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A Test of Our Convictions

November 08, 2013  | by Steven Jackson

It felt good to finally get back on the field these past couple weeks, and compete with my teammates. To be able to actually fight and put forth the effort toward getting a win -- I was extremely happy to be out there.

Unfortunately, we've come up short in both contests, but we've made progress, especially in the running game last week against Carolina. Hopefully, we can continue that trend of improvement, and finish strong.

With a couple games under my belt, I feel like myself again out on the field (Getty Images).Going into this week, I feel like myself again. Being game ready is not only a physical thing. It's a mental thing. Being several weeks into the season here, guys have been playing week-in and week-out. They're mentally sharp, they're hitting their assignments and doing what they're supposed to do at a quick tempo without thought. It's just reaction.

When you come back after missing some time, you're trying to react, but you're still thinking about things. In the back of your mind, you want to make sure that you're 100 percent healthy. That makes it hard to be fluid. That's the difference between game-ready and practice ready. In practice, you're still able to make your mistakes, you're still out there feeling yourself out and seeing if you can make certain reads and certain cuts. In the game, you have to be more reactive.

Once you get a game or two under your belt, then you're ready to be yourself.

At the halfway point of the season, I still have an opportunity to finish strong and be the running back I have been over my career. When given the opportunity to make plays, I expect to make them, and that's the expectation I go in with each and every week.

LEADING THROUGH EXPERIENCE

Over the last few weeks, I've been really preaching and been very forthcoming with the offensive line and the offensive unit as a whole that we have to go out there, and show teams that we're still a very viable threat and a very talented team.

I'm more of a guy who likes to lead by example, and I think I'm more effective that way. So to not only be able to preach but to go out there and lead by example, I think it pays dividends. I can show the guys that I'm very passionate about hard-nosed running and creating clean pockets for Matt to throw in. I think any time that you're able to be out there in the trenches with the guys, your words have a little bit more weight than when you're on the sideline rooting guys on.

I take pride in going out to practice Monday through Friday with energy, and showing guys this is how you get through tough times.

I see the same thing in Roddy White. For him to have to miss games for the first time in his career, I'm sure it was a toll on him mentally. But he's shown up each and every day with a smile on his face, ready to rehab and get better so that he can get back on the field. That's the type of thing that you want to see in your leaders and your guys who have a skillset that can't be replaced.

Roddy White is the type of player who continues to grind despite the circumstances (Getty Images).I think the thing that separates Roddy from a lot of guys who have had long-term success in this league is that he continues to grind daily. He continues to want to be the best he can be, and be a difference-maker on the field.

When you have a guy who is very talented and wants to put in the extra work, that's special. Roddy is one of those guys. If you can get a core group of guys like that, that's when you set yourself apart. It's guys who have a hard-nosed, tough mentality. They know things aren't going to be perfect, but if I'm on the field, maybe I can be that difference. Maybe I can be that burst of energy or leadership that is needed in crunch time.

BONDING UNDER ADVERSITY

When you're going through tough times, that's the most important time to stick together and stay close as a team. I think that our core guys know that. For the guys who have been around here, that haven't maybe been in this situation and for the guys like myself who are coming in new, I think that's the best thing to do. This is when you learn each other best is during tough times.

Anytime you face challenges, it makes you first look at yourself to see what you can do better and then you go out there and work off your experience.

That's exactly what I've done. I've had the experience of going through difficult times, so I know I have to look at myself and ask, "What can I do better?" I'm able to go out there and practice those things. When you face adversity, you have to stay strong in preparation and studying, practicing hard and with energy.

We must sustain our approach as a team despite the adversity we have faced (Atlanta Falcons Photo).The one thing you can't change is your approach. You can't start second guessing yourself. You have to have conviction in the fact that you know what you're doing, and you have to work even harder to accomplish those things. The moment you start second guessing or letting outside voices in, that can tear up your confidence and tear a team apart.

We went into this season with the expectation that we'd be putting ourselves into position to win the NFC South and get to the playoffs. While things are not mathematically out of reach, it's going to be very hard, especially going for that Wild Card spot. But with that being said, from going into the season to where we are now, I think the lesson that I learned is that you can't assume anything. No one anticipated a lot of our skill position guys, including myself, going down to injury.

You expect injuries to be a bump in the road, because you know you're going to have challenges in a season. That's why winning a Super Bowl is so hard. To have so many of your skill guys go down and to have it happen all at the same time, it makes things more difficult. But we're still out there looking to finish this season strong and play the game the way it should be played. I think that allows for all of us to step back, and learn not to put the carriage before the horse.

ANOTHER CHANCE TO GET BETTER

We obviously have a very tough matchup against a very good team this Sunday in the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle is number two in the league in creating turnovers. That's what sets them apart right now. So we have to make sure we're really good about protecting the ball. They have guys who are big and physical, who play with a lot of confidence and attitude.

Coach Pete Carroll and his staff do a really good job of putting their playmakers in position to make plays, and do the things that they naturally do well. So you have safeties that are big and fast, and can make tackles in the run game. You have big strong, corners on the outside who thrive on physical play. And you have a front seven that does a great job against the run. All three phases play really well together.

On our end, we have to eliminate our penalties as a team. We have had a lot of penalties over the last few weeks that haven't been forced by the other team, but have been self-inflicted. We can't have that.

If we can clean those things up, especially in the red zone, and eliminate turnovers, I think we'll be OK. Those are things that we can definitely control ourselves, and something that we can correct right away, not things that have to linger into the future. The sooner we can correct them, the sooner we'll start winning games.