As the Rams opened play in Oakland's Black Hole on Sunday afternoon, Steven Jackson wasted little time getting into a zone.
On the Rams' second drive of the game, SJ39 carried five times for 26 yards and took a screen pass from Sam Bradford for a 17 yard-gain. After a 23-yard run to begin another drive and end the first quarter, Steven had piled up 73 yards on just nine touches.
"The first half, we had some very favorable running formations, things that we were able to take advantage of, that we practiced during the week," Steven told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Steven races away from the Raiders during Sunday's loss in Oakland (courtesy St. Louis Post Dispatch).
On the heels of that 23-yard SJ burst, the Rams rode into the second quarter on high and cashed in a shortened field with a touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Mark Clayton to take a 7-0 lead.
Oakland cut the lead to 7-3 by halftime, but St. Louis still appeared to be in control. Steven was well on his way to a 100-yard day on the ground with 14 carries for 67 yards and had racked up 45 receiving yards on three catches.
"You’ve got to be as hard and as tough as he is – that’s kind of his game," Raiders coach Tom Cable told the Post-Dispatch. "He wears on you, wears on you, wears on you, and then he’s a tremendous finisher. You’ve got to answer that challenge. Without question, he’s proven over time he’s one of the better backs in the National Football League."
But Oakland adjusted its game plan in the second half to slow the run, and the Rams couldn’t get back on track. No. 39 saw his number called just five more times in the running game, totaling eight yards and caught one more pass for five yards as Oakland shut down the St. Louis offense and rallied for a 16-14 victory.
It was another frustrating loss for a Rams team that is so close to breaking through.
"Somehow we have to find (out how)," Steven told the Post-Dispatch’s Bryan Burwell. "And we have to do it on Sunday. We can't do it on Wednesday or Thursday. We have to do it on Sunday."
S-Jax said Oakland’s scheme change, putting eight men in the box, took away the run that was there when the Raiders had just seven aimed at stopping the run in the first half.
"Second half, obviously Oakland made some adjustments," Jackson said. "And we just couldn't get things going."
But Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch believes the Rams need to figure out another way to deploy their best player in those situations.
* I get it; when the Rams run the ball with Jackson, they usually see 8 defenders in the box. But there are two questions: (1) is Jackson the only back in NFL history to run against a stacked box? No. (2) what can be done to counter the strategy? I'm not sure, because I'm not Bill Walsh, but I do know this: having Bradford flip a bunch of 5-yard passes isn't going to back the linebackers and safeties away from the line of scrimmage.
* Even with the obvious limitations that the Rams are dealing with on offense — they do not have one receiver who can stretch and threaten a defense — you still have to try some stuff, right? Don't you have to at least try to hit on some downfield throws? If for no other reason, you must do it to let the defense know that you haven't completely given up on the idea of, well, the modern forward pass. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur does not have much to work with; there's little speed outside. But he can't just cross out pages of his playbook because of it.
* Even with the limitations, where is the creativity?
The Rams aren't running many crossing patterns or dig routes with their receivers. Why? Why don't they stack receivers and hope to confuse the defense or create missteps? Why not experiment with a wildcat formation? Why not spread the field and run Jackson? Where are some different personnel groupings and use of motion? Why not go with some overloads in the formation? Why not go "heavy" with extra blockers and try to pound the ball? The Rams are too bland. They make it too easy for the defense.
Justin Stine at the Rams blog, Ramblin Fan, agrees that Steven needs to get more looks for St. Louis to have second half success
"SJ39 was the man in the first half, and I think the team needs to continue making an effort to give him as many touches as possible."
No. 39 and the Rams will look to get back on track and win their first game of the season next Sunday when they host the Washington Redskins at the Edward Jones Dome.
For the third straight week the Rams are on the late afternoon portion of the Sunday NFL slate with kickoff slated for 3:05 CST on FOX.
You can win a trip to Sunday’s game and sit in Steven's seats by participating in the ArchiTix contest on Steven’s facebook page here!
‘You can’t win games in the NFL if you beat yourself’ (Belleville News-Democrat, September 20, 2010)
Rams fall in black hole, 16-14 (Ramblin’ Fan, September 20, 2010)
The Cable Guy (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 19, 2010)
Steven Jackson dominates St. Louis Rams offense in the early going (SB Nation, September 19, 2010)
Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 20, 2010)
Raiders’ adjustments stop Rams’ running game (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 20, 2010)
Rams find ways to lose games they should win (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 20, 2010)