The Union Democrat
Taylor a blockade in way of Raiders
Fifteen members of the Colts have spent time on the COVID-19 list this week, but one who hasn’t is chief among the Raiders’ concerns.
Jonathan Taylor is a major obstacle for Las Vegas to navigate in an attempt to continue its improbable march toward the playoffs. The secondyear running back out of Wisconsin is having a historically dominant season that could threaten a Raiders’ defense dealing with its own coronavirus absences.
“He’s a great back, so we have to gang-tackle him and everyone play together, play their gaps, play their roles,” Raiders safety Dallin Leavitt said on Wednesday.
Leavitt knows from experience. Taylor gave the NFL somewhat of a sneak peek of what was to come last season against the Raiders.
Indianapolis pulled away from Las Vegas in a Week 14 game a year ago when it began focusing its offensive attack with the then-rookie Taylor. He set a career high at the time with 150 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a 44-27 Colts victory.
Those types of performances have now become the norm as Taylor has surpassed the 150-yard mark four times since. He’s gone over 100 yards in nine of 15 games this season and leads the NFL in virtually every significant running category with 1,626 yards, 17 touchdowns and 108 yards per game.
Taylor’s big game a year ago knocked the Raiders out of a playoff spot they never regained. This year, he could eliminate them all together as Las Vegas must beat both Indianapolis on the road and the Los Angeles Chargers at home next week to reach the postseason.
“It’s a tall task,” Raid
ers interim coach Rich Bisaccia said of slowing Taylor. “It's a team that really concentrates on running the football, time of possession. We've seen this now. This will be the third week in a row we're playing against a really well-coached and a really physical run game.”
Las Vegas' defense has seen a facelift since they faced Indianapolis last year, with coordinator Gus Bradley's new scheme and a large personnel turnover. Run defense initially looked like a major concern under Bradley, but it's turned into an undeniable strength as the season has gone on.
The Raiders now rank 10th in the league against the run by Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings, the first time in at least five years they've reached those heights. They're tied for ninth in the league in giving up 4.2 yards per rush attempt after strong performances the last two weeks.
Las Vegas held Cleveland's Nick Chubb below his season-average efficiency level two weeks ago as he went 91 yards on 23 carries and then totally shut down Denver's Javonte Williams on Sunday as he gained 12 yards on seven carries.
But several of the key components to those efforts, including noted run-stuffing linebackers
Denzel Perryman and K.J. Wright, are currently isolating at home in the COVID-19 protocol. Two other linebackers — Cory Littleton and Patrick Onwuasor — defensive tackle Darius Philon and cornerback Casey Hayward are in the same situation.
But Bisaccia said he “fully anticipates” having “the majority of them back” to play the Colts,
hinting that several of them must be either asymptomatic or on the list for contract-tracing reasons.
“Hopefully they're doing some things on their own and they can get themselves cardio-wise to stay ready,” Bisaccia said.
They're going to need to be in their best shape to chase around Taylor, who's blend of speed,
strength and elusiveness has flummoxed the NFL all year. He was the third running back off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft, a second-round pick, but Raiders quarterback Derek Carr remembers thinking that was too late at the time.
He also surely remembers what Taylor did to the Raiders last year and hopes they can avoid a re
peat this season.
“He's fun to watch,” Carr said. “I don't get up and necessarily want to watch him. I'm trying to focus on my job and those kind of things, but if I do the things I need to do and I get to catch him, I definitely watch. He's a special player but I'm rooting for our defense. I'm not rooting for him to have a big day.”