ALAMEDA – Josh Jacobs' carry count started high, and has gone down every week since. That's not a positive trend.
It's no surprise the Raiders won a game where he had 23 carries. That indicates offensive balance, a productive ground game and the Raiders in control most of the game. That season-opening victory over Denver was an ideal scenario, where the team's best skill player proved worthy of his lofty NFL draft status
His attempts have decrease since, with a dozen carries in a Week 2 loss to Kansas City and just 10 in a Week 3 disappointment in Minnesota. The Raiders have been chasing most of those games, eliminating the run game more than they'd like.
Sunday provides an excellent opportunity to feature Jacobs against Indianapolis' No. 20-ranked run defense.
"We've got to be able to run the ball, certainly we are going to make an effort to do it," Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. "We got to have some balance to win, and I'll just leave it at that."
Relying heavily on Jacobs could be a winning strategy, but the Alabama product isn't the type to demand the damn ball. That's also not his station, as a rookie still learning on the job.
There's no arguing whether early returns have been solid. Jacobs is averaging 5.1 yards per carry through three games, using great athleticism and smarts to produce against NFL talent. It's crystal clear, even at this early stage, that he can flat play.
"I don't care who I'm going against," Jacobs said. "I just want to be the best, and win that next rep. That's the competitive sprit in me. But I can see and I think others can see from the tape that I belong. That gives you a little edge. It helps you play a little faster, with a little more confidence, but I think my game would be the same regardless."
His game has been impressive to those creating space for him.
"He has good quickness and acceleration is really good," center Rodney Hudson said. "So is his vision and decision-making, which you can definitely see on tape with the way he runs. We as an entire running game have to keep at it, find some steady production, and turn that into team success. "
Those things go hand in hand at this point. Improved run total from Jacobs and ancillary pieces Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington means all is well, though it's important to get Jacobs active in the passing game as well.
He had just one catch, for 28 yards, through three games this season. That simply isn't enough. He's excellent in space, so it seems like an oddity he isn't more involved in the passing game.
"I don't really know how to explain that, but we've definitely been working on it and getting better in that area," Jacobs said. "We don't want us to be one-dimensional when I get in the game."
Establishing a rhythm would be nice, something that couldn't happen with the Raiders down so quickly against Minnesota. Jacobs only had two carries before the Raiders were behind 21-0, and then the game plan changed. A larger early dose could help set the tone for the game and the Raiders' rookie runner.
"I would say it's beneficial because it opens everything up," Jacobs said. "It just depends on how the game flows. If the passing game is working, I'm cool with that if we're winning."
Jacobs understands how vital he is to that winning effort, and has worked to improve and be someone relied upon each week.
"He's always attentive and always trying to learn something. I like that about him," Hudson said. "His attention to detail and his focus has been impressive. It's fun working with guys like that."