It's been a challenging first half of the season for Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams and the schedule doesn't get any easier this week.
On Sunday afternoon at the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams host the New Orleans Saints, a team coming off a 62-7 win last week and averaging the most points per game in the NFL. Steven acknowledged this week that in New Orleans, the Rams face an incredibly tough opponent with the ability to put up big numbers. But he's certainly not willing to concede anything yet.
"What can you say?" Steven said in response to a reporter's question about the score of the Saints' last game. "It [stinks] for the other team and it's great for them…you just hope not to be that other team. Once again we have another challenge…. Getting a win is getting a win and you'd like to do it sooner than later."
While the Rams defense tries to hold down the powerful New Orleans offense, it will be up to SJ39 and the St. Louis offense to go out on the field and finish drives in order to put the points the Rams have been missing on the scoreboard. Steven thinks the team is in position to break out, if they can just play a full 60 minutes of football and get all three phases of their team working in harmony.
"We just have to be sound in our scheme and make sure that when certain plays are called we execute them," he said. "We've identified what we need to do."
While their offense ranks near the top of the league in most statistical categories, the New Orleans defense is not impenetrable. They sit near the middle of the NFL in points and yards allowed per game this season. However, S-Jax noted that they are tough against the pass.
"New Orleans brings a ton of pressure. They want to get the ball out of the quarterback's hand as fast as possible," Steven said. "When you're forcing plays or trying to get the ball out of your hands due to a blitz, it can cause turnovers and that's what [the Saints] thrive off of. They get you out of a rhythm as an offense and force the quarterback to make mistakes."
At the quarterback position, the Rams will once again turn to backup AJ Feeley, as starter Sam Bradford continues to heal from an ankle injury suffered late in the team's Week 6 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Those factors could force St. Louis to put a heavy emphasis on the ground game.
"[Without Sam], I think you can expect us to continue to be heavy on the running game and try to make sure we execute our game plan to the best of our ability…" Steven said this week.
On average, the Saints have allowed 115 rushing yards per game to opponents this season and after starting the year tough on the run, New Orleans has given up at least 80 yards rushing to the opposing starter in each of their last five games. In addition, two running backs — Tampa's Earnest Graham and Carolina's DeAngelo Williams — have eclipsed 100 yards on the ground vs. the Saints this season.
But SJ39 still recognizes the challenges the New Orleans defense presents and he'll be ready for a battle.
"They have a very solid defensive line to make it a tough day for runners," he said. "I have a lost of respect for those guys…[Linebacker Jonathan] Vilma is a solid tackler. He runs really well sideline-to-sideline. This is a defense and a team that a couple of years ago won a Super Bowl, so you definitely want to go out there and see how you matchup against one of the NFL's best."
Steven has fared well against the Saints over the years. In five career games against New Orleans, SJ39 has carried for 415 yards and four touchdowns, with an average of 4.83 yards per carry. He also feels the Rams as a whole have matched up well against the Saints, who they will face for the third straight season.
"We believe that our personnel and their personnel are pretty competitive," SJ said. "We match up pretty well with them."
To win Sunday, Steven believes the Rams will need to have a short memory, put the past six games behind them and focus on the present. Then it comes down to execution because on any given Sunday, anything can happen.
"Everyone's working hard," No. 39 said. "The approach is like week one. The most important thing is getting that first win and from there, build off of that."
Kickoff between the Saints and the Rams from the Edward Jones Dome is scheduled for 12 p.m. CDT and the game can be seen on FOX.