Chargers’ Struggling Run Defense to be Fully Tested Against Raiders’ Prolific Ground Game

Slowing down Raiders RB Josh Jacobs will be a point of emphasis for the Chargers defense in Week 13.

COSTA MESA – The Chargers have struggled to stop the run for the greater portion of this season and Sunday, when they head to Las Vegas, they’ll face no small feat in slowing down Raiders running back Josh Jacobs.

Jacobs, the fourth-year rusher out of Alabama, is off to the best start of his pro career. He’s logged 1,484 total yards through the first 11 games, which is the fifth-most by a running back in the last 10 seasons.

“They have an elite runner that breaks a lot of tackles. You can’t block everything perfectly, you have to have running backs that can create on their own,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “Josh is as good as anybody at that because he can make you miss and he can run through you.

“They’ve really established a consistency in that phase. He’s leading the NFL right now. Last week was a good example of why they’ve been playing well, offensively.”

Jacobs is coming off a game in which he became just the fourth player in the Super Bowl era with 300 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in a single game. Jacobs’ ability to fight through contact has suited him well, currently leading the NFL with 64 forced missed tackles this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He’s a phenomenal running back. He runs hard, he knows how to make plays, he can catch passes out of the backfield,” defensive tackle Morgan Fox said of Jacobs. “People love talking about the fact that he ran for 229 [last week], but he still caught 70-plus passing yards. He’s really an all around back and he’s somebody who can definitely make you pay if you’re not in your gap and he can break tackles, so it’s somebody you definitely circle on the gameplan that you know you got to stop if you want to have any kind of success.”

The matchup against Jacobs doesn’t bode well for the Chargers. They’ve been gashed against the run, allowing opposing teams to rush for over 150 yards in six of their last seven games, including three times in which their opposition has gone over the 200-yard benchmark.

One key element that has hampered the Chargers’ ability to stop the run has been the ever-growing injuries across the defensive line. They’ve been without defensive end Joey Bosa since Week 4 and are down four interior defensive lineman from when they began the season – one of those being Jerry Tillery who now lines up for the Raiders.

In the season opener when these two teams first met, the Chargers held the Raiders’ run game to 64 yards, but much has changed since their last meeting.

“We have a lot of players, on my list here, that weren’t even on our team in that game,” Staley said of how the Chargers have changed since the Week 1 matchup. “That’s just how the NFL is. Both teams have changed significantly since that first game. It’s what you do in that space to improve. 

“I think both of these teams are in a similar space, where we feel like we can improve a lot down the stretch. It’s going to be a big game because they’re playing well, and so are we.”

In slew of the injuries, the Chargers were left with no other choice but to add personnel. They signed Tyeler Davison off the Browns practice squad, who’s now appeared in two games since his arrival. They also elevated Breiden Fehoko and Joe Gaziano from their own practice squad, turning to two players internally to step up and handle a steady dose of snaps in a depth role.

“I thought, last week, all three of them played well for us in that game,” Staley said of the reinforcements added to the interior defensive line. “They’re the right type of guys that you want when all of this type of stuff happens. You have to have players that you can count on, that you can depend on. All three of those guys really fit in well to our football team.”

As the Chargers take aim at slowing down the do-it-all running back in Jacobs, the Raiders also posses one of the top pass-catchers in wide receiver Devante Adams. Keeping a focus on both players will be a lofty task, but one that Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill says is key in knowing where Adams is lined up at before the ball is snapped.

“Josh McDaniels does a great job of complementing,” Hill said of the Raiders offense that features Jacobs and Adams. “They’re going to stick to the run game, be patient with that. We have to make sure that, at the same time, we’re still taking care of Davante — knowing where he is at, knowing his different locations — and making sure that we have an eye on him at all times. They do a good job of complementing both the run and the pass, and we just have to make sure that we’re on top of both.”

The Chargers, at 5-4, still remain in the thick of the Wild Card playoff picture, but have little room for error down the final stretch of the last six games on the regular season schedule.

To build off of last week’s come-from-behind win and continue on an upward trajectory, they desperately need improvements from the run defense, who’s allowing over 5.5 yards per carry on designed runs this season.

Jacobs, however, has been limited in practice each day this week with a groin injury. His status for Sunday is to be determined.

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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.

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