The St. Louis Rams' bye week last Sunday offered Steven Jackson and his teammates time to rest up for the remainder of the season and look back at their first half.
Steven rushed for 784 yards in the first half, a total that puts him in a tie for third in the league in rushing with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson. The two sit behind only Cincinnati's Cedric Benson and league leader Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans. He's averaging 4.8 yards per carry and 98 yards per game, both career highs for S-Jax.
Teammates like kicker Josh Brown, quoted by the Canadian Press, have marveled at Steven's desire this season and the gaudy stats back it up:
"When he's determined to get somewhere, it's going to take four or five large people to stop him," Rams kicker Josh Brown said. "When he's an angry person, you have to get out of his way."
But Steven's most impressive quality has been his leadership over the struggling Rams. No. 39 put the Rams on his back in a victory over the Detroit Lions before the bye and as Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat notes, that shows how much SJ has matured:
"Jackson, 26, has made an effort to become more of a leader. Now in his sixth season in the NFL, he's no longer the brash young back brought in to replace an aging Marshall Faulk.
"It's something that I really want to focus on and show, that I am a leader,'' Jackson said. "I just think everything married itself. It just happened. It happened at a perfect time right now. I'm welcoming the challenge of helping to turn this organization around.''
Steven's leadership has also gained him respect from Rams fans who are suffering through the same tough season the players are, as quoted by Korte:
"I think they've had a chance to get to know me and I've had a chance to get know them,'' Jackson said. "Some of the things I might say don't take them back as much as they would in the past. I'm growing up, I know that. A lot has to fall back on me. They can't judge me if I don't say anything. I'm just going to continue to let my pads do the talking and continue to play hard. If they don't like me at this point, they just don't like me. I'm playing hard.''
NO ONE BETTER
A look at stats shows Steven near the top of the league in the major categories, but to look deeper is to see No. 39 is even better than that.
The Football Outsiders released their recent DVOA (Defensive-adjusted Value Over Average) Rankings from last week and Steven now ranks as the league's top running back:
"Jackson now ranks as the most valuable runner of the year. What's interesting there is the power of the opponent adjustments. Six of the Rams' eight opponents rank in the top ten for DVOA run defense. Here's a table showing Jackson's yardage in each game along with where that ranks among all running backs who have faced that defense so far this season. He's had the biggest day of any back against three teams, and the second-biggest day against three other teams."
To see the chart breaking down Steven's performance from week-to-week, click here.
The St. Louis Dispatch's Bernie Miklasz, meanwhile says it's pretty obvious that Steven is the Rams' best player at the halfway point. An excerpt:
"It's impressive the way SJ39 has been running through defensive walls. Through 8 games, Jackson is second in the NFL in rushing yards (784), second in rushing first downs (32), first in the NFL in runs of 10+ yards (25), second in the league in yards from scrimmage (970), second in most broken tackles, and second in yards gained after contact (461). His attitude has been tremendous."
ESPN's Mike Sando also named No. 39 as one of the NFL's most dangerous players:
"I'm not a guy who can stop on a dime — I'm just going to be flat-out honest with you," Jackson told 101ESPN St. Louis. "If I'm going in one direction and you're in the way, I'm sorry."
The statement could apply to quite a few linebackers and defensive backs, and probably some defensive linemen, too. The 6-foot-2, 236-pound Jackson combines uncommon size — he's an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier than Adrian Peterson — with the speed, moves and heart to make him the NFC West's most dangerous player in the open field.
FRIENDS IN THE TRENCHES
While all the creddit for St. Louis' first win of the season has gone to S-Jax, he's not willing to take it all.
He believes just as much credit should go to his offensive line for opening holes for him, as quoted in the Belleville News-Democrat:
"I think that last drive said a lot about my offensive line, and not about me,'' Jackson said. "Those guys stepped up to the challenge. They blocked their guy, they made it real easy for me to run through some holes. I think it was probably one of our finest drives on the season.''
Jackson said he enjoyed watching how the offensive line and fullback Mike Karney worked together on the game film.
"The offensive line continued to move the line of scrimmage four or five yards down the field,'' Jackson said. "(It was) a luxury, to be quite honest, that we've never had. It was exciting to watch the game film and see those guys really move the line.''
Coach Steve Spagnuolo believe Steven's assessment was on the money:
"I think Steven (Jackson) will tell you that," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "He's credited them quite a bit. They're gelling together. That's everybody. That's the fullback, that's the coaches that coach all of those positions, and it was nice to see us run the ball really effectively."
S-Jax also had plenty of praise for his coach this week following the big win, as quoted on StLouisRams.com:
"Well, I think that's hats off to our coach," Jackson said. "He's a great leader. He's making sure that no one drifts away from what we're trying to turn around here. We knew going into the season that we were going to have our hands full. It's a new scheme on both sides of the ball. It's a lot of new faces in the locker room. Coach has really done a great job of making sure that we are all on the same page that's first thing. He's giving everyone a vision, getting everyone going in the right direction. I think we have that."
KEEPING HIMSELF IN CHECK
Part of the Rams' new vision and Steven's new attitude have been to keep his emotions in check no matter what adversity the team might face.
It's left him thinking more before he speaks and composing himself in the process, as quoted in the Belleville News-Democrat:
"Yes I have, and that's me knowing what kind of makes me and what kind of makes me tick is really not helpful for a young team,'' Jackson said. "Although my determination and my competitive spirit sometimes can be overwhelming, and it kind take guys back and kind of go through that misunderstanding stage that I feel I am kind of coming out of. I don't want to go back there anymore.''
Steven and the Rams return home this weekend to face one of the toughest teams in the league, the New Orleans Saints. Kickoff is scheduled for Noon CST and all the action can be seen on Fox. Check SJ39.com on Friday for a preview of Sunday's action.
Dangerous player: Steven Jackson, Rams RB (Espn.com, November 4, 2009)
Quick takes on Rams at the halfway point (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 5, 2009)
Week 8 DVOA Ratings (Football Outsiders, November 3, 2009)
Maturing Jackson shows signs of being a leader on offense (Belleville News-Democrat, November 4, 2009)
Rams' O-Line paves the way for Steven Jackson (Belleville News-Democrat, November 2, 2009)
Rams staying the course (StLouisRams.com, November 4, 2009)
Rams' struggles can't keep Jackson's reputation as top back from growing (The Canadian Press, November 5, 2009)