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New Orleans Saints defense looks within to handle Raiders running game

'We're focused on what we can do'

See the best moments from the Saints defense in the Week 1 match up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
See the best moments from the Saints defense in the Week 1 match up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The seasons, weeks and opponents change.

Cam Jordan’s answer does not.

Ask the New Orleans Saints' All-Pro defensive end about the running game of an opposing team or that team's top rusher, and Jordan will provide the perspective from the mirror, rather than the through the window pane.

"He's a hard runner," Jordan said. "At the end of the day, we're focused on us and what we can do, and everything that our defense wants to do is to affect not only the quarterback, but try and shut down the run. And this goes into it.

"We know he had a phenomenal year last year, so we know he can make elite cuts and this is something that we're aware of. Luckily, we've got a phenomenal backfield on our side so we're able to emulate and simulate the looks we might get."

Jordan could be talking about any NFL back but in this case, it's Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders, New Orleans' opponent on Monday night at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nev.

The reason for the approach is simple: The Saints (1-0) haven't allowed an opposing runner to gain 100 or more rushing yards since Washington's Semaje Perine ran for 117 (on 23 carries) on Nov. 19, 2017. That was 44 games ago, and New Orleans has established itself as one of the premier run defenses in the NFL over that time.

The Saints held opponents to 80.2 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry in 2018, and 91.3 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry in '19. In the season opener against Tampa Bay, New Orleans allowed 86 yards in 26 carries (3.3 per carry), numbers that increased when the Buccaneers had an 11-yard run on their final offensive play in the 34-23 Saints victory.

Jacobs, though, bears watching. In his rookie season last year, he ran for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns on 242 carries, in 13 games. Jacobs led the league in broken tackles (69) last year and in the Raiders' 34-30, season-opening win over Carolina, he ran for 93 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Eighty-one of his rushing yards came after contact.

"He's elusive, he's big (5 feet 10, 220 pounds), he's strong, he runs with power," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "He's extremely impressive to watch on film."

And he has a coach, Jon Gruden, who is dedicated to having a productive running game. The Raiders ran for 101.2 yards per game in '18, Gruden's first season back into coaching after a 10-year absence, and raised the number to 118.3 yards per game last year, Gruden's first season with Jacobs as the feature back.

"Anywhere Jon's been, he's been one of those coaches who does a great job staying committed to the running game," Payton said. "It's something that you saw on tape last year. This year, those guys played extremely well (against Carolina). It's something that's kind of followed Jon wherever he's been.

"I've worked with Jon and watched his preparation, the attention to detail in everything he does and there's always going to be a presence, physicality-wise, running the football. It'll be creative with formations; we've got to be on point that way. He'll look for 'man' matchups with his personnel with some oddball formations, he does a very good job of that. And man, they play hard. You can see that on tape."

Also notable, on tape and by tape measure, is the size of the Raiders' offensive line. The average weight is 336 pounds, and the heights range from 6-2 center Rodney Hudson, to 6-8 tackles Kolton Miller (left) and Trent Brown (right). The 380-pound Brown is nursing a calf injury and did not practice Thursday; left guard Richie Incognito (6-3, 325) also didn't practice because of an Achilles injury.

Regardless of who will or won't be available for the Raiders on the offensive line, Jordan said the mirror approach has worked best for the Saints.

"There's an open line of communication within our defense," he said. "It allows us to not only make adjustments, but to keep ourselves honest to each other, and that goes from the first man on the field to the 11th man on the field. We're all just actively trying to get better each and every game."

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