Thursday, November 9, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

As running back Steven Jackson continues to grow in his role and emerge as a premium offensive threat in the Rams’ offense, opposing teams are forced to pick their poison.

Heading into this weekend’s game at Seattle, the Rams have seen both sides of the coin as more defenses attempt to make their offense one-dimensional. In the Oct. 15 meeting, the Seahawks made it a point to load up against Jackson and the run, opening things up for the passing game.

The offense responded as quarterback Marc Bulger threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns and receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce had big days. On the flip side of that, Jackson had his worst game of the season.

Seattle loaded up the run box with eight defenders and held Jackson to 56 yards on 20 carries. The Rams continued to run in the first half of that game after jumping out to an early lead, but Jackson says the best you can hope for in a defense stacked to stop the run is to chip away and hope something opens up.

“You have to be constantly chipping away at the defense,” Jackson said. “Sometimes the game may get away from you and you have to come back and put points on the board. It all depends on the course of the game and how it’s going. If it’s a 3-3 game, of course you can chip away at an eight-man box. We have a lot of playmakers on the field, so you can’t be greedy and ask the coach to give you 30 or 40 carries. We have guys on the outside that can make big plays, too.”

Since the Rams and Seahawks last met, there have been some interesting developments that might make the Seahawks think twice about loading up to stop Jackson. With the knowledge that the Rams can get it done through the air against them, Seattle would have enough to worry about, but Jackson officially broke out as a dangerous all-purpose threat last week.

Against Kansas City, Jackson had 13 catches for 133 yards. This week, Seattle is going to have to pick its poison.

“That’s the thing,” Jackson said. “Each weekend we expect teams to try to take away either our passing game or our running game and we go from there. Last week, they tried to double Torry and Isaac which left me open a lot and I tried to make plays that way. Whatever they try to do or try to take away from us, I think we are up for the task to take what they are giving us.”

The forecast for the weekend indicates, huge surprise, rain in Seattle. That could make the running game all the more important. It wouldn’t be a huge shock if the Seahawks load up to slow down Jackson again, but if they do, expect Jackson and the offensive line to be ready for a better showing this time around.

“I think we have to be solid up front,” Jackson said. “They are not doing anything different that we haven’t faced all year. They made the running game a priority. Knowing that, we have our adjustments that we are going to make and if so, coach has a game plan that will get me involved in other ways.”

TURK TIME: The Rams have found themselves in a perpetual search for some stability at the punting position for most of their time in St. Louis. The likes of Reggie Hodges, Kevin Stemke and Mitch Berger have come and gone without making much of an impact.

Matt Turk has changed all of that with his performance this year. Turk is averaging 42.8 yards with 13 punts inside the 20 and has a net of 38.5 yards, 10th in the NFL. It isn’t so much the distance as Turk’s hang time that has made him so successful. The Rams are third in the league in punt coverage, allowing just 6.2 yards per punt return, most of which is a product of Turk’s ability to hang the ball in the air and give time for the coverage units to get down the field to make the tackle.

“Matt’s done a great job,” Linehan said. “He’s done exactly what we wanted. Give us a veteran, but still has a lot left of his leg. He still hits the ball very high, gives a good hang time. (He) still has the ability to maintain a very good average. As you can see, our coverage teams have been one of our strong points, especially our punt coverage. You’ve got to have a punter to do that. You can say all you want about covering, but the punter’s got to hang it up there. He’s doing a great job of that. He’s been really good at putting the ball inside the 20, especially lately. We’re very happy with Matt.”

NOT SO INCOGNITO: At the midpoint of every season, Sports Illustrated’s Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman hands out a variety of awards including MVP’s, most disappointing and sleepers.

On his “Sleeper All-Pro Team,” which consists of young or previously unheralded players making a difference this season, Dr. Z lists Rams center Richie Incognito as one of the chosen sleepers with this to say about the team’s young, physical center.

“My favorite center to watch is the Rams’ Richie Incognito, a nasty young man who backs down from nobody and is one of the few centers who fought the Chargers’ Jamal Williams to a standstill.”

Not bad for a player who is basically in his first year in the league and his first season at a new position.

ON GOING DISCUSSIONS: The Rams have already locked up one of their key free agents when they signed linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to a contract extension earlier this season.

Soon after, the team turned its attention to another potential marquee free agent, defensive end Leonard Little. Little is closing in on free agency and is off to an excellent start with seven sacks in eight games.

Linehan said bringing Little back is a top priority.

“That effort has been going on and there have been meetings,” Linehan said. “I know Jay (Zygmunt) has talked a number of times with Leonard’s representative and we really hope that we can keep him and extend him and have him be a Ram until he keels over.”

INJURY REPORT: The Rams made no changes to the injury report Thursday and it appears that it will be full speed ahead for the four players listed on the report.

Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa had another productive day in practice and is almost certainly going to play barring an unforeseen setback to his left hand and elbow.

Safety Jerome Carter, defensive end Leonard Little and linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski are still probably and should be ready to go.