HENDERSON, Nev. (AP)Because Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs ended last season as the NFL’s rushing champion, it would be tempting to think his slowdown began this year after a contract holdout.
Jacobs’ slide, in fact, began last season, which raises the question of whether he will pull out of it. He has gone 12 consecutive games without rushing for at least 100 yards, last hitting triple digits on Dec. 4 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
His rushing average over the first 12 games last season was 5.4 yards per carry as Jacobs racked up 1,303 yards over that span. He then averaged 3.6 yards over the final five games, and that number this season is 2.9 through seven weeks. Jacobs has gained 347 yards entering Monday night’s game at the Detroit Lions.
There are multiple plausible explanations for the drop-off.
The Raiders have leaned heavily on Jacobs, who had a career-high 340 carries last season. Add in 53 catches and that’s nearly 400 touches. Jacobs had more than 200 carries in each of his first three seasons and more than 250 touches.
This season, Jacobs remains the bell cow with 118 carries and 26 catches.
Jacobs, who was not available to speak Thursday, said recently he’s happy to get the work, either running or receiving.
“I always tell the quarterback, ‘I’m always open,'” Jacobs said. “The biggest thing for me is to get in that rhythm, to get in that space to where you feel good no matter what the run is or no matter what the call is.”
It’s not just the workload. Jacobs is physical and willing to take on linebackers to pick up an extra few yards or perhaps break a run for an even longer gain. According to Pro Football Focus, Jacobs broke 90 tackles last season, the most since the website began compiling data starting in 2006. That wear and tear can make a 25-year-old back look like he’s 35.
Jacobs also isn’t getting help up front. He often gets the handoff with few places to go because the offensive line isn’t opening the holes it once did, even though it’s largely the same front as last season.
Offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor said opposing defenses began to stack the box to take away Jacobs as a threat.
“He’s the best running back in the NFL, so teams are respecting that,” Eluemunor said. “You can ask any lineman in the NFL. They would rather run the rock. If you can run the ball, it makes the game way easier.”
And, finally, because of his contractual dispute with the Raiders, Jacobs didn’t begin practicing until after training camp ended. He said at the time he would be fresher than his teammates, but later said he was rusty after rushing for 48 yards on a 2.5 average in the season opener at the Denver Broncos.
The rust, though, should have have worn off after the first few weeks, but Jacobs remains in a rut. His highest rushing average was 3.6 yards in the Week 3 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Whatever the reason for Jacobs’ struggles, what can’t be disputed is the timing is lousy.
He wanted a long-term contract after last season and wasn’t happy when the Raiders placed the franchise tag on him. Jacobs never signed the tag, and the sides finally agreed to a one-year deal that would pay him up to $12 million this season rather than the $10.1 million that would have come with the tag.
Unless Jacobs turns it around, the Raiders will have all the leverage because he likely would struggle to find that kind of salary in Las Vegas or on the open market.
That, however, is for another time.
Jacobs’ more immediate goal is getting back to the production he had most of last season.
“I see the same player,” coach Josh McDaniels said. “It’s a team effort in terms of being able to do the right things and provide opportunities for ourselves in the running game.”
JIMMY G IS BACK
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo returned to the practice field after missing the past six quarters because of a back injury. McDaniels said he was “hopeful” that Garoppolo would play at Detroit.
Kicker Daniel Carlson (groin) didn’t practice. The Raiders signed James McCourt to the practice squad earlier this week.
“We’ll just see how Daniel is feeling as we go through the week and make the right decision at the end of the week here based on how that’s going, whether we need to do something else in terms of (elevating McCourt),” McDaniels said.
Cornerback Nate Hobbs, who missed the previous four games because of an ankle injury, was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice. Linebacker Divine Deablo (ankle) and cornerback Marcus Peters (back) did not practice.
Linebacker Curtis Bolton (knee) was designated to return from injured reserve. Las Vegas has three weeks decide whether to put Bolton on the active roster or shut him down for the season.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl