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Las Vegas Raiders running back Devontae Booker (23) celebrates his touchdown with center Rodney Hudson (61) during the second half of a game against the Denver Broncos at Allegiant Stadium Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Bryan Edwards (89) is at left.

In three of his four Zoom calls with media over the last week, Raiders coach Jon Gruden has mentioned the same play from last week’s loss to the Falcons without being asked.

He can’t seem to get over a failed 4th-and-1 toss to Josh Jacobs near midfield on the Raiders’ first possession and considers it the early turning point of the humbling 43-6 defeat.

“We got stuffed on 4th-and-1,” Gruden said in his most recent recounting. “We’ve got to do a better job as a coaching staff obviously and we’ve got to continue to emphasize (the run game). We’re good at it; I think people respect that we’re pretty good at it. We’re getting a lot of great looks from defenses to stop the run, but we’ve got to be better.”

Getting better production from the run game is a priority for the Raiders going into their Week 13 game at the New York Jets, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Sunday on KLAS Channel 8. It just might take employing a different approach, or at least running behind a different back.

Starting running back Josh Jacobs will miss his first game this season, Gruden announced Friday afternoon. Jacobs was expected to return from an ankle sprain all week, but when he couldn’t practice at all for a third straight day, the decision was made to leave him home as the team flew into New Jersey.

Devontae Booker will assume starting duties.

“He’s a good player,” Gruden said. “He’s proven he can carry the ball, catch it and pass protect, and we’ll see Theo Riddick for the first time. He’s back from the virus and Jalen Richard, who’s been out the last couple games, hopefully is ready to go as well.”

Richard, a fifth-year veteran whom the Raiders often use on third downs and as a receiving threat out of the backfield, hasn’t played since suffering a chest injury in a Week 10 win over the Chargers. Riddick, a former standout with the Detroit Lions, has been a practice-squad player who’s only been elevated to the active roster once this season.

Richard and Riddick will both provide depth against the Jets, but if the Raiders want to repair a run game that’s been trending downwards, it figures to fall largely on Booker’s shoulders. It’s the culmination of a journey that’s seen the former Denver Bronco go from longshot to make the roster to difference-maker this season.

Booker has been a more efficient runner than Jacobs on the season, averaging 5.5 yards per carry to the latter’s 3.8 yards, but that’s easier to do when coming in for brief blasts and carrying a smaller workload. Jacobs averages more than 18 rush attempts per game while Booker has only reached double-digits on one occasion.

Adding to the difficulty is the Jets’ rush defense, perhaps the lone strength on a winless team. They’re fifth in the NFL in giving up 3.8 yards per carry and held the Raiders to 68 yards on 22 attempts in a 34-3 win a year ago.

“We have a big belief in running the ball as an offensive staff,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “We always believe it starts with the run, but every game plan is different. We know that they’re a very talented group of players on their side of the ball. The defensive line I think is one of the better defensive lines in the league.”

New York was one of many teams near the end of last season that committed an extra defender near the line of scrimmage against the Raiders in an attempt to slow down Jacobs, who was in the midst of a terrific rookie season. Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr said he had seen less of that schematic shift this season.

But something is derailing the once potent Raiders’ rushing attack. They’re coming off the worst back-to-back rushing performances of the year as they gained only a combined 129 yards on 40 carries in losses to the Chiefs and Falcons.

“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about or anything like that,” Carr said. “I think there’s still creases, there’s still room…There’s a lot that goes into it. I’ve been on a team that couldn’t run the ball one foot to save out life. I remember those times. It’s not one of those feelings. No matter how many people are in the box, I still feel confident in what we can do.”

And most importantly, Carr, ever the proponent of the “next man up” mentality, feels confident in whomever is in the backfield alongside him. The Raiders went 1-2 in games without Jacobs last season.

His presence may not seem as vital in a season where he’s been less effective, but a large part of Las Vegas’ offense is still constructed around him. Fixing the run game looked hard enough for the Raiders, and now they’ll have to fix it without their star runner.

“He’s the mail-carrier of this team and this organization and it’s no secret to anybody,” fullback Alec Ingold said.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun