HENDERSON, Nev. — It was late in the Las Vegas Raiders‘ 38-20 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday when Josh Jacobs approached his offensive line.
Jacobs — author of a franchise-record third straight 140-plus yards rushing, multi-touchdown game — peeked out from beneath the towel draped over his weary head and thanked his grunts.
“I don’t know if y’all hear it enough,” the Pro Bowl running back drawled breathlessly, “but I’m proud of y’all boys, bro. For real. I do owe y’all dinner. Whenever y’all ready. Y’all make me look good, bro. For real.”
Raiders first-year coach Josh McDaniels, pacing near the exchange, might also be on the hook for a Michelin Star Meal meal. With Jacobs as his guest of honor.
Jacobs’ production over Las Vegas’ last three games, and really, over the course of the Raiders’ 2-4 start, has caused a shift in McDaniels’ heretofore running back-by-committee playcalling philosophy, a shift that will likely continue when the Raiders play at the New Orleans Saints (2-5) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
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Consider: Over Las Vegas’ last three games, Jacobs — who has carried the ball 69 times for 440 yards and six TDs in that stretch — has 88.2% (82 of 93) of the offensive touches by Raiders’ running backs and a mind-numbing 93.2% of the carries (69 of 74).
For the season, Jacobs has 85.1% (131 of 154) of the total touches by Las Vegas RBs.
As the New England Patriots‘ longtime offensive coordinator, McDaniels favored sharing the load among his ball carriers.
Over the previous three years, when it came to the Top 3 running backs in a specific season, Sony Michel was the lone Patriots RB to garner more than 50% of the touches (52.9%) — 2019. He was followed by James White (28.4%) and Rex Burkhead (18.8%). In 2020, the touches were more evenly distributed in the foursome of Damien Harris (35.2%), Burkhead (22.8%), Michel (21.3%) and White (20.8%).
Last season, Harris had 48.7% of the touches, followed by Rhamondre Stevenson (32.5%) and Brandon Bolden (18.8%).
McDaniels acknowledged the shift but said it has not been a change in philosophy as much as riding the hot hand. Or, in the case of Jacobs, hot back.
“You’re right — in my history, we’ve used different backs, I would say, differently, and maybe had more of a rotation,” McDaniels said. “When we had Corey Dillon back in the early 2000s, that was a little different. We featured him a lot and gave him the ball a bunch. Sony, when he was a rookie, had [almost] 1,000 yards and was pretty productive. But by and large, I think that was something that we chose to do.
“In this case, the one thing that hasn’t happened is [Jacobs] hasn’t [averaged] 25 carries [per game]. … The first few games of the season we really fell out of balance a little bit, so the wear and tear on him was pretty minimal, honestly, because we were behind, and we threw the ball a lot. So, we’ll keep our eyes on that as we go through the year, but I think the players really earn what they get.”
McDaniels said Jacobs has been consistent and dependable, as well as tough and productive.
“If there’s no reason to [lean on him], then we won’t do it,” McDaniels said. “We’re kind of seeing how it’s going and kind of following that until it really needs to change, honestly.”
Said center Andre James: “He makes our job easier the way he’s running. It’s real easy to block for a guy like that. He just hits those gaps so hard. The way he’s running it, it makes our blocks easy, so it’s good to see.”
Not only is Jacobs the third player in Raiders history to have 150 yards from scrimmage and score a TD in three straight games — joining Hall of Fame mentor Marcus Allen and Clem Daniels — Jacobs also joined Allen and Pete Banaszak as the only Raiders players with multiple games of three rushing TDs in respective careers. And he’s doing it in a contract year after the Raiders’ new regime of McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler chose not to exercise Jacobs’ fifth-year option this past offseason.
Still, Jacobs, the No. 24 pick of the 2019 draft out of Alabama, maintains that a new deal is not front and center for him. That territory, he said, is occupied by his hungry O-line.
“It’s the first time in a long time where I’ve had 4 to 5 yards without being touched by anybody,” Jacobs said with a smile. “Man, I love the fight in them guys. … Sometimes, they motivate me. They get up, they be yelling and stuff when I get a run. I’m like, ‘O.K., they’re turning me up in the middle of a play.’ So, I mean, it’s just been a fun, interesting ride.”
One that will include, apparently, a meal. Sans self-satisfaction.
“We’re still on the bottom end of the winning pole, and it’s still a long season,” said Jacobs, who was limited in Wednesday’s practice with a foot issue. “If I don’t play good the rest of season, everything I did up to now don’t really mean nothing. The biggest thing for me is, I want to get in the playoffs, man. I want to go on a run and actually feel what it feels like to actually, you know, experience that.
“If I had 40 yards and we win, I’m cool with that. That’s just the type of player I am.”
One who can apparently alter a philosophy, too.