either you have it or you don’t. And Jacobs has it. He also has great patience to allow his blocks to set up and shoot through his gaps at the right time.

“I’d say it’s a lot of things that go into it,” Jacobs said of his rushing success so far. “Obviously trusting in your Oline. Working with them, I know how good they are, so just trusting and believing in them. And just wanting to. Half the game is kind of mental. Just knowing that you’re going to get hit or knowing that you need to make a play. That’s kind of just how I go into it in each play and I just try to give it my all.”

Last week Jacobs surpassed former Raiders running back Darren McFadden’s record for rookie rushing over his first four games. What’s interesting about that is the two backs could not be any different in their running styles. While McFadden was all speed and needed to get into open space to work, Jacobs has a stocky build and seems to do his best work in tight spaces

“We mentioned early when we drafted him,” Greg Olson said of Jacobs’s body type, “I think I said our scouting department did a tremendous job in evaluating the player and he’s what we consider a heavy runner. Very rarely, when you saw him in college, and when you see him now, and he hits a pile does he get knocked backwards. The pile usually moves forward, so he runs heavy. Again, if you look at his build and see he’s thick boned and plays with a low center of gravity. . . he’s built to be an NFL back.”

In order for the Raiders to compete against the Bears this Sunday, they will need the skills that Jacobs possesses. In that regard, he is the perfect type of back to go up against them.

The Bears defensive front is arguably the best in the league. They are currently third in the league in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (61.5). They allow just 3.0 yards per carry and have given up just one rushing touchdown all season.

“They have the best defensive front I would say in the league. Defensively right now they’re fast and aggressive, so we’re just going to have to match their intensity.”

The most yards allowed this season by the Bears was 90 yards against the Broncos And the most yards they have allowed to a single player was the 54 yards Royce Freeman’s put up in that game. Jacobs has averaged nearly 77 yards per game with a low of 44 yards on just 10 carries. His 4.4 yards per carry was his lowest of the season and nearly a full yard more than the Bears average yards per carry allowed. Something’s got to give.

This group is led by former Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack. He patrols the edge and is as lethal against the run as he is against the pass.

Aside from him, you aren’t going to find many Bears defenders among the leaders in statistical categories. Not because they’re not good players, but because they’re all very good and share the load.

There’s Pro Bowl defensive tackle Akeem Hicks who has stalwart nose tackle next to him Eddie Goldman filling gaps. Backing them are second year former 8th overall pick middle linebacker Roquan Smith and former 9th overall pick Leonard Floyd. Yeah, they like their defense in Chicago.

As for the offense, it hasn’t been nearly at the premiere level, so providing the Raiders don’t turn the ball over, the Bears shouldn’t jump out to a big lead in the game. And so long as the game is within reach, the Raiders can look to their ground game to try and control the clock and take a methodical approach. Grinding it out and taking what might normally be a one or two-yard gain and making it a three or four-yard gain is what Jacobs specializes in.