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Behind Enemy Lines: Raiders will look to flip script by unleashing Josh Jacobs

The Bengals controlled the game in Week 11, but can the Raiders change that with an improved running game?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders are meeting again this season.

In Week 11, the Bengals went and took down the Raiders in Las Vegas. Cincinnati will now be playing host during Wild Card weekend.

With far more on the line this time, we caught back up with Matt Holder of Silver and Black to get his perspective on this matchup.

Patrick Judis: The biggest question I was left with after the first time these teams met was why the Raiders didn’t go to Darren Waller more. It seemed that he was dominating every matchup the Bengals threw at him. Is that something you can see them changing in this one?

Matt Holder: Well, Week 11 was the most yards Waller has had this season, and he saw the third-most targets of any game this season, so they did go to him fairly frequently compared to the rest of the season. Ever since the season-opener where he had nearly 20 targets, the Raiders have made it a point of emphasis to get more guys involved in the passing game. Especially with how Hunter Renfrow has emerged, they want to spread the ball around and that has always been something Derek Carr has prided himself on throughout his career.

As far as how much Waller’s target-share will change this time around, I think it will be about the same and maybe even less. He’s coming off an injury — last week was his first game back — and he didn’t look 100 percent against the Chargers. Interim head coach Rich Bisaccia said Waller looked better this week in practice, but I’m not convinced he’s completely healthy.

PJ: The rest of the offense outside of Waller was held in check. Is there a player you could see emerging as a hero in this one outside of Waller?

MH: Josh Jacobs/the running game

One thing that I think is very different about Las Vegas’ offense now compared to early November is their offensive line has improved as run blockers and Jacobs has gotten healthier and running a lot better. He went from having no 100-yard games in the first 15 weeks of the season to two in the last three. The Bengals dominated the ground game and time of possession last time, so I think the Raiders will try to flip that on its head Saturday.

PJ: Joe Mixon had one of his best games against Las Vegas. Do you think that was more to do with them trying to take away the big play ability of this offense or something this offense could easily replicate?

MH: A little of both. I actually went back and watched the tape to see what Las Vegas’ defense did to contain Ja’Marr Chase last time around for an article I wrote this week, and it was pretty obvious they were very worried about the Bengals passing attack, and rightfully so. Linebackers were sitting back against play-action and Gus Bradley rarely left Chase alone, so that created some light boxes that Mixon was able to exploit.

Then again, the Raiders have been up and down against the run this season, and it’s probably been more down than up. Outside of Johnathan Hankins, their defensive tackles are not stout run defenders — and are quite honestly just bad at it — and they lost Darius Philon for the playoffs, who was playing really well overall and as a run-stuffer. This is definitely something that worries me for Saturday.

PJ: There is a narrative going against Derek Carr in this one that he has struggled mightily in cold-weather games. As a Cincinnati fan who understands how this stuff can get taken and run with, I just wanted to give you an opportunity to disagree or agree with that notion.

MH: I will say Carr has been better in the cold in recent years, but the numbers speak for themselves. Not only does he have a bad record in the cold, but he also doesn’t play well in it and his numbers are atrocious, as I’m sure you saw Paul Dehner Jr.’s tweet earlier this week.

However, as I mentioned above, I think Vegas will emphasize running the ball this weekend regardless of the weather and Carr has done a decent job as a “game manager” in some colder games this season like Week 15 in Cleveland.

PJ: How do you see this one playing out? If you had to choose one deciding factor what do you think it will be?

I’ve kind of hinted at the deciding factor throughout my answers, whoever controls the game on the ground. I still can’t get over how Week 11 played out, where I think the final scoreboard didn’t really reflect how close the game was. The Bengals dominated time of possession by nearly a quarter so the Raiders’ defense was gassed and that helped open up rushing lanes for Mixon to get a couple of late scores.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been a mush when it comes to the Raiders this season and intentionally picked against them every game of this four-game winning streak, so for that reason — and that reason alone — I’ll say Bengals 31 Raiders 24. In all seriousness, I’m really worried about Cincy’s offensive weapons and them getting on ahead early and forcing Vegas to throw the ball. I think we are in for a good one though as I do see these teams as fairly evenly matched.

Thanks again to Matt Holder for taking the time out to answer our questions. You can check out more of his work or Raiders coverage at Silver and Black Pride.