For Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams to become a consistently successful team, there's one hurdle they need to clear that they haven't in some time: the Seattle Seahawks.
Since Steven joined the Rams in 2004, St. Louis has only defeated Seattle four times in 15 meetings. That includes losses in 11 of their last 12 games with the Seahawks. In their most recent meeting, Seattle and St. Louis met in a de-facto NFC West title game last January. A 16-6 Seahawks win knocked the Rams from playoff contention, but Steven said the Rams don't have revenge on their minds this week, just getting a win over a rival.
"I don't have any sense of revenge, it's just that it's a rival game and both teams we have respect for one another, but at the end of the day we both know it's a rivalry," he said.
Sunday's game also represents the opportunity for SJ39 to leap a significant individual hurdle. In his entire career, Steven has rushed for 100 yards or more in 30 games. But he has never broken the 100-yard rushing barrier against Seattle's historically vaunted run defense. The Seahawks rank in the top half of the league in rushing again this year and will present another challenge for No. 39 on Sunday. But as Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes, as of late there's been no stopping S-Jax regardless of the defense:
The Rams may be 2-7 but Steven Jackson is having another outstanding season. Since returning from injury on Oct. 16, the Rams running back has 583 yards in five games. Only DeMarco Murray (Dallas) has more rushing yards since Oct. 16. For the season, Jackson is ranked 9th in the NFL in rushing with 707 yards, and that's despite missing two full games and most of a third with a strained groin. You'd think that Jackson would be losing power after nearly eight NFL seasons and 2,018 bruising carries. But that's not the case. Of his 707 yards this season, 335 have been gained after contact with a defender. Jackson is averaging a career-best 5.1 yards per rush, and that includes an average of 2.4 yards after contact per carry.
Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told the Associated Press this week that having a back of Steven's caliber makes his job that much easier.
"If we get him to the line of scrimmage clean, he's going to make a bunch of yards," McDaniels said. "He's proven that over the course of his career. He's the best back I've ever had a chance to be on the same team with."
But Steven believes his success has been a product of the entire offense working well together and the defense keeping the Rams in games.
"These last three games, we've been pretty competitive so that's allowed the offense to stay a little more balanced," Jackson said Thursday. "Of course, the offensive line has been doing a good job. It's a lot easier to run the ball when you're up or only down by one possession."
The Rams have dealt with injuries and inconsistency across the offensive line this season. But reserves have stepped up, including Tony Wragge, the center who started his first game in three years last week. Wragge told Nick Wagoner of StLouisRams.com that he considers it an honor to be able to block for one of the league's great backs.
"Oh my goodness," Wragge said. "I have blocked for Frank Gore before, and no disrespect to Frank, but oh my goodness. [Steven]'s a beast. I felt bad because there were a couple times I wasn't able to cover up their middle linebacker who got some separation from me and ran away from me and Steven just ran him over and then ran the safety over and I'm like ‘Are you kidding me?' It just got me pumped to block for that guy even more. He's awesome."
St. Louis will need Wragge, SJ39 and the rest of the offense to continue their success if they hope to get their third win of the season on Sunday. The Rams will have home field advantage on their side in the contest as, after two straight road games, they return to the comforts of Edward Jones Dome to host Seattle. SJ39 said it feels good to be home for two.
"These next two at home are going to do a lot for us, especially being on the road that much kind of wears down on you," he said. "It's always good to play at home and the last time we were home our crowd was really into it, so it would be much appreciated if they bring the same electricity that they did a few weeks back."
Sunday's kickoff is scheduled for 3:05 CST and the game can be seen on FOX.