Jackson and Johnson should make for good show

Sports Columnist Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
12/12/2009

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?

READING TIME,

three Minutes

Free Matt Holliday.

I would not be surprised, at all, to see the Rams make a play for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick after the season.

We wish the best to Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who will have shoulder surgery and miss the rest of the season. He's a good player and a classy guy who will help turn this franchise around if he signs a new contract with the Rams.

Here is some research from Randy Karraker at WXOS (101.1 FM): Having won only six games since the start of the 2007 season, the Rams are threatening to have the worst three-year record of an NFL team since the league switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978. The Rams are 6-38; the worst three-season record of 8-40 belongs to Buffalo (1984-86). Tampa Bay (1985-1987) went 8-39; because of a labor lockout the NFL had three games with replacement players and a 15-game schedule in '87.

Rams quarterback Kyle Boller was included in Cosmopolitan magazine's survey of "Dating Tips From 10 Sexy NFL Stars." Asked what a woman might say to turn him off, Boller replied: "'Do you mind if I have a cigarette?' I've never been into girls who smoke." ... The St. Louis Blues 14 Fund, the team's charitable trust, awarded more than $200,000 in grants to 25 local nonprofit organizations during a reception Monday. And the 14 Fund is also teaming with The Magic House to create The BlueNote Zone, a hockey-themed exhibit that's expected to open in February.