When the Atlanta Falcons open the 2014 season this September, they’ll be aiming to move on from a disappointing 2013 campaign.
Atlanta Head Coach Mike Smith envisions running back Steven Jackson and the Falcons ground game as a key component in the team’s return to form.
Speaking at the NFL Owner’s Meetings in late March, Smith told reporters that he believes SJ39 will be a very valuable asset to the Atlanta offense in 2014.
“We felt like you’ve got to be able to run the football and run the football when everybody knows you’re going to do that,” Smith explained. “When you’re in that situation, you’ve got to have a big back. And we felt like Steven was the type of running back that we were looking for.”
It’s been a little over a year since Steven signed with the Falcons last March. The team entered the season with high expectations, coming off an appearance in the NFC Championship Game the year prior. SJ had lofty expectations as well as he arrived in Atlanta fresh off his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.
But very little went as planned for the 2013 Falcons. The offense struggled through a tumultuous season and Steven saw his streak end in season marred by injury. But Smith believes that neither the performance of the offense, or SJ’s individual performance were an accurate representation of what they are capable of.
“Unfortunately, Steven was injured last year and we didn’t really get a chance to see what he was capable of doing until the last four or five games,” Smith said. “But you’ve got to have a big back when you have to get the two or three yards. Especially late in the season, you’ve got to be able to run the football.”
An early season hamstring injury forced No. 39 to spend four games on the sidelines and limited his workload for several weeks when he returned. However, at the tail end of the season, he eventually regained his health and his production rose dramatically.
SJ39 turned in six rushing touchdowns over the final six games, averaging 58.5 yards per game on the ground in that span. Over a full 16-game slate that average would’ve had him flirting with the 1,000-yard mark.
Smith believes that Steven can produce at a high level in 2014, particularly in crunch time, when the Falcons will need him most. To that end, S-Jax has been working vigorously through the offseason to make sure he can fill that role.
NEVER hope for it, more than you WORK for it. You must put in that time. No way around it. Let’s go!
— Steven Jackson (@sj39) March 26, 2014
DESIRE, DETERMINATION & DEDICATION. What’s YOUR mind set? pic.twitter.com/SvnOJrTnRx
— Steven Jackson (@sj39) March 27, 2014