Steven Jackson enters Sunday's game on the doorstep of a career milestone, 11,000 yards rushing. But as the Falcons prepare for another daunting test this weekend, in Baltimore to take on the Ravens, No. 39's priority is helping his team snap a three-game losing streak.
"It's an amazing feat. Whenever I do eclipse the 11,000-yard mark, it will mean a lot to me," SJ said of his opportunity to join 18 other running backs in that historic club. "But like football, I've done it with the success of a lot of my teammates over the years. Good games, bad games, they all compile to this milestone. I relish in it but at the same time, keep it going."
In order for Steven and the Falcons (2-4) to keep it going this week, or get it going after three straight losses, they'll have to deal with a Ravens (4-2) team that is riding a hot streak, with wins in four of their last five games, a span over which they've outscored opponents 148-74.
Over the course of Steven's NFL career, Baltimore has been known for its historically tough defense and though some of the faces on the other side have changed, that remains the case in 2014. The Ravens have been particularly stout against the run, ranking seventh in the league at stopping opposing ground attacks by allowing just 90.7 rushing yards per game.
"They're a big, physical team," SJ said this week. "For a number of years, they've always prided themselves on playing tough defense and their front seven is, if not the best, one of the best in the NFL."
Although the 2014 Ravens rank well overall defensively, and particularly against the run, a depper look at the statistics shows that Baltimore has been hurt by opponents' passing attacks. They currently rank 27th in the NFL against the pass, having allowed 270.5 passing yards and six touchdowns through the air.
That could bode well for an Atlanta offense that has relied heavily on the passing game this year. Quarterback Matt Ryan ranks second in the NFL and first in the NFC in passing yards with 1,850 and has tossed 12 touchdown passes in six games. Ryan believes that despite a trio of tough results in the last three weeks, the Falcons can make it back into the win column as they long as they stick to their game plan and believe in one another.
"We've had opportunities to make plays and we haven't made them," the quarterback admitted. "We have to remain confident in the belief that we're going to out there and make those plays when they present themselves. You have to trust in what you believe in and for me that's preparation and doing a great job in practice so that when games roll around, you feel like you're ready to do it."
Steven echoed those sentiments in a SJ39.com blog post this week on the team's 2-4 start and what they can do to get back on track.
Although the Falcons' strength this season has, by far, been their passing attack — which ranks third in the NFL at an average of 306.8 yards per game compared 20th in rushing at 103.2 yards per game on the ground — Steven noted in a discussion with reports on Wednesday that the Falcons can't abandon the run entirely.
"You gotta be hard-headed. You have to just be stubborn and dedicated to the run, as well as they are at stopping the run," he said. "At some point, the game is going to give way to the team that is more disciplined and the team that is more stout. When those things present themselves, we as runners need to take advantage of them and [then we can] take some down field shots when they're presented."
The Falcons didn't give themselves that opportunity last week with only 13 total rushes against Chicago, including just five in the second half of the game. This allowed the Bears defense to focus in on the passing game and handicapped Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and the rest of the Alanta passing attack as well.
"I think any time you can be a more balanced offense (it can) get us out of a rut and put us where we feel we don't have our backs against the wall and we are not one-dimensional," Steven said. "Any time you can be more balanced it helps everyone out from Matt (Ryan) all the way down offensively."
If the Falcons can stick with the run, SJ might have a shot to pass Warrick Dunn for 19th on the NFL's all-time rushing list, which he would do with just 24 more yards, and reach 11,000, which he would accomplish with 56 more yards on Sunday. Those goals are very much attainable for No. 39 in Week 7, and as he blogged this week, so too are all the goals the Falcons have set out for themselves this season.
"At this point, I believe it's all confidence, and the belief in not only yourself but your teammates to get the job done," he wrote. "We just have to find that confidence, and learn how to win those tough games right now."
Kickoff of Sunday's game between the Ravens and Falcons is set for 1 p.m. EDT and all the action can be seen on FOX.
- Wednesday Press Pass: Falcons at Ravens (AtlantaFalcons.com, October 15, 2014)
- Falcons RB Steven Jackson nears 11,000 yards (Atlanta Journal Constitution, October 15, 2014)
- Steven Jackson is closing in on 11,000 yards (Atlanta Journal Constitution, October 15, 2014)
- Run game lacking for pass-heavy Falcons (Atlanta Journal Constitution, October 15, 2014)