Steven Jackson and the Rams leave the warm confines of the Edward Jones Dome this weekend for the bitter December chill of the Chicago air, taking on the Bears this Sunday at Soldier Field.
Both teams sport losing streaks headed into Sunday's matchup. The Rams haven't won since a victory in Detroit on November 1, a three-game streak. Chicago's streak is even longer, at four games. They also last tasted victory on November 1 against the Cleveland Browns.
Each squad will be motivated to end their respective streaks this week. Despite continued concerns with back spasms throughout the week, Steven is expected to suit up on Sunday and play for St. Louis.
"Last week, it was a new injury. So it flared up really bad," Action Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But I was able to do some walk-through [Thursday]. I’m studying film, still preparing as though I’m playing Sunday. So if I don’t play, I’ll be more surprised than anybody."
S-Jax says the lingering aches bother him no matter what he does, making it much more difficult to relax, as noted in the Belleville News-Democrat:
"It just feels like the muscles in my back are always tense, so it doesn't allow me to relax,'' Jackson said. "Sitting down for a long period of time or standing up for a long period of time, either one puts a huge load on my back, and it's really painful.''
Told that a fan suggested the Teeter Hang-up Inversion Table for back spasms, Jackson said, "If it was as easy as back spasms, I would listen. It's a little bit more deep-rooted than that."
The cold Chicago air also causes a concern, with the possibility that it could force the muscles to tighten even more. So Steven will do whatever it takes to remain warm.
"It's definitely going to be a struggle,'' Jackson said. "It's going to be difficult to keep myself warm. I have thought about it, but you hope that you are able to grit it out.''
No. 39 has only faced Chicago one other time in his NFL career.
Back in his pro bowl season of 2006, S-Jax and the Rams welcomed the Bears into the Edward Jones Dome. The game was an offensive slugfest and Chicago, the eventual NFC Champion that season, outlasted St. Louis for a 42-27 victory. Steven had a busy day for the Rams, carrying 18 times for 81 yards and a touchdown while also hauling in 10 catches for 58 yards and another score.
This season, SJ39 is having another pro bowl type campaign and he'll look to continue piling up yards against a weakened Chicago defense. The Bears lost All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher to injury in the first week of the season and may play this week without their other All-Pro backer, Lance Briggs.
"He does it all," Briggs said of S-Jax. "They move him out as a receiver in the slot, and they use him as a wide receiver. You need to know where (No.) 39 is on the field."
The Bears have allowed only two running backs, Frank Gore and Cedric Benson, to top 100 yards this season. But Chicago has seen plenty of time-share backfields and is allowing over 125 yards per game on the ground.
The absence of the two all-pro linebackers could lead Steven to a big day as he looks to add on to his NFC leading 1,120 rushing yards and propel the Rams to victory. With that in mind, the Bears will load up to stop him, as quoted on ESPNChicago.com:
"He's one of the top backs in the league," Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams said. "He'll make you miss, he'll run through you and around you. He's quick and can block. He can do it all pretty much. We've got to stop him."
In order to stop Steven, in the absence of their top linebackers, the Bears are changing their lineup. Safety Kevin Payne will start in place of Danieal Manning because Payne is believed to be a stronger run stopper, as noted by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times:
"He might be seeing some of Payne in the box on Sunday. The Bears rotate their free and strong safety, Al Afalava, and the move could be made with the idea in mind that Payne is more rugged in run support than Manning."
The Bears note that stopping No. 39 will be crucial to their success on Sunday, as defensive end Alex Brown told the Chicago Daily-Herald and ESPNChicago.com
"He's a huge part of their offense, so if he gets going it opens up a lot more things for them," Brown told the Daily-Herald. "We've got to stop him."
"He does see a lot of people in the box. He runs hard and finds holes. He's made a lot of plays for them. They haven't won, but he's definitely a bright spot on that team," Brown added when speaking with ESPN.
Steven was fined five thousand dollars this week for throwing the ball into the stands after his touchdown late in Sunday's loss to Seattle.
S-Jax has no plans to appeal the fine, as he told the Belleville News-Democrat:
"I just wanted to show the few fans that were still there … give someone a souvenir,'' Jackson said. "I knew I was going to get fined for it. I just wanted to give somebody a ball.''
SHOULDERING THE LOAD
It's no secret that SJ39 is relied upon heavily to carry the load for the Rams.
But in a piece for the New York Times' NFL Blog, The Fifth Down, Chase Stuart notes that just how big a load Steven is carrying puts him in select company:
He’s averaging just over 25 touches per game and is responsible for 39 percent of the Rams’ yards from scrimmage this season.
Jackson leads the league with 238 carries, but his Rams are at the bottom of the N.F.L. Only two times in N.F.L. history has that occurred by season’s end. In 1969, Gale Sayers led the league with 236 carries on the 1-13 Chicago Bears, who were tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the worst record. That season, the Bears had more future Hall of Fame players than wins; in addition to Sayers, Dick Butkus was on the team. In 1938, the future Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White led the N.F.L. with 152 carries while playing for the 2-9 Pittsburgh Steelers (who were tied with a team from Chicago, the Cardinals, for the worst record in the league).
To read more from Stuart on No. 39's rare workload, click here.
At ESPN.com, NFC West blogger Mike Sando notes that despite Steven's standout season, the Rams haven't taken advantage much by using the play-action:
Marc Bulger owns the NFL's second-lowest passer rating (39.8) on plays when he fakes the handoff, trailing only the Titans' since-benched Kerry Collins among quarterbacks with at least 10 play-action attempts. The Rams' Kyle Boller ranks 22nd with a 93.3 rating in those situations, two spots behind former 49ers starter Shaun Hill (96.1).
Also at the NFC West Blog, Sando notes that despite his status as the top back in the NFC in rushing yards, Steven still sits FIFTH among NFC running backs for the Pro Bowl.
To change all that and vote Steven to the Pro Bowl, click here.
The St. Louis Rams and the Chicago Bears meet this Sunday at Soldier Field in the Windy City. Kickoff is scheduled for Noon CST and all the action can be seen on FOX. Dick Stockton and Trent Green have the call.
Cold weather is concern for Jackson, still ailing with back trouble (Belleville News-Democrat, December 4, 2009)
Jackson sits out Thursday, plans to play Sunday (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 3, 2009)
Plan to stop Steven Jackson might have driven safety switch (Chicago Sun-Times, December 4, 2009)
Defense has one mission: Stopping Rams' Jackson (Chicago Daily-Herald, December , 2009)
Rams' Jackson a remarkable threat (ESPNChicago.com, December 3, 2009)
Steven Jackson: So many carries, so few victories (New York Times, December 1, 2009)
No play-action despite Rams' Jackson (ESPN.com, December 2, 2009)
Cards lead pro bowl balloting in division (ESPN.com, December 2, 2009)