There’s no denying the trend at this point; the NFL is officially a passing league. Despite this fact, the reunion of running back Steven Jackson with his former team will take center stage on Sunday when the St. Louis Rams enter the Georgia Dome to battle S-Jax’s new team, the Atlanta Falcons. Expect the running game to be a focal point for both sides, despite their propensity to air it out more often than not.
Obviously the season opener for the Rams left a lot to be desired in terms of running the football with new starter Daryl Richardson having 20 carries for a measly 63 yards. His five catches for 33 yards helped the cause a bit, but the ground game is still lacking a bit in the wake of Jackson changing helmets this offseason.
As for the former Ram, he piled up 77 yards on just 11 carries with five catches of his own for 45 additional yards. Those 122 yards combined would have seriously helped the Rams’ effort on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, but the team already knew Jackson’s presence would be missed in the backfield.
Although the decision to leave was Jackson’s to make, the writing seemed to be on the wall that it would be a shared backfield if he were to return in St. Louis this season. Richardson had started pilfering carries away from S-Jax when he struggled with injuries in 2012, and it seemed only a matter of time before Jackson would be phased out on offense. Perhaps that’s why he has some extra motivation for Sunday as the former Ram told ESPN:
“I mean, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to get the win. Of course I want to get the win, but I have to come out there and just remain in the zone, in my focus and not get too up. When you allow emotions to take over, your wind becomes shorter, you are not even thinking, you’re not on your A-game, so I have to remind myself to stay in control, have the intensity that I normally play with and dial in and treat this game as (any other) I have done over the years.”
Talk about veteran presence. Jackson even has the wherewithal to realize that he can’t win the game before the final whistle. That’s a lesson that takes a long time to learn for some players who get too amped up for their own good and peter out as the contest progresses.
Still, the Rams have to focus on their own backfield where Isaiah Pead will be returning to the mix after missing Week 1 due to a one-game suspension handed down by the league. Head Coach Jeff Fisher clearly enjoyed having Jackson’s knowledge imparted on his youngsters last year, but this season hasn’t been without growing pains for the ball carriers. Fisher commented on his backs saying:
“Well, it’s still early. The younger backs, obviously, have ability and it’s just going to take time. They’re going to need snaps and reps and plays.”
Quarterback Sam Bradford also chimed in on the new guys and offered some reflections on his former teammate who will be lining up for the opposition on Sunday as well saying:
“I think they’re doing a great job. Obviously, it’s tough, ‘Jack’ meant so much to this offense and to this organization while he was here. They got to see the way he approached the game and the way he worked. I think that I’ve seen those guys try to emulate that during the week of practice and in their preparation, and I think they’re doing a really good job of that.”
It’s definitely a work in progress, but the Rams are a team in transition to a younger tomorrow. This group driven by youth has shown plenty of promise and figures to continue that trend on Sunday. That doesn’t mean the franchise can forget one of its most iconic players, however, as Fisher commented on the decision to let Jackson leave this offseason saying:
“We felt like it was in the best interest of everybody involved. This way the story ends real good. You’d like to think certainly his jersey’s retired back here whenever he’s done. We just wish him the best. He’s a class guy and was a tremendous leader in the locker room last year.”