Jackson Revs Up Run Game

Posted Nov 26, 2012

On the heels of another dominant performance in which he imposed his will on the Cardinals over and over again, particularly in the second half, Rams running back Steven Jackson was noticeably tired.

Jackson ambled slowly across the locker room, stopping to chat with some teammates and taking his time to get dressed. It was the normal pain that goes with life as a NFL running back and in some sense; it was a beautiful thing for both Jackson and the Rams.

Having just finished ramming away at the Cardinals’ fast and physical defense and leading his team to a convincing 31-17 win Sunday afternoon, Jackson had all the wear and tear that goes with a running back operating in peak condition.

At 29, Jackson is feeling as good at this point in the season as he has in a long time so the pain that goes with carrying the load is a welcome burden, especially after a win. 

“It is,” Jackson said. “We are really now grinding the games. Coach is keeping a balanced call of run/pass and getting me the ball and leaning on me now and it feels really good.”

On Sunday in Arizona, Jackson shredded the Cardinals with 24 carries for 139 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per attempt. Arizona knew full well what the Rams intended to do offensively but that did nothing to stop Jackson and his surly bunch of blockers from taking the game right at them.

“I think what we saw out of Jack yesterday is what we are going to see the rest of the year,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “It was a pretty impressive effort yesterday. It was fun to watch from the sideline.”

With the running game taking command, including a mano y mano seven-minute drive in the fourth quarter that essentially killed any chance Arizona harbored for a comeback, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and the passing game were asked only to make big plays when called upon.

The run-heavy offensive approach with some big pass plays sprinkled in was a small glimpse into the type of offense the Rams aspire to be.

“We feel like we are at our best when we are able to run the football,” Bradford said. “I think in the games where we have been able to move the ball, we have run the ball well. I thought we did that today.”

By the time the day was finished, Jackson had wrapped up his third consecutive 100-yard game at University of Phoenix Stadium and sent an emphatic statement about how much gas he has left in his 29-year old tank.

As the emotional backbone of the team, Jackson seems to have a play or two in each game where he seems to go to a different place.

Think back to the Niners game and his force of nature catch and run in the third quarter to convert a third-and-14. On Sunday, it was a third-and-1 run from the St. Louis 36 with 11:32 to go.

“With Steven Jackson, there is always one run where he gets that emotion inside him where it’s like ‘OK, I am going to take over this game,’” left tackle Rodger Saffold said. “It’s funny, every time he says something right in the huddle like ‘OK, guys, I’m putting my big boy pads on this play.’ And then you just see a huge play.”

Jackson made it clear to his teammates that he was going to convert the third down, even if it meant he was going to dish out punishment to some of them.

“I told them if I hit you in the back, excuse me, I am going to be a (jerk) on this run,” Jackson said. “They said ‘OK, let’s go.’”

Jackson promptly ripped off a 15-yard gain but not before leaving some cleat marks on the jersey of Arizona safety Kerry Rhodes.

“I try to be that emotional leader and I try my best to make sure that the energy is up for us as a team overall and anytime I get the ball now, I try to make the most of it,” Jackson said.

In the past three games, Jackson has rushed for 321 yards, trailing only Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson in rushing yards over that span. Those 321 yards are just 82 yards less than what Jackson posted in the first eight games of the season combined. He’s now up to 724 yards on the season with 19 carries of 10-plus yards.

That Jackson should be carrying a hot hand at this time of the year should come as no surprise for those who have paid attention to his game in recent seasons.

Long known as the type of back who gets better as games go on, Jackson also seems to get better as the calendar turns into the winter months. In 2011, Jackson had a three-game stretch starting on Oct. 30 in which he compiled 417 rushing yards.

In 2009, Jackson had a quartet of games in which he took games over as he posted 530 yards in those four matchups.

With the vaunted San Francisco defense coming that he rattled off 101 yards against three weeks ago coming to town this weekend, Jackson just seems to be getting warmed up.

Combining the help of a talented rookie runner in Daryl Richardson, the rest that came after a minor early season injury and a collegial atmosphere brought on by young players all over the locker room seems to have Jackson poised for a big finish.

“I do feel good,” Jackson said. “Something about competitive spirit, these young guys have definitely tapped in on something on me that makes me want to go out there and play with the energy and excitement that they have. It feels good to go out there with some young guys that are very talented.”

With five games to go in the season, Jackson also is in range for even more milestones to add to his ever-expanding list of achievements. He’s currently the league’s active leading rusher at 9,817 yards, just 183 yards short of becoming the 27th rusher in NFL history to reach the 10,000 yard mark.

If Jackson can accumulate 276 yards in those games, he’ll hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the eighth consecutive season and in the process become one of just six running backs to do that in NFL history.

At this stage in his career and this stage in the season, Jackson isn’t much concerned with those numbers. He owns essentially every major rushing record in franchise history and he’s well aware that if he continues to produce; those things will take care of themselves.

“I’ve learned over the years that football is the ultimate team sport,” Jackson said. “The more selfless you are, the more the other guys are able to buy into the program and that’s my whole deal. At this point in my career, I just want to win. I want to be part of a winning program. Through my veteran leadership, I try to give maximum ability each and every play, maximum effort, and take advantage of the opportunities given to me. If they see me do that, I think everyone else will do the same.”