There is a delicate balance that every football team must gain after a victory like the St. Louis Rams had last Sunday over the New Orleans Saints.
It's a balance —between confidence and overconfidence— that Steven Jackson believes the Rams have achieved entering this Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.
"We know that we have not 'arrived' by any means," Steven said. "Against New Orleans, we set our tempo to pretty much be as aggressive as possible, play with a chip on our shoulders and fight for a win. At some point, if you want to turn the season around, it was kind of like now or never. We still have that mindset."
As they enter their first of two meetings this season, the Rams and Cardinals find themselves in similar situations. Each team is 1-6, having struggled to start the season. Each may also be without its starting quarterback due to injury. The game takes on added importance because it is within the division and each squad needs a victory to move closer to the NFC West leading San Francisco 49ers.
"This week is our first divisional game," SJ39 said. "It's been half the season and we're finally seeing a team that we will see twice this year. Personnel wise we match up well and they know us well. Although some people feel the tough part of the schedule is behind us, it's hard playing a team that knows you really well. They know your tendencies, what you like to do and they're matched up to stop you."
But the Rams have the trump card in the form of SJ39, who has had success against the Cardinals in the past. In the last three meetings between the two teams, dating back to the beginning of the 2009 season, SJ has rushed for 299 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Arizona. In 11 meetings with the Cardinals in his career, Steven has 924 all-purpose yards.
Both Steven and the Cardinals defense know what they're in for come Sunday. And the familiarity with one another only makes the game more competitive according to one Arizona defender.
"I guess when you are used to being around him and tackling him, there is a little more trash talking because it's a division game, a rivalry," Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell said. "It adds more to it, and you know the guy so well. You have to make sure he knows you haven't forgotten about last year."
Campbell also noted that the Cards will be keying on S-Jax on Sunday because they believe stopping him is a key to stopping the Rams. That strategy shows that the Cardinals have plenty of respect for what Steven is capable of on the gridiron. The respect is mutual and SJ39 knows that Sunday's game is far from an easy one for the Rams offense.
"Arizona is a rivalry game. It's one of the more physical games that I have, each and every year. We match up well. Adrian [Wilson] and I battle out there on the field. Darnell Dockett…they have a lot of playmakers on their defense," he said. "They present a lot of different challenges for us….they blitz nearly 50 percent of the time, so we have our work cut out for us."
The Rams were able to use the Saints' blitz against them last week and may look to do the same in Arizona. Much like New Orleans, who SJ ran over last week, the Cardinals rank in the middle of the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (113.1). However, the Cardinals do rank 27th in the NFL in total defense, showing that there are some plays to be had for St. Louis on offense.
It will be a game-time decision whether quarterback Sam Bradford will be leading that offense for St. Louis this week.
Bradford was able to get in some limited work in practice this week, but is still listed as questionable. If he is not able to go, it will once again be A.J. Feeley under center. Steven said Feeley has the right mindset for the job and knows how to put the Rams offense in a position to be successful.
"He's doing a good job," No. 39 said. "He's been a starter in this league. The one thing I can say is that our game plan doesn't change if Sam won't go or A.J.'s up. ... He managed the game well last week and he does a good job of also getting us out of plays that might not be favorable if a defense shows us something that's going to take away a play."
The Rams and the Cardinals take the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, two teams on a mission to turn their respective seasons around.
"Both teams, our records don't reflect the talent that both rosters have, so it will be a fight," S-Jax said. "I'm pretty sure in their mind this is a game that they feel they could win. We feel likewise. Everything will be out there on the field and we'll be playing the game as if it's Week 1."
But while the Cardinals have lost six straight, the Rams have momentum coming off a win. They'll have to fight off that threat of overconfidence in themselves to prevail.
"The thing you can't do, particularly with a young team, is to assume you're going to win," SJ said. "If you built off assumption, you would have assumed that there's no way we would have gone 0-6. What we have to do with this young team is make sure we focus on only one week at a time, only on the specific team we play this week. We have to live in this one moment right now."
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:15 CST and the game can be seen on FOX.