It’s not been often when Rams RB Steven Jackson has gone under the radar in his life. He’s been a standout performer on the football field at every level of play, and he already ranks as the leading rusher in Rams franchise history.
But under the radar is exactly where Jackson has been in the days leading up to this weekend’s Vikings-Rams showdown. The RB de jour is of course Adrian Peterson, as he pursues the 2,000-yard mark and has set his sights on topping another Rams RB – Eric Dickerson and his single-season rushing record. And when the conversation has centered on the Rams, the focus is typically on their 2nd-ranked pass rush or on their QB, former #1 overall pick Sam Bradford.
Make no mistake, though, if the Vikings aren’t buttoned up defensively on Sunday, it will be hard to not notice Jackson. He possesses a combination of power and speed that allows him to be a north-south runner, but that also allows him to hit another gear in the open field to break away.
Jackson has seen a lot in his 9 NFL seasons with the Rams, and Nick Wagoner of the team’s website details the story nicely in this piece. Perhaps most unusual is the fact that, as Wagoner notes, his current head coach – Jeff Fisher – is the 6th different head coach he’s had. That much turnover in a coaching staff is not good for a player or a franchise. But what is good is the fact that it appears Fisher is the coach that has best understood how to capitalize on Jackson’s ability. Fisher is a defensive-minded head coach, and as is often the case with that type of head coach, the power running game is en vogue on offense.
Right out of the gates, it looked like Fisher was going to lean heavily on Jackson and a power ground game. Jackson had 25 touches in the season opener, an illustration that the 6-2, 240-pound beast was the perfect runner for Fisher’s team. But a groin injury suffered in Week 2 slowed Jackson, and the team and player had to take a different approach going forward – incorporating youngster Daryl Richardson into the mix to ease the burden and Jackson and keep him fresh for later in the season.
Well, later in the season is here, and Jackson is in mid-season form. He averaged just 13.5 touches per game from Week 2 through the team’s Week 9 bye. Since the bye, though, Jackson has been the team’s workhorse. He carried the ball 29 times for 101 yards and 1 TD in the team’s Week 10 tie with San Francisco, and in the 3 games following the bye he ripped off 321 yards, a total just 82 yards less than what he posted in the first 8 games of the season combined. In the 6 games since the bye, Jackson is averaging 23.2 touches per game and he has a pair of 100-yard rushing games.
“We’ve done a pretty good job getting him the carries, that’s the important thing is getting him the opportunities,” Fisher said. “And plus, I think, he’s fresher than most backs at this time of the year, particularly because of the way we kind of managed the reps early in the season.”
The man responsible for divvying out the reps seems intent to continue feeding the beast.
“This time of year you kind of go and you go with the hot hand,” Rams Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He has that. We certainly have plays for the other guys, but when he’s running the way he’s running it’s hard to take him off the field. The guy’s just a workhorse. He’s playing at a really high level. He’s doing so much for us and we’re thrilled we have him.”
Jackson needs 164 yards to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the 8th consecutive season, a feat matched by only 6 players in NFL history. He also is within just 71 yards of becoming the 27th player in league history to rush for 10,000 yards. For the Vikings to win on Sunday, they’re likely going to have to prevent Jackson from reaching either milestone.
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