Through the first eight games of the 2011 NFL season, things haven’t gone as planned for Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams offense.
St. Louis hired Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator this offseason to improve the effectiveness of their attack. It has worked in one respect, as the Rams have moved the ball well in most games. But St. Louis is still struggling to score. They rank second to last in the league in points, averaging just 12.5 per game. In eight games, the Rams offense has scored just eight touchdowns and five of those have been scored by SJ39.
“It’s very frustrating,” Steven said Thursday. “We move the ball pretty much on each and every drive and get into the red zone but we are unable to finish those drives that we’ve put together. It’s the same guys moving the ball down the field. It’s just when we get to the red zone, we keep having these mishaps which prevent us from putting up seven points.”
But there is still half a season left to correct things in St. Louis and on Sunday Steven will have a golden opportunity to get the Rams rolling against the Cleveland Browns.
Overall the Browns rank sixth in the NFL in defense. But while their pass defense is among the best in the league, the Browns are vulnerable to the run. Opposing offenses are averaging 144 yards per game on the ground against Cleveland, third-most in the NFL.
Meanwhile, with back-to-back performances racking up more than 125 yards rushing, SJ39 is playing at an incredibly high level. He’s raced up the league rushing chart and now ranks 12th, despite missing most of three games due to a quad injury. Steven has been running hard and through defenses to the tune of a 5.1 yards per carry average. He ranks sixth in the NFL in yards per carry among backs with at least 100 carries.
“You want to keep it going because as the running game goes, I believe this team and this offense goes,” Jackson said. “We need to continue to be productive in that area. I think it will open up things, especially for Sam and the receivers which allows for us to have some big plays.”
But Cleveland is well aware that they will be hard pressed to stop S-Jax and that doing so will be a big factor in the outcome of the game.
“He’s a very powerful back,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “He’s probably as big and strong as anybody that we’ve seen to this point. He’s got good breakaway speed and when he gets to the secondary, he can go. He can give you issues.”
Another 100-yard day for Steven could mean a victory for the Rams. The Browns are 0-4 this season when allowing 100 or more yards to an opposing rusher and 1-5 when allowing at least 90. Cleveland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson told the Sun Herald that slowing down a lead back like SJ39 is essential to victory.
“I don’t know too many other teams that are going to survive if they give up 90-plus yards rushing (to one running back),” Jackson said. “That’s Football 101 in terms of defense. You always want to keep a guy under 100 yards.”
In D’Qwell Jackson, Steven sees one of the best linebackers in the game and a chance to test himself on Sunday.
“He’s a tackling machine,” No. 39 said. “He does a good job, sideline to sideline, really a playmaker. He’s one of those guys that when you play against him is a measuring stick to see how I’m doing and how do I measure up against the best.”
D’Qwell Jackson has that same respect for SJ39.
“He’s been one of the guys that, in my opinion, has been a little bit underrated. He’s always been a hard, hard runner. He’s a big guy with a size and speed combination that you rarely see. So we’re definitely aware of that.”
That size and speed combination will be coming at the Browns all day as the Rams aim to wear down the Cleveland defense and finish strong. According to Steven, as long as the Rams can stay in the game and give him opportunities, he can make a defense break.
“So far these last two weeks the games have been close, more opportunities to be honest with you,” Jackson said. “The more we can wear on a defense and the game is close or we’re in the lead, it allows for us to pound away at them. Eventually those 4-yard gains in the first quarter become big gashes later on in the game… It’s certainly something that pretty much favors my running style and what I like to do. It also allows for us to take advantage of their eight-man boxes that we see a lot. The more you can wear them down on that it kind of makes the safety and those other guys filling in a little late getting there compared to the first quarter.”
The matchups set up the potential for a big day for SJ39, but he knows that things aren’t always as they seem.
With his former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, a man that knows most of Steven’s tendencies, staring across the field, S-Jax believes he’ll be in for a challenge as well.
“When certain teams come to town, certain players come to town, statistically those things really don’t matter,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that all week they’ve been game-planning, especially with Coach Shurmur over there. He personally was with me for two years so … they’ll be pretty up for the challenge. I don’t look at being ranked 30th means it will be an easy Sunday. It will be a very challenging Sunday.”
But that won’t stop Steven. He has played through challenging Sunday after challenging Sunday over the entire course of his career. His current offensive coordinator has certainly taken notice of the warrior he has in the backfield.
“His performance and his leadership and his attitude and his energy have been incredible, even out here at practice,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “As many times as we can get him the ball, let him get going and lathered up, that’s been a big positive for us the last few weeks. We’ve got to continue to do it going forward.”
Eddie at Turf Show Times also offered some high praise for No. 39 in his midseason Rams review:
Jackson has been the rock of the team. Game in, game out, Steven has been the lone constant force. He plays with such a passion, a fire that is to be desired by the rest of the team – or at least his fellow offensive unit. In the eight games the Rams have played thus far – remember Jackson has missed a game and was limited in another due to a hamstring injury – Jackson has 579 rushing yards. The last two games combined, he has amassed 289 of those 579 yards. If that is any indication, @SJ39 is beginning to get his wheels in motion.
On Friday afternoon, the Rams hosted members of the military for a private practice in honor of Veterans Day and one of the Marines in attendance gave SJ39 a special honor.
Marine Sergeant Rogers presented Steven with a Marine challenge coin. The coin is said to represent affiliation, support or patronage to the organization minted on the coin. It was a special moment for Steven, whose father served in the Marine Corps.
The Rams head to Cleveland where they’ll be looking for their second win at the expense of the host Browns. Kickoff is scheduled for Noon CST and the game can be seen on FOX.
- Jackson, run game on a roll (StLouisRams.com, November 10, 2011)
- Jackson expects more from Browns’ weak run defense (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 11, 2011)
- Rams still waiting for offense to click (Belleville News-Democrat, November 11, 2011)
- Jackson looking for 3rd 100-yard game in a row (KSDK, November 9, 2011)
- Reeling Browns have been getting run over (Ohio News-Herald, November 8, 2011)
- Rams at Browns Week 10 Capsule (Rams Gab, November 9, 2011)
- Browns’ ailing defense preparing for Rams’ Jackson (Sun Herald, November 10, 2011)
- Three-and-out: Shurmur hopes to give Rams rude welcome (USA Today, November 10, 2011)
- Browns Notebook (The Akron Beacon Journal, November 12, 2011)
- St. Louis Rams Midseason Review: Running Backs (Turf Show Times, November 10, 2011)