A force of nature descended upon Arizona on Sunday afternoon, rocking the Cardinals defensive unit and completely taking over the turf at University of Phoenix Stadium. That force was Steven Jackson.
SJ39 ran all over the Cardinals, turning 24 carries into 139 yards as the Rams defeated the Cardinals 31-17 to sweep the season series. The victory was critical in that it not only snapped a painful losing streak, but also guaranteed the Rams a winning record in-division at 3-0-1.
“It feels good to get a victory,” Steven said. “To beat a team twice in one year is very hard and to get a win on the road, that’s something that’s been evading us this season. It feels really good. It’s something we can build off of. We have another tough opponent next week at home.”
The tough opponent SJ is referring to is the San Francisco 49ers, with whom St. Louis fought to a bitter tie only three weeks ago. Steven racked up over 100 yards rushing in that game and has been on a tear ever since. While the 49ers will be cautious as Sunday approaches, the Cardinals defense is likely still bobbing helplessly in his wake.
Steven didn’t hit the end zone in Sunday’s win, but his 5.8 yards per carry doled out a punishment to the eleven Cardinals opposite him that kept the chains moving and the clock winding down. His performance helped secure the Rams first win in weeks.
Head Coach Jeff Fisher has been turning to No. 39 more as the season has progressed and SJ has averaged 22 carries a game in the past three weeks. The Rams understand how central Steven and the running game have to be in the gameplan in order to find the “W”.
“That’s Steven. We built this game plan around him today and he took it over,” the Rams coach said. “Winning on the road is hard but when you can put a seven-minute drive together in the fourth quarter with a lead, you have got a chance to win games like that.”
Sunday’s win did not come easy, however. The Cardinals took the lead in the first on the efforts of their own ground game, led by running back Beanie Wells, but the Rams pulled even in the second, thanks to an interception by Janoris Jenkins that the rookie too back for a game-tying touchdown.
But Arizona pulled ahead seven minutes later on another TD run by Wells and though the Rams tied the score with under two minutes to go, they went into the locker at halftime behind 17-14 after a last-second Cardinals field goal.
But the Rams made the necessary changes and executed a complete takeover of the game in the second half and Steven was integral in that push. After a first half in which he carried 10 times for 41 yards, Steven made it crystal clear to his teammates that he was leading the charge in the second half.
“We knew coming in at halftime that going back out there we had to dominate as an offense, especially in the running game,” S-Jax said. “We knew the defense was going to continue to create turnovers, so we wanted to give them rest. We came out of the locker room saying that we were going to be physical and that’s what we tried to do.”
On the Rams first offensive play of the third quarter, SJ39 blew open the Cards defense for a massive 46-yard run. Steven said after the game that a pre-snap read and a big time cut helped him take advantage of the Arizona defense.
“I saw that the backside linebacker was a little bit over-aggressive,” he said. “He scraped over the top in hopes to meet me and I took advantage of it, used a jump cut, went backside and made him pay for being over-aggressive.”
That play lit a fuse with the Rams offense and helped set up a touchdown pass moments later from Sam Bradford to Chris Givens. Though he threw for two touchdowns, Bradford was limited in Sunday’s game by a Cardinals defense that is well respected around the league.
The Rams QB was just 8-of-17 passing for 205 yards and after the game he also acknowledged how vital Steven was in getting the Rams first road win of the season.
“Oh, God, he took over today. He was just in one of those modes today,” Bradford said. “I have seen it before. He gets that look in his eye and he is not going to be stopped. He did a great job running today. I thought those guys upfront opened up some holes for him but you can’t say enough about Steven. He played tremendous today.”
In the second half alone, SJ carried the ball 14 times for 98 yards, chewing up both time and field and in the process securing a critical win for the Rams. It was the third straight 100-yard performance for Steven at Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium.
Steven’s success on the ground was aided by the fact that, for the first time since week one, all five starters on the Rams offensive line were healthy and in their original spots. Steven took advantage of the repaired O-line, stepping up his physical presence in the second quarter and absolutely dominating throughout the second half.
“They did a really great job of opening some running lanes for me. I had to get used to it, because when Scott [Wells] is in there, he’s so quick and fast, and I had to get a feel for how he blocks. We practiced all week together, but everyone knows game speed is a lot different. In that first half I told them to be patient with me, I will get into the rhythm of the game. And that was definitely what we did.”
While Steven and the big men in the trenches gave the Rams offense the fuel it needed to burn past the Cards, St. Louis also received immense help on the defensive side—namely from Jenkins. The Rams created four turnovers, including two picks by Jenkins who returned another one for a touchdown late in the third quarter to give St. Louis a commanding 28-17 lead entering the fourth.
“It seems like for weeks we have been talking about turnovers and we kept saying that these type of things come in bunches and they did today,” Fisher said. “Obviously that and our run game was the difference in the ball game.”
With an 11-point lead in hand as they embarked on their first drive of the fourth, S-Jax and the Rams offense knew it was time to close the game out. St. Louis tackle Rodger Saffold knew they had the right man for the job.
“With Steven Jackson, there is always one run where he gets that emotion inside him where it’s like ‘OK, I am going to take over this game,'” lineman Roger Saffold said. “It’s funny, every time he says something right in the huddle like ‘OK, guys, I’m putting my big boy pads on this play.’ And then you just see a huge play.”
A picture perfect example came on a third and short situation with 11:32 remaining in the game. In the huddle, Steven looked to his O-line and said, “If I hit you in the back, excuse me. I’m just going to be a (jerk) on this run.” The five lineman responded, “OK! Let’s go!” They had seen it before. They all knew it was showtime for S-Jax.
Steven bruised through the right side of the line, picking up 15 yards when all he needed was one. On that 11-play drive, Steven carried the rock seven times. The Rams killed seven minutes of clock and set Greg Zuerlein up for a chip shot field goal, twisting the final dagger in the 31-17 win.
Steven and the Rams are eyeing their upcoming contest with a feverish hunger.
St. Louis hosts the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome and after ending their November 11 meeting in San Francisco in a sour tie both teams feel they have unfinished business with the other.
Sunday’s kickoff is scheduled for Noon CST and the game can be seen on FOX.
- Rams Continue Division Dominance (StLouisRams.com, November 26 2012)
- Steven Jackson Postgame Video (StLouisRams.com, November 25 2012)
- Rams Find Familiar Formula for Much-Needed Win (StLouisRams.com, November 25 2012)
- Jackson Revs Up Run Game (StLouisRams.com, November 26 2012)
- Rams Appreciate Get-Well Cards (St Louis Post Dispatch, November 26 2012) Jackson Puts on Big Boy Pads (St Louis Post Dispatch, November 26 2012)
- Rams Coaches Deserve Credit for Adjusting (St Louis Post-Dispatch, November 26 2012)
- Steven Jackson: The Quest for Eight Straight (Turf Show Times, November 26 2012)