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Film room: Josh Jacobs, breaking tackles and stacking checks

Diving into the RB’s season so far

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders
Josh Jacobs
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Baseball fans just watched Aaron Judge put together a historical season after turning down a massive contract offer from the New York Yankees in the offseason, forcing the Yankees to put together a new offer this offseason with an amount that one adjective won’t do justice. While Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs’ situation isn’t exactly the same, it’s pretty similar.

Fueled by the Raiders’ new regime electing not to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract, Jacobs has been on a tear this season. Through six weeks of the campaign, he owns the highest rushing grade (90.4) from Pro Football Focus and ranks third with 28 missed tackles forced (MTF) among running backs. Of his 489 rushing yards and 5.4 yards per carry, 381 and about 4.2 have come after contact which is third- and fourth-best at his position, respectively.

But the numbers don’t even do the 2019 first-round pick justice. His tape has been a thing of beauty and below are a few of the highlights from the first quarter of the year.

This first clip is a halfback dive from the Broncos game where Derek Carr is selling the pass on his drop to force the defense to stay deep similar to a draw. So Jacobs is going to get some help from the play design, but the way he sets this up is what takes the run from a chunk gain to a first down.

His initial aiming point is the right A-gap (between the center and right guard) but the safety — no. 30, Justin Simmons — comes downhill and fills the hole quickly. Instead of immediately veering for the backside, Jacobs presses the line or continues on his path to the A-gap and cuts back with perfect timing at the last minute. That gets Simmons to basically block himself as he runs into Andre James, and look what it also does to backside linebacker, no. 47 Josey Jewell.

Jewell starts to cheat to the playside because the running back presses the line for so long, and that forces Jewell to redirect and get caught flat-footed when Jacobs cuts back and reaches the second level. From there, Jacobs hits the backer with a hesitation move and it’s a footrace to the outside, a mismatch that favors the former and leads to an easy first down.

Here’s an example of one of McDaniels favorite play calls to dial up for Jacobs, duo. This is set up well for the Raiders as the Broncos are in a two-high look with a six-man box on the 10-yard line. To make it even better for Las Vegas, Denver blitzes their two inside linebackers and Kolton Miller destroys D.J. Jones — no. 97 — on the down block.

That creates a big hole for Jacobs to run through and again, he does a great job of pressing the line and cutting back at the last minute to get the defense to flow to the outside and be out of position. The strong side safety — no. 22 Kareem Jackson — flows wide to take away the outside lane and the backside safety — no. 30 Caden Sterns — comes flat downhill which creates a small crease for a backside cutback line.

Jacobs sees that, puts his outside foot in the ground and cuts it back to force two arm tackles from the safeties that he runs through with ease. Because he pressed the outside for so long, that forces the cornerback — no. 23 Ronald Darby — to stay wide and get caught flat-footed on the tackle attempt. At this point, the running back has a full head of steam and lowers his shoulder to power his way into the endzone.

That’s excellent second-level vision, agility and ability to run through contact from the 2019 first-round pick.

Okay, this play is just stupid...The Raiders run mid-zone to the weak side where Jacobs’ aiming point is the right B-gap or Dylan Parham’s right butt cheek. However, Mike Purcell — no. 98 — beats Parham to the outside to plug up the hole, and with the combination of Nick Bonitto — no. 42 — setting the edge and Jewell flowing over the top, the frontside is effectively closed.

Jacobs sees all of that and cuts to the backside but Denver’s defense does a good job of fitting their gaps there, too. This should be a run for probably a yard or two at most, but Jacobs hits one more jump cut, spins out of a tackle, somehow gets his feet going again to run through another tackle attempt, and then finds a second gear to break the safety’s angle.

What should have been a short gain turns into about a 45-yard play that puts the Raiders in scoring position. There are only a few backs in the league who can pull this off and this is Barry Sanders-esque.

In this clip, the Raiders are up two and in their four-minute offense late in the fourth quarter. They run iso to the strong side but watch the two defensive tackles in the middle, nos. 91 and 98. No. 91 is responsible for the strong side A-gap but he tries to cheat and shows color into the B-gap, which the linebacker — no. 47 — is responsible for. Simultaneously, Andre James pushes no. 98 wide and buries the defensive tackle in-ground, creating a wide cutback lane in the A-gap.

Jacobs has the vision to see that, abort the play design and cut back into vacancy. From there, he accelerates and cuts again to force another arm tackle to find the endzone and seal the win for Las Vegas.

The biggest takeaways from the game against Denver were Jacobs is doing an excellent job of seeing plays before they happen and defenders can’t get away with arm tackles against him.

This first clip from the Chiefs game doesn’t show up on the stat sheet and technically didn’t count since Jermaine Eluemunor was called for a block in the back, but it does highlight the attitude Jacobs has been running with so far this season.

It’s third and short and Las Vegas calls a speed option from under center. They leave Frank Clark — no. 55 — unblocked as the read man and Clark does a really good job of playing the quarterback and pitch man (Jacobs). However, Jacobs hits the brakes, cuts back and sends Clark to the hospital with two broken ankles to force a missed tackle.

But the back isn’t done there. He then accelerates and runs through more contact — partially aided by the Eluemunor penalty — and fights to pick up the first down. That’s the type of effort that will get a running back paid.

Another iso run but this time Jacobs is going to stay on the front side of the play. Again, and I could probably say this about every clip so far, he presses the line to help set up blocks and force the defense to stay in their gaps. That essentially blocks no. 47, Darrius Harris, as Harris comes downhill to fulfill his responsibility and gets picked by Jakob Johnson’s iso block on Nick Bolton — No. 32. Also, shoutout to Johnson for sealing Bolton to the inside to create the hole for Jacobs to run through.

Jacobs makes a subtle move to get in the B-gap, gets his pads down and keeps his feet moving through contact to pick up the first down. Combining this clip with the ones above and you can see how elite his contact balance has been this season.

Speaking of Jacobs’ contact balance, this might be one of the best examples of it.

Josh McDaniels’ game plan against the Chiefs clearly included calling a ton of iso runs as the Raiders run another one here. This time, Johnson gets a stalemate with linebacker Leo Chenal — no. 54 — and Chenal is able to work off the block and get a piece of Jacobs. However, as we’ve seen several times already, a piece isn’t enough and Jacobs runs right through that arm tackle.

But what’s even more impressive is he faces another tackle attempt immediately after contact with the linebacker, comes balance and manages to hit a spin move to make another defender miss. Watch how Jacobs never breaks stride and stays on balance the entire throughout the entire run.

This is the very next play and serves as an example of how Jacobs’ running style can wear on a defense.

Vegas calls duo with Johnson as the lead blocker here. The back presses the line to set up the offensive line’s blocks once again and he sees the linebackers come downhill to bounce it outside. Now, he’s into the third level of the defense and Juan Thornhill — No. 22 — tried tackling high last time but that didn't work so he dives for Jacobs’ feet. Well, back to the drawing book as that doesn’t work either after Jacobs uses a stiff arm and keeps his feet pumping to break another tackle from Thornhill.

After kicking it into second gear, the Raiders gain about 40 yards on the ground and are just outside the red zone.