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Raiders vs. Rams: Area of Concern

L.A.’s offense may be listless, but veteran Bobby Wagner leads a capable Rams defense

Los Angeles Rams v Kansas City Chiefs
Veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner, center, may be long in the tooth, but he’s the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Rams defense with defensive tackle Aaron Donald out with a high ankle sprain.
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Listen closely to when Derek Carr makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage. You’ll often hear the quarterback identify the Mike (middle linebacker) to his offense. This is to put the Las Vegas Raiders offense in the best best possible position to succeed on that particular play and down.

There’s an extremely high chance when DC4 barks out calls this Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams, he’ll be pointing to and calling out Bobby Wagner. The longtime Seattle Seahawks linebacker turned Rams defender is still effective at age 32. The 6-foot, 242-pound Wagner is still a force against the run and pass, showing entering his 30s hasn’t completely waned his skills.

While Wagner isn’t as spry as he was in his 20s, he’s had to elevate his game to make up for the absence of must-account-for defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He’s tied his career-high with five sacks so far and he’s got one interception to go along with 97 total tackles, seven stops for loss and seven quarterback hits.

Wagner is still proving to be a nuisance to opposing offenses in pass coverage, too. According to Pro Football Reference charting, quarterbacks throw No. 45s way 29 times and he’s allowed 19 completions (65.5 percent) for 228 yards and a touchdown. That’s down from the nearly 82 percent of completions he allowed last season (his final as a Seahawk) and 593 yards.

Here’s what’s even more astounding: He has zero missed tackles, according to PFR.

That particular statistical category will be thoroughly put the test Thursday night against Las Vegas’ domineering run game paced running back Josh Jacobs (1,303 yards and 10 touchdowns on 242 carries). The Raiders tailback is PFR’s top-rated broken tackle creator with 28. (For reference, Houston Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce is second on PFRs broken tackle charting with 26, Tennessee Titans tailback Derrick Henry is third with 25).

The Raiders’ resurgence is due in large part due to Jacobs eviscerating the opposing defense behind a much-improved Silver & Black offensive line. And road grading fullback Jakob Johnson. Which brings forth yet another intriguing matchup: Wagner vs. Johnson.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Fullback Jakob Johnson is proving to be an integral part of the Las Vegas Raiders offense. His blocking ability and toughness have been on full display as the lead blocker for running back Josh Jacobs.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

When Las Vegas dials up it’s ISO run from I-Formation, you’ll see Johnson taking on a linebacker — more often than not the inside linebacker. When it’s executed well, Johnson clears the path and gives Jacobs the opportunity to dart out of the backfield at full speed. Just look at his 86-yard game-winning run in overtime against Seattle two weeks ago, or his 20-yard touchdown run against the Los Angeles Chargers this past Sunday for textbook examples of how this works.

Expect the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Johnson and Wagner to meet plenty Thursday night. And the winner of those one-on-one matchups will play a big role in determining how successful the Raiders ground attack is during a short week.

Las Vegas head coach Josh McDaniels spoke of the Ram’s resilience during his victory Monday press conference and certainly, Wagner embodies that perfectly.

“But they’ve had challenges like we have in terms of health and all that, but this is a team that obviously is very resilient, played their butt off yesterday,” McDaniels said. “That jumped out on the film. We just got done playing Seattle and we know what kind of team that is. They had a similar game to what we had a week ago. And Sean (McVay) and their entire staff does a great job, I have a great deal of respect for Sean and what he’s done and what he’s accomplished. And this team is going to battle, there’s no doubt about it. So, we’re going to have our hands full.”

Wagner is most-assuredly battle hardened. Against his former team last Sunday, he was on a mission racking up seven total tackles along with two sacks and an interception. Expect him to be a handful Thursday night against the Raiders offense.