Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams have unfinished business with the San Francisco 49ers.
Three weeks ago, St. Louis battled to a bitter tie with their division rivals in San Francisco. When the two teams line up on Sunday in the Edward Jones Dome, both sides are going to be bringing everything they have for sixty minutes—at least. It’s going to be a hard-hitting, grown-man contest with each team fighting for respect and NFC West dominance.
San Francisco comes to town with an 8-2-1 record and proven success on the road (4-1). While the Rams are still battling back to .500, their 3-0-1 record against NFC West opponents remains a huge source of pride for the team, as well as a key reason why St. Louis enters December with playoff aspirations intact.
As the Rams prepare for the home stretch of the season, they seem capable of putting together a hot streak and battling for a playoff spot. SJ39 is a big reason why.
In his ninth NFL season, Steven remains one of the strongest and most dependable backs in the game. S-Jax Is the NFL leader in yards from scrimmage since 2006 with a massive 10,721 yards. That stability comes at a price, but hard work remains Steven’s calling card.
“I look at it as just being able to be consistent,” he said. “Nine years ago, I had a very long conversation with Torry [Holt] and Isaac [Bruce]. They said one of the keys to this game is being consistent, being someone that the head coach and the general manager can always depend on. Once they gave me those words of wisdom, I tried to hold onto it.”
If Steven’s play is any indication, he has absolutely clung to those words, and the coaches and general manager have also held up their end of the bargain. If anything, Steven’s coaches have had to resist temptation all year to not overuse their most valuable offensive resource. Brian Feldman of KMOV recently wrote about Steven’s workmanship.
“I don’t believe the dictionary has an official definition of “work horse” as it relates to a running back in football, but if it did, I do believe you’d see a picture of Steven Jackson right next to it.”
Feldman, who has seen and written about countless athletes, remains awestruck by the physical work SJ39 puts into his craft.
“The fact Steven Jackson has continued, in this day and age, to take the rock and run through (not around) defenders is a testament to his hard work and dedication to taking care of his body.”
Between intense offseason work and the coaches’ decision to pace Steven through the early part of the season, S-Jax can enter the late portion of the season with physical power and a sharp mentality.
“I feel great, I feel energized, I feel strong,” he said. “To be playing meaningful football in December, that adds to it as well. I’m just really happy with the way the offensive line has been performing for me and I’ve been trying to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to me.”
After the first half of the season featured a timeshare in the backfield, St. Louis’ offensive scheme has evolved in recent weeks to center around Steven’s backfield domination. From the sharing load to shouldering it, Steven remains the ultimate team player with only one thing on his mind: continuing to build a winning team.
“The coaching staff has been pretty open and honest with me about how they’re going to use me in the offense and what they need out of me as a leader,” SJ39 said. “Everything has been true to form and as we continue to go on in the season, I expect for them to continue to be open and honest with me. Hopefully I can continue to perform like I am.”
Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher, for one, is thrilled with how Steven is helping to put the Rams in a solid position. The fact that Steven is a ninth year veteran running back that’s only getting stronger as the year goes on isn’t going unnoticed by the experienced coach.
“We’ve done a pretty good job getting him the carries, that’s the important thing is getting him the opportunities,” Fisher said. “I think, he’s fresher than most backs at this time of the year, particularly because of the way we kind of managed the reps early in the season.”
Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seconded Fisher’s thoughts. He noted that the team purposely instituted the timeshare early in the season to keep SJ fresh. Schottenheimer said that he’s seen it work in the past that when a back is rested in the season’s early months, his body is able to perform at peak ability late. The strategy has given the Rams an elite running back with plenty left in the tank as the team begins the final month of the season.
“This is the time of year you’ve got to be able to run the football to have a chance. I think that we’re hopefully seeing the results of us resting him a little bit,” Schottenheimer said. “We certainly have plays for the other guys, but when he’s running the way he’s running it’s hard to take him off the field.”
Handing the ball to Steven gives the Rams more than a chance and—at this point in the season—the Rams need to fight for much more than a chance. Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently broke down the myriad of positives that come from Steven’s centrality in the Rams’ offense.
Miklasz pointed out that he Rams are 3-1-1 this season when SJ39 gets 15 carries or more. But even if SJax isn’t the one carrying the ball across the goal line, his involvement pays massive dividends, as Miklasz wrote:
“The balanced approach also sets up play-action passes for Bradford, and he’s good at it. According to Pro Football Focus, Bradford has a passer rating of 102.2 on play-action throws; that ranks 12th among NFL starters.”
For all his success, Steven remains as humble off the field as he is dominant on the field and as one of St. Louis’ leaders, he likes what he has seen in terms of progress from the youthful Rams.
“We’ve made great strides. We have a very young team, but very talented at the same time,” he said. “Chemistry, as the season goes on, is only getting stronger, guys are relying on one another and actually believing in one another more than we did in Week 1. In this month of December, we’re going to make a pretty good push and hopefully throw our hat in the mix to be in the playoffs.”
In order to keep the playoff hopes alive, this Week 13 rematch with the Niners drifts into “must-win” territory.
On November 11, the Rams and Niners battled for 75 minutes, but could not break the 24-24 stalemate. Steven and the Rams feel they let the big one off the hook. In the days approaching the rematch, the mood around the Rams’ facilities was that Sunday is just picking up where the two teams left off.
“We just took a couple weeks off,” Fisher said. “This is quarter number six. That’s our approach. There was two weeks in between and here we go again.”
Steven turned up the volume against San Francisco the first go-around, breaking the century mark in rushing yards and finding paydirt for on a bruising seven-yard bolt. This past week, SJ39 broke down what he saw from the Niners’ defense and what he expects on Sunday.
“The San Francisco 49ers do a great job [on defense],” he said. “They’re very stout, very strong at the point of attack. They do a good job of routing to the football as a defensive unit.”
For all the drama in recent weeks surrounding the San Francisco quarterback position, the Niners defense seems like it is held together by crazy glue. They return all eleven starters from last year, and even then they were considered one of the best units in pro football. The Niners defense will be keeping a constant eye on SJax. Steven is ready to hit right back. Particularly when he crosses paths with 49ers star linebacker Patrick Willis.
“It’s my favorite [matchup],” Steven said. “I have the utmost respect for Patrick, he’s that person that, year-in and year-out I use as my measuring stick on how I’m performing personally. The two of us have a great deal of respect for one another. We know that we’re going to play a clean game, but it’s going to be a tough game. I’m sure all week he’s been getting himself ready as well as I have.”
The 49ers have allowed just 91.1 rushing yards a game. That’s fourth-best in the NFL. Steven, on the other hand, has been on a tear. Well on pace for his eighth straight 1,000 yard season, Steven has averaged 107 rushing yards a game in his last three outings and looks to knock a helmet-sized dent in San Francisco’s yards-per-game average.
Still, the only number that matters to No. 39 is the final score. Ending in a tie just three weeks ago still leaves a sour taste that SJax is ready to get rid of.
“Both sides had chances to win the game,” he said. “We both were disappointed that we didn’t because we had chances to put the game away.”
The Rams can draw even more motivation from playing alongside the franchise’s 75th anniversary celebration. Nearly 20 of the organizations greatest all-time players will be present for the halftime ceremonies, and SJ39 and company will don commemorative throwback uniforms. Pretty fitting attire for an age-old NFL rivalry. SJ39 and the Rams will set out to make this game one to remember.
Kickoff is scheduled for noon CST and the game will be televised on FOX.
- Rams ‘Made Great Strides’ (Pro Football Talk, November 29, 2012)
- Steven Jackson Press Conference (StLouisRams.com, November 29, 2012)
- Rams Seek Resolution for Unfinished Business (StLouisRams.com, November 29, 2012)
- Rams Look to Continue Division Success (StLouisRams.com, November 29, 2012)
- Rams Have a Plan for Steven Jackson (Turf Show Times, November 30, 2012)
- Jackson Getting Stronger as Season Goes On (KMOV.com, November 26, 2012)
- Rams Strive for Balance (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 28 2012)