The Rams have seldom been worse. Stephen Jackson has never been better. The Rams (1-10) can barely win a game, yet Jackson runs on everybody. Stopping Jackson will be key for the Bears this week.
The Rams have seldom been worse. Stephen Jackson has never been better.
In the last 20 years, only three NFL rushing champions have missed the playoffs (Kansas City’s Priest Holmes in 2001 and Detroit’s Barry Sanders in 1996 and 1990). The Rams (1-10) can barely win a game, yet Jackson runs on everybody. He has 1,120 yards this season.
“Steven Jackson is a great player. A great runner,” said Chicago coach Lovie Smith, whose 4-7 Bears’ main obstacle to a fifth win is slowing Jackson on Sunday. “He can do it all. Catch the ball. Run with power. Run inside and outside.
“Steven Jackson has been a dominant player in the league every year he has played.”
But he’s never been this good. Jackson is on pace for a career-high 1,629 yards, 600 more than in either of his last two seasons. His 4.7-yard average is also well above his previous best of 4.4 for a 1,000-yard season.
And he does this even though St. Louis is 22nd in passing yards and 26th in passer rating. Every opponent knows if they stop Jackson, they stop the Rams.
So he sees eight defenders “in the box” every week, bunched at the line to stop the run, right?
“No. I see nine in the box,” Jackson said in a teleconference.
How, then, can he find running room each week when the Bears’ Matt Forte can’t?
“I’m patient enough to know that in those 3- and 2-yard runs, the big ones will come,” Jackson said. “And I’ve been fortunate that the coach has not gotten away from the run so that I’m able to get my numbers.
“But it’s not about the numbers. It’s not about the run vs. the pass. It’s about me just trying to get first downs and move the ball down the field.”
While the Bears rank last in the NFL in rushing (85.1 yards) and last in rushing first downs (43, five below Washington and Buffalo), Jackson has given the Rams a base to build on.
After the Rams started 0-7, with five of those losses by an average of 29 points, Jackson has averaged 121 yards rushing the last four games. Three of those were still losses, but they were by 5, 8 and 10 points, including a 28-23 loss to unbeaten New Orleans (11-0).
“You could say it’s two teams,” Lovie Smith said. “Looking at the last month, you’ve seen a different team.”
That’s just what Jackson wants. His main goal is: “To show my team how to play hard for 16 games.”
“I’m very impressed with the way he’s led by example and in the locker room,” first-year Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “We don’t make excuses, but Steven is a guy who has led us and a guy we bank on.”
But for how long? Will the 6-foot-2, 236-pound Jackson, second to Tennessee’s Chris Johnson in rushing this year, wear out before the Rams become good again? Jackson, who has 6,411 yards in six seasons, missed eight games — all losses — the last two years, when the Rams went a combined 5-27. And he has been missing practice the last two weeks with a sore back.
“It’s a point well taken,” Spagnuolo said. “All running backs in this league take a pounding. If you see what this guy looks like, you’d say this guy is never going to break down. But we also know he’s human. We just go forward.
“Steven wouldn’t think that way, either. He’s a competitor, so he would always want the ball in his hands.”
Yes he does. Ask Jackson how long he can take this pounding and you get a much simpler answer:
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or email@example.com.