Steven Jackson and the Rams have gone global this week.
The Rams departed St. Louis on Monday night for a seven-day stay across the pond in London, where they will take on the New England Patriots on Sunday as part of the NFL’s International Series. The annual London game has become an NFL tradition, but it’s something Steven couldn’t have fathomed when he entered the league.
“Never would I have thought nine years ago when I was drafted by the Rams we’d be playing a game in Wembley Stadium,” Jackson said. “It’s amazing. I’m really excited for Sunday.”
Sunday’s game will test the Rams’ global growth, but it will also pit Steven against a Patriots team he nearly wound up with instead of the Rams for just the second time in his NFL career. New England coach Bill Belichick said this week that SJ39 was very much on the Pats’ radar prior to the 2004 draft and if they team hadn’t traded for Corey Dillon days before the draft, they would’ve selected SJ out of Oregon State.
In fact, Belichick even made a special trip out to Las Vegas that offseason to watch Steven work out. He came away very impressed, as he told ESPN Boston this week.
“I went out there and met with him, and spent pretty much a whole day out there,” Belichick recalled. “He was a very impressive individual. Obviously [a] big, strong kid that runs well, catches the ball very well. He’s really had an outstanding career, and he definitely was a guy that we were very much interested in, and [as] I said, I personally spent quite a bit of time with him.”
Most impressive to the longtime New England coach has been Steven’s durability. In an era when the career-span of the average NFL running back seems to be getting shorter by the year, SJ has continued to truck along and presents a big challenge to Belichick’s defense on Sunday.
“He’s had a thousand yards it seems like every year, right? Close to it, whatever it is. But he dishes it out, he probably gives out as much as he takes, and it’s not like that with all backs,” he said. “He’s got the quickness to be elusive on the second level and avoid guys, and he’s also got the power to put his shoulder down and run through guys. He’s a hard guy to tackle.”
The coach also lauded No. 39’s ability in the passing game as both an able pass catcher and a great blocker when he’s called upon.
“Very good in the passing game. I think he’s probably a little underrated in that area. Good in blitz pick-up, a smart guy,” Belichick said. “Not just screens, but actual route running, going out there, getting open, beating linebackers and he’s a great target for the quarterback to throw to. He’s not a little 5-8 guy you’re trying to find out there. He’s a big, tall, strong guy that has a lot of range and a big catch radius and good hands.”
Those traits make Steven a player the Patriots must stayed locked in on this Sunday in London. Going into Sunday’s game, the Pats rank near the top of the NFL in rush defense and have allowed on average just 86 yards per game on 3.3 yards per carry, second best in the league.
“They have a very impressive front-seven, led by Vince Wilfork of course,” Steven said. “They do a great-job of two-gapping, which makes it very hard for running backs to get a read for what they want to do. Their linebackers do a very good job of engaging blockers once they make contact with a fullback or offensive lineman, so the thing for me is to trust my eyes and be really aggressive.”
Of the many solid backs that New England has faced, only Baltimore’s Ray Rice has managed to break the 100-yard mark against them. Other backs weren’t nearly as productive. Chris Johnson gained just four yards on 11 carries, Fred Jackson was limited to 29 yards on 13 totes and Marshawn Lynch only picked up 41 yards despite 15 touches. But the Pats expect to be challenged by SJ39.
“He’s just a tough running back,” Wilfork told the Boston Globe. “He’s running hard. He’s catching the ball and that’s one of the things I think he does very well. It’s been a couple times he’s put this team on his shoulders.”
“He’s a big guy,” New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “He’s strong. When you have some size and speed it definitely makes it a lot harder to tackle somebody. So you’ve just got to make sure that you really get your hat on him. We really pride ourselves on stopping the run first. As long as you do that and kind of make the game more one-dimensional it’s just going to help your defense in the long run.”
Steven believes the Rams must establish the run if they are to have any chance against New England, because, like the Packers who the Rams fell to last week in a 30-20 shootout, the Patriots are capable of putting up points in bunches with a high-octane offense. St. Louis can’t settle for field goals and expect to win, SJ said.
“On offense, we have to make sure that we carry our weight. We’re going to have a very tough challenge on Sunday and we have to make sure that we help our defense out. Once we get into the red zone, we have to put up touchdowns. We have to take advantage of chewing up the clock as well because their offense can put up points at any given time.”
And Steven is pretty sure that Belichick will have something up his sleeve to try and slow the Rams down. It’s on them to overcome every obstacle presented and leave London with a win.
“Coach Belichick does a great job of game-planning so I’m pretty sure they’ll have something in particular they want to take away from us and try to handicap us and force us to do something else,” he said. “We have to make sure we execute and do the things we know we can do.”
Sunday’s game kicks off a Noon CDT from Wembley Stadium in London and can be seen on CBS.
- Patriots solid run defense focused on Jackson (Associated Press, October 25, 2012)
- Ten Things You Have to Know about Patriots-Rams (WEEI, October 27, 2012)
- Rams up for London game (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 27, 2012)
- Picturing Steven Jackson with the Patriots (ESPN.com, October 25, 2012)
- Belichick high on Rams RB Steven Jackson (Boston Herald, October 25, 2012)
- Belichick a longtime fan of Rams RB (ESPN Boston, October 25, 2012)
- Rams need more touchdowns (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 2012)
- Belichick and Rams’ Jackson will always have Vegas (Providence Journal, October 25, 2012)
- Steven Jackson, Rams runners present hard challenge (Boston Globe, October 26, 2012)
- Belichick, Patriots impressed with Jackson’s career (CSN New England, October 25, 2012)