Coming off consecutive losses to the Vikings and Giants, Steven Jackson and the Atlanta Falcons head into Sunday's Week 6 matchup with the Chicago Bears seeking to get back on track and back into the win column at home in the Georgia Dome.
But doing so won't be easy as the Falcons (2-3) will be hosting a Chicago Bears (2-3) club that is likewise looking to break a two-game losing streak and get back to .500.
Fortunately for the Falcons, after back-to-back tough losses on the road, they are back at home on Sunday where they have yet to lose this season.
"I think that's a good thing for us," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said of being back at home in the dome. "[Coach Smith] talks about it all the time, we want to be tough and defend the dome every chance that we get. It's the next one on our schedule."
For the Falcons, the focus will be on getting back in the end zone on a consistent basis, as they did in their last home game, a 56-14 dismantling of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3. In the two losses since, the Falcons have often been forced to settle for field goals instead of finishing drives with touchdowns.
In the Week 5 loss to New York, Atlanta reached the red zone three times, but got the ball in the end zone just once, a 10-yard scoring run by Steven early in the game. They'll need to convert at a higher rate on red zone possession if they hope to change their fortunes this Sunday.
"We had the ball in there (red zone) twice last week, tight inside the 5-yard line. I thought we had some good play calls; it comes down to players executing the way that we are capable of," Ryan said. "We had some opportunities to score points and we didn't do it."
The team's recent scoring struggles are due in large part to a lack of success on third down, of which the Falcons have converted to just 29 percent into first downs this season.
"If you're not converting third-downs, you're not going to win football games," Ryan said. "It comes down to making plays when they present themselves."
One of the players Ryan will be looking to have accomplish that goal is SJ39 who has scored two rushing touchdowns over the first five weeks of the season. Steven had just 13 carries for 37 yards last week, but also hauled in five passes from Ryan totaling another 37 yards.
S-Jax hopes the 18 touches he received in last week's game are a sign of things to come.
"I don't know a running back that doesn't want the ball," Steven said. "I think my track record speaks for itself. If you look at the history of my style, when I'm productive, I am in a rhythm. Those things are proof in the pudding. But at the same time when I came to this organization, my role was going to change and I knew that."
SJ enters this week approaching a major career milestone. At 10,919 career rushing yards, he is just 81 yards shy of becoming just the 19th running back in NFL history to reach 11,000 yards on the ground. He currently ranks No. 20 all-time and would have to pass Warrick Dunn (10,967 yards) on the way to 11,000.
— Steven Jackson (@sj39) October 11, 2014
Falcons RB Steven Jackson needs 81 yards for 11,000 career rushing yards.
— Reggie Roberts (@FalconsPR) October 8, 2014
In three career meetings with the Bears, SJ's average of 74 rushing yards per game puts him on pace to land a tick below the number he would need to reach 11K.
Steven has rushed for 81 or more yards in two of those games, including exactly that number in 18 carries with the Rams in 2006. He then rushed for 112 yards against Chicago in 2009, but his most recent game against the Bears, a 2012 visit to Soldier Field with the Rams, saw SJ gain just 29 yards on the ground.
No. 39 might again have trouble gaining the 81 yards he needs this week against a Bears defense that has struggled against the pass but been solid against the run. Chicago has only allowed 116 rushing yards per game this season which ranks right in the middle of the pack, 16th best in the NFL.
The Bears also have not allowed an individual rusher to carry for more than 65 yards this season. In fact, the most rushing yards by a player against the Bears this season came from the legs of a quarterback, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, who ran for 64. Frank Gore, who ranks No. 2 behind SJ on the NFL's active rushing list was right behind at 63 yards against Chicago.
But SJ has been known to overcome challenges in his NFL career, and he's ready to conquer the one he and his teammates face this Sunday. Kickoff from the Georgia Dome is set for 4:25 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on FOX.
- Jackson says he's more effective with more carries (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 8, 2014)
- Game Preview: Falcons vs. Bears (AtlantaFalcons.com, October 11, 2014)
- Transcripts: Smith and Ryan Press Conferences (AtlantaFalcons.com, October 8, 2014)
- Red zone success comes down to execution (AtlantaFalcons.com, October 8, 2014)