It is a mark that few in the history of the NFL have matched and Steven Jackson can smell it.
With 105 yards rushing against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Steven can stake claim to his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. The 1,000-yard plateau is a mark of excellence among NFL running backs and to reach it for just a few consecutive seasons is a sign of unique consistency. To do it for seven straight years would put No. 39 in the company of just six backs in league history.
Only Emmitt Smith (11), Barry Sanders (10), Curtis Martin (10), Thurman Thomas (eight) LaDanian Tomlinson (eight) and Eric Dickerson (seven) have rushed for 1,000 yards in more than six consecutive seasons. Four of those men — Smith, Sanders, Dickerson and Thomas — are NFL Hall of Famers. Martin and Tomlinson are almost certain to join them.
"It's a special group to be a part of," Steven told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I think it shows that not only are you productive but you can sustain it season after season. I'm pretty sure those guys have played through injuries. It just marks that you're a tough guy, a gritty guy that a franchise can hang their hat on."
But while SJ takes pride in being a consistent beacon of production, it bears little meaning to him if he can't also lead his team to victory.
"It'll be nice to eclipse that," he said. "But first things first. We've got to make sure that we execute the offense and get us in the flow of things. I'm pretty sure they'll be determined to stop the run."
The Bengals defense that No. 39 will be running into is a stout unit that bears much responsibility for the team's 7-6 record. They rank seventh in the NFL against the run and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Ray Rice ran for 104 yards against them on November 20th. SJ39 knows that he'll be facing another challenge.
"[They're] very aggressive — that's what sticks out," Jackson said. "They have multiple looks where their secondary will be blitzing from different depths. And their linebackers are downhill and play with intimidation."
Sunday will be just the second time in his career that Steven will face Cincinnati, one of the many teams that passed on SJ39 in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft and lived to regret it.
The Bengals were actually the team that put the Rams in position to select Steven, as they traded their pick, No. 24 overall, to the Rams for the 26th overall pick and a fourth rounder.
After the Rams selected S-Jax at 24, the Bengals used the 26th pick to draft Michigan running back Chris Perry, whose unspectacular NFL career ended in 2008 after four seasons and just 606 total yards rushing.
"Steven Jackson was a guy that we sat there and looked at in the draft and allowed the Rams to choose him," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who was in his second season in 2004. "We chose the other one because we were able to add a pick at that point. So, we did a lot of work with him and have a great deal of respect for him and knew he would be a player in the NFL. I don't think he disappointed anybody. Runs strong, runs tough and so we've got a great deal of respect for him."
In his only other meeting with the Bengals, on December 9, 2009, Steven carried 18 times for 91 yards. He'll be aiming to eclipse 100 and find the end zone to push the Rams to a win on Sunday.
As they look for their third win of the season, the Rams will likely be without the services of quarterback Sam Bradford for the fourth times this season on Sunday.
The sophomore quarterback suffered another setback with his lingering ankle injury in Monday night's loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Bradford played through the injury and battled for the entire game on Monday night, despite being hindered from planting properly on his foot. The high ankle sprain left Bradford unable to get the proper push from his legs in his throws, instead forcing him to throw almost completely with his arm.
Steven said he definitely noticed Sam laboring on Monday night and told reporters that Bradford earned a new measure of respect in the locker room.
"I was really impressed with Sam going out there and trying to lead us to a victory and playing under the conditions of a high ankle (sprain)," S-Jax told the Post-Dispatch on Thursday. "That's a tough injury to deal with and for him to go out there and battle for four quarters and to grit it out, it says a lot for him and it definitely says he's about winning and trying to lead this team. ... Playing with the pain, gritting it out and wanting to lead the team by example and show that you're a winner and about winning. ... It does a lot for him, does a lot for this team, and it does a lot for the community that's watching him."
Kellen Clemens, who the Rams signed after AJ Feeley was injured two weeks ago, would get the start if Bradford is unable to go. Clemens last started an NFL game two years ago when he led the New York Jets to a 26-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is 4-4 in his career as a starter and No. 39 has been impressed with how quickly Clemens has picked up the St. Louis offense:
"Kellen has done a great job," SJ said of the newest Ram. "He's only been in the offense a week, but he calls the plays pretty much flawlessly and does a good job of getting the ball out of his hands in the three step drop of our passing scheme. He has a great understanding of the protection so for him to have only been in the system for a week, he's done an unbelievable job."
The Rams and Bengals do battle on Sunday afternoon at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis and the Rams will don their retro blue and yellow uniforms to honor the 1999 championship team. Marshall Faulk will be inducted to the franchise's Ring of Honor at halftime.
Kickoff is scheduled for Noon CST and the game can be seen on CBS.