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Raiders vs. Cardinals: Running back by committee?

Las Vegas’ backfield workload, aerial attack distribution under the spotlight in Week 2

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Much was made of the running back by committee approach Las Vegas would deploy but running back Josh Jacobs dominated the workload for the Raiders in Week 1.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For at least one week, Josh Jacobs remained the Las Vegas Raiders bell cow running back. But will that change in Week 2 when the Silver & Black host the Arizona Cardinals in its home opener this Sunday?

It’s a valid question considering the ballyhoo made about head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler instilling the running back by committee approach in these breed of Raiders. That was something both were steeped in during their respective time with the New England Patriots. The personnel grouping at the position certainly entailed it could be a committee: Jacobs, Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah with rookies Zamir White and Brittain Brown.

But, whether due to design or circumstance, Jacobs dominated the workload in the backfield in Las Vegas’ season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday. Jacobs got 10 totes and produced 57 yards (his longest run was an 18-yard gallop). He was also targeted once out of the backfield good for one catch and 16 yards. Bolden was the lone tailback to get a carry, three for seven yards. He was targeted twice in the passing attack and produced a an 18-yard touchdown on his two catches for 21 yards. Abdullah and fullback Jakob Johnson each got one target apiece.

Las Vegas Raiders v Los Angeles Chargers
Raiders running back Brandon Bolden (34) hauls in an 18-yard touchdown pass against the Chargers during Week 1.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The disparity in running plays (13) and passing attempts (37) was abundantly clear as the game went on and it certainly appeared Jacobs could’ve gotten more carries as his effectiveness grew as the game went on. But trailing to a hard-charging Chargers team facilitated going aerial as opposed to staying grounded.

“In terms of sample size in the first half, we didn’t really have enough plays or series to kind of get established what we wanted to,” Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi said when asked if the deficit caused getting away from the run game. “And then when we came out on the second half, obviously we’re down and we try to play football and get a good drive which we did.”

Las Vegas’ opportunities to run are likely going to present itself against incoming Arizona. The Cardinals yielded 128 rushing yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs. A trio of tailbacks took turns churning out yards for KC with rookie Isaiah Pacheco leading the charge with 12 carries for 62 yards and the lone score. One of the ways the Raiders can combat the Cardinals’ pressure defense is to run right at it. Jacobs and crew should get their totes — unless circumstances alter that again.

Air Up There

Perhaps the game against the Chargers was a Week 1 anomaly along the lines of last season’s opener. Davante Adams was the prime target for quarterback Derek Carr last Sunday — 17 targets which turned into 10 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. That was lopsided considering well-paid tight end Darren Waller and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow garnered six targets, respectively. In the 2021 opener, Waller drew 19 targets, 10 more than any other option.

McDaniels and Carr were asked about the aerial distribution imbalance earlier this week.

“I just want the ball to go where it’s supposed to,” McDaniels said. “I’ve always said this, the defense gets a vote. I wish I could tell you exactly where it’s going to go on every play, but they get a vote. So, they’ll have a vote this week. Sometimes the coverage gets distributed, so it forces the ball to go here.”

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
In terms of targets, quarterback Derek Carr notes that’s up to head coach Josh McDaniels, right.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Carr provided further context noting decisions on where the ball was going were made as soon as he saw where the Chargers defense aligned.

“I mean there were decisions I made in the game last week that happened before the ball was snapped. I already knew where the ball was going, and we threw it there, we moved on,” Carr said. “Whether it’s a touchdown, complete — whatever, it didn’t matter. You just move on to the next one. But I’m not thinking, ‘How many catches does he have, how many times have I thrown it to him.’ I leave that to Josh [McDaniels]. I tell those guys, the targets and all that kind of stuff, go talk to Josh. I’m going to read it out exactly how he’s taught me, and I’m going to do my best to do it that way.”

A follow-up question was provided to Carr regarding pre-snap decisions changing post-snap. The quarterback said the pre-conceived notions change, but reiterated volume isn’t discussed.

“If they fool you on the coverage, then the ball will go somewhere else based on the coverages that Josh has schemed it up for,” Carr added. “And again, that puts a lot of work on Josh’s plate, a lot of work on us as players when the ball is snapped. But we’re not sitting here trying to count like, ‘We’re going to give him 20 and him 10.’ A lot of it can dictate as soon as the ball’s snapped or even before if they stay in it.”

Keep An Eye On

—Raiders safety Johnathan Abram. He never left the field in Week 1 and led the team in solo (nine) and combined tackles (12). Abram could be in line to play all game again, especially since fellow starting safety Tre’Von Moehrig (hip) was declared out for Sunday’s game.

—Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. He went 22 of 34 for 193 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. He’s still elusive although he was sacked twice by KC. If the Raiders can’t collapse the pocket and suffocate Murray, he’s got the legs and speed to break contain and make the Raiders pay.

—Arizona’s blitzing. The Cardinals blitzed on over half of the Chiefs’ drop backs in the opener and don’t expect that to change. How Carr and the Raiders offense deals with the extra defenders is going to be vital. Blitzing can stymie both the run and pass, but if it doesn’t hit home, it can backfire.

—Raiders offensive line grouping. The team rotated on the right side at the guard and tackle spots to find the best combination. A key injury is going to cause a shuffle along the front — center Andre James (concussion) was declared out for Sunday’s game on Friday afternoon — as rookie Dylan Parham is likely going to slide over to the pivot with Lester Cotton Sr. potentially getting the start at right guard.