Jackson and Johnson should make for good show

Sports Columnist Bernie Miklasz

I'm looking forward to Sunday's game between the Rams and Titans for one reason: We'll be treated to an entertaining showcase of running backs. This should be a fun duel in Nashville.

Tennessee's Chris Johnson (1,509 yards) and the Rams' Steven Jackson (1,206 yards) are the NFL's two leading rushers. They're getting it done with contrasting styles. Jackson is power-back thunder. Johnson is a speed-back streak of lightning.

Jackson can ram his way over the tough terrain. He leads NFL running backs in broken tackles, with 21. He's second in the NFL in yards gained after contact, 683. Jackson's power bursts have led to 35 runs of 10 yards or more, most in the NFL. Johnson, a comet, has touchdown sprints of 91, 89, 85, 57 and 52 yards this season.

Johnson is threatening to break the NFL's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, held by Eric Dickerson. And unless he goes down with an injury, Johnson will probably win this season's rushing title. He'll finish with more yards than Jackson.

But I'd argue that Jackson has had the more impressive season for this simple reason: He's doing this under more difficult and excruciating circumstances. Everyone in the stadium knows Jackson will be getting the ball. He's the only playmaker on the Rams' offense. Opposing defenses can overload their front line to stop him, and Jackson gets pounded every Sunday. There's no relief from the hammering to his body.

At least the Titans have a quarterback, Vince Young, who can make plays and keep a defense off balance with his strong arm and deft running ability. And at least Johnson, as a pure and elusive speed runner, can avoid some of the hits. The Rams have no way to keep the defense from jumping Jackson.

Sunday's game should offer an example. Johnson has the advantage because he'll go against a Rams defense that's ranked 28th in the NFL against the run. The Rams have given up three runs of 50+ yards, nine runs of 20+ yards and 48 runs of 10+ yards.

Jackson won't find much looseness in Tennesse's defensive alignment. He'll have to take on a Titans defense that's ranked No. 8 in the NFL against the run.

Jackson has missed nine practices with a sore back, but on game day, he keeps on running. This will be his third consecutive game of playing with considerable back pain. And every time Jackson touches the ball, he'll be gang-tackled and rocked by the Titans.

But Jackson keeps getting up. He keeps running. For all that has gone wrong for the Rams in 2009, Jackson continues to represent the one thing that's undeniably right. For all of the intense effort to beat him down and make him quit, no defense has succeeded in taking the fight out of No. 39.

Jackson grinds away for a lost cause on a team that has lost 21 of its last 22 games. I wonder: Has there ever been an NFL player so consistently good on a team that's been so bad for so long?


three Minutes

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