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Raiders’ week 8 focus: Run the Saints ragged

Las Vegas successful downhill rushing attack should parlay more play action passes against New Orleans

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
When fullback Jakob Johnson (45) is on the field, it gives the Las Vegas Raiders a meaner and tougher presence that allows the team to batter the opposition with running back Josh Jacobs (28).
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Jakob Johnson isn’t an every-snap type player. Not when he’s a dying breed of throw back fullback, a position group that’s nearly extinct in the modern NFL. Yet, while the Germany native isn’t on the field for every snap, his value to the Las Vegas Raiders is still immense.

Like almost every Raider at the start of the season, Johnson was finding his way in the offense. Despite being coached by Las Vegas head coach Josh McDaniels in New England, there were adjustments to be made with a new team.

But as he grew into McDaniels’ Raiders offense, so did Johnson’s snap counts. And, when No. 45 is on the field, he’s adding a physically domineering presence in the run game and, when asked, in the pass game, too.

“I think for us, in terms of fullback, I think it brings us an element of toughness, downhill runs, and we feel like we can control the line of scrimmage with a fullback on the field,” Lombardi said of Johnson during the mid-week media session. “And it depends on the game plan, right? Obviously, we go into each week saying, ‘What personnel groupings give us certain things we can try to attack from what we’re trying to do offensively?’ And if we are seeing that Jak being on the field gives us a certain look we want to try to exploit, then we’ll do that. If it’s not, then we won’t. So, just the capability of doing that per week and then we like doing that, so we’ll continue to do it.”

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
When Las Vegas Raiders Josh Jacobs (28) is running the effectively, it allows Derek Carr (4) to attack defenses with the play action pass.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

That toughness is a pre-requisite when it comes to the downhill rushing attack Las Vegas is excelling at the last three games. McDaniels’ offense switched it up from a pass-happy one to a ground-and-pound version and Johnson is playing a big part of that. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder is a ready and able blocker who displaces would-be tacklers, paving the way for Josh Jacobs and any other running back getting totes.

But it isn’t just No. 45. Las Vegas offensive line, which at times got ridiculed for its ineffectiveness and musical chairs-like rotation, is settling in and giving Jacobs ample room to operate. A tailback doesn’t gain well over 100 yards in the last three games without the offensive line and the other pieces working in unison to make it happen.

“But it’s not just him (Johnson),” Lombardi is quick to point out. “The offensive line, the tight ends and the receivers all have to do their job in the running game. So, whether you lineup in 21 personnel or 11 personnel, I think I said it to you guys last time, the receivers, ‘No block, no rock, right?’ So, they got to block, too. Mack Hollins, Davante (Adams), Hunter (Renfrow), whoever’s out there needs to do their job. Foster (Moreau) at tight end, Darren (Waller) at tight end, Jesper (Horsted), anybody here. It really takes all 11 guys.”

At this point, it’s no secret what the Raiders do best: Run the ball. That should be the team’s focus as it travels to face the New Orleans Saints this Sunday. The Raider need to run the Saints ragged. And, like the Raiders coaching staff laments each and every week, execution will be key.

“So, whatever the run-scheme is, sure, Jak — you see him more downhill and more kind of coming down hill hitting linebackers, that’s his skillset. But it doesn’t matter what run you call, you got to execute it well and you got to play tough,” Lombardi said.

The Raiders’ resurgent downhill rushing attack can also open things up for the aerial attack, namely play action. That’s something McDaniels drew up against the Houston Texans which quarterback Derek Carr and Co. executed well. Especially with an elite weapon at wide receiver in Davante Adams (37 catches, 509 yards, five touchdowns), dialing up more play action against a Saints defense that’s been relatively loose (31st in points allowed: 200) can pay handsome dividends.

But again, Lombardi harped on the requisite for everyone doing their job for play action to truly work. The Raiders have shown they can do it in spurts, but those moments were far too fleeting — hence the team’s 2-4 record.

“Play action takes all 11 guys. So, the running game obviously is a great effect of that, and we have to make sure that we do our job up front. The backs got to do a great play fake, quarterback has got to give a great play fake, linemen have to block as if it’s a run play. And if we all do that, then it makes it easy for the scope of players to get open, and they have to run the right route and get open obviously. But when you run the ball as effectively as we have the past few weeks, then obviously it’s a benefit to do that.”