Guided By The Ground Game

No one runs the ball better than the Raiders, except the Chiefs. Remember that line from week nine?

In week 14, it could be rephrased. No one runs the ball better than the Raiders, except the Chiefs and Jaguars.

The Raiders and Jaguars are surprisingly in the thick of the playoff run. Both teams are largely reliant on the running game to generate offensive production. The two ground games will battle at EverBank Field today, looking to make a statement about their playoffs chances.

Maurice Jones-Drew is rolling and the Raiders front seven must do what it takes to keep him contained.

On offense, the Raiders must get their own ground game going as the entire offense flows from a healthy running game,

The run game aspect of this match up has been publicized, but how hard is it to stop Jones-Drew and how hard is it to run on the Jaguars?

During Jones-Drew’s streak, five 100-yard games, he’s faced the Cowboys, Texans, Browns, Giants and Titans.

Team Run Defense vs, Jones-Drew
Dallas Cowboys 107.8 yards per game (14) vs. Jones-Drew 135 yards (5.0 avg)
Houston Texans 101.4 ypg (10) vs. Jones-Drew 100 yards (4.2 avg)
Cleveland Browns 119.1 (20) vs Jones-Drew 133 yards (5.8)
New York Giants 98.0 ypg (7) vs. Jones Drew 113 (5.4)
Tennessee Titans 120.6 (21) vs. Jones-Drew 186 yards (6.0)
Oakland Raiders 124.3 (23) vs Jones-Drew

Based upon Jones-Drew’s last five games, you would expect 148 rushing yards against the Raiders. He is tough and he has been particularly tough on teams with unfavorable statistics against the run. The Raiders are the worst run defense the Jaguars will have played during Jones-Drew’s streak.

It’s a tall order for the Raiders, but can they rise to the occasion? In week nine, the Raiders held the Chiefs to 104 rushing yards, limiting Jamaal Charles to 53 yards and Thomas Jones to 32 yards. The Raiders are capable, but this is a cross country road game against on the premier running backs in the NFL. This could be the biggest test for the run defense this season.

The other question is: Can the Raiders run it against the Jaguars?

The Jaguars run defense has surrendered 109.5 yards per game (17). While this is par for the course, the Jaguars have been stopping the run much better in the second half.

Arian Foster, 56 yards. Peyton Hillis 48 yards, Chris Johnson, 53 yards. Their only hiccup against the run came against the Giants with Brandon Jacobs 87 yards and Ahmad Bradshaw 49 yards totaling 136 yards in their only loss since week seven in Kansas City.

What about Kansas City, could the Jaguars stop the Chiefs ground game? Not exactly. Thomas Jones went for 125 and a touchdown, Jamaal Charles added 71 a touchdown and Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle added 40 more and a touchdown. The Jaguars allowed 236 yards and three touchdowns that day.

If you examine the rest if the Jaguars schedule, you will see plenty of sub-par run offenses.

Denver in week one, San Diego in week two, Indianapolis in week four, Buffalo in week five, and Dallas in week eight.

Oddly, the Jaguars recent surge against the run has come against teams much higher up the list.

Theory is Jaguars can key on one runner, but have trouble with two-back systems. With the exception of Dallas in the final days of the Wade Phillips era, this holds true.

New York Giants have a two-back system. Kansas City has a two-back system. Philadelphia has McCoy and Vick and rushed for a 5.0 yard average.

Tennessee, Cleveland, Houston? All one lead runner.

Add Peyton Hillis. 95 yards receiving against the Jaguars and the shine comes off this defense a little. Could it be the Jaguars might be allowing fewer yards because teams game plan to pass the ball on the 27th ranked pass defense?

The Raiders have chance for another good game on the ground and it’s vitally important for the Raiders to run. The Raiders have won only two games without a 100 yard rusher, last week in San Diego was one example, but Darren McFadden had 97 yards and Michael Bush had 95 yards. The only other example was against Kansas City, but McFadden and Bush combined for 106 yards and the game required some late heroics in the passing game by rookie Jacoby Ford.

Jacksonville is basically the same team on the ground. During the first half, Jones-Drew struggled to get going. Not coincidentally when he did rush for more than 100 yards, the Jaguars won. The only loss in a game where Jones-Drew went for over 100 yards was against the Giants in New York.

He’s come close to or had over 100 yards in the Jaguars seven wins. The exception might be the game against Buffalo, Jones-Drew rushed for 84 yards, but Deji Karim added 70 and receiver Mike Thomas added 53.

The Jaguars are a running team. The Raiders are certainly capable of stopping the run, but it requires the big boys up front to do the dirty work.

John Henderson, Quentin Groves and Khalif Barnes are ready to square off against Kirk Morrison and Slade Norris.

Both teams will be guided to a win by the running game, it’s just a matter of which run defense shows up.

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