Friday, Nov. 10, 2023 | 2 a.m.
As one of their first acts in their elevated roles on the Las Vegas Raiders coaching staffs, interim coach Antonio Pierce and interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree made separate trips to each of the team’s position rooms last week.
They may have both spent extra time with the running backs, and particularly with star rusher Josh Jacobs. Ahead of a 30-6 victory over the Giants on Sunday, Jacobs met with both Hardegree and Pierce.
While the chat with Hardegree might have been more in-depth and strategically oriented, the one with Pierce was probably more poignant and motivating.
“AP said, ‘You’re the heart and soul of the team. Nothing happens unless it comes through you first. We can’t throw the ball if you’re not running good,’” Jacobs recounted. “All those types of things. He just told me the way I play the game with passion, it ignites the guys.”
The Raiders got back to leaning on Jacobs against the Giants as he set season-highs with 26 carries for 98 yards.
And his increased workload on the ground wasn’t just because of a game state that saw Las Vegas lead from start to finish.
The team clearly set out to feature Jacobs from the beginning as he got the ball on four of the first five plays during a six-play, 67-yard touchdown drive to open the game.
A similar approach is expected for the Raiders (4-5) in their Sunday Night Football game this weekend hosting the New York Jets (4-4) at Allegiant Stadium.
“It’s what we talked about, he’s the heartbeat, he’s a Raider,” Pierce said of Jacobs. “When you watch Josh run, he runs angry and he got back to that running style we saw last year so it was just feed him, just go.”
Activating Jacobs was one of the the first specifics Pierce mentioned when asked what pleased him most on on the field in his first victory at the head of the Raiders. The questions that have cropped up all year about when Jacobs was going to get back close to the form that saw him lead the NFL with 1,653 rushing yards last year can cease.
The Raiders believe it’s now.
And Jacobs said there was more that went on in tapping back into that success than opportunity and inspiration. It was also a change in preparation, one that he felt allowed himself and the playcaller (Hardegree) to feel more unified in-game.
“They let me get a little more involved in the run game so I could just call all the runs that I felt I liked, the runs that I felt worked good throughout the week when we were practicing,” Jacobs said. “They just happened to call them at the right times, so it was definitely a collective effort.”
Jacobs knows the relationships with his new coaches and the wrinkles they instill will need to evolve to keep trending the offense in the right direction. The Raiders had an inherent advantage last week with Hardegree having never called plays before to leave some mystery on how he would attack.
Not only do the Jets do have a more talented defense than the Giants, but they now at least have a sample of one game to scout Hardegree’s tendencies — and two games of new starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell to study.
Hardegree will surely adjust himself, but don’t expect a radical change Sunday in his second game wearing a playcalling headset he joked he had barely figured out how to operate.
“I told the guys I want to win the line of scrimmage, be physical, get our running back going and get some confidence like we talked about all week,” Hardegree said. “Get that going and the rest will take care of itself.”
Everyone on the team seems to be cognizant of the importance of Jacobs, even with his numbers still being down significantly despite last week’s success. Jacobs leads the NFL in rushing attempts going into Week 11, with 159, but ranks near the bottom of the league with an average of 3.2 yards per carry.
“He’s a super-hard worker,” O’Connell said of Jacobs. “He was very vocal before the game to the entire offense about what we need to do, what we need to execute, and more than just the X’s and O’s, the passion and the energy it’s going to take. He does that a lot of times, sets the tone for us.”
Jacobs feels like he’s been capable of doing that in every game this season, even in contests where he’s been ineffective early and the game plan has drifted away from him. He didn’t need Pierce to reaffirm anything about his role, but it didn’t hurt hearing the high praise one-on-one either.
“It was good to know that,” Jacobs said. “It made me have to stand on my word to him. Whenever you make me stand on business, I tend to stand on that.”