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Man Possessed: Jackson Carries the Load
CLEVELAND – On Thursday, Rams running back Steven Jackson made it clear that it didn’t matter what an opposing defense’s ranks were against the run because more often than not, those same teams load up to stop him on Sundays and those numbers mean a whole lot of nothing.
On a windy and blustery day at Cleveland Browns Stadium, all of the ingredients for a grind it out type of slugfest were in place. What started as a football game soon became a pair of teams just standing on the field slugging away in hopes the other would blink.
But at the end, it was Jackson who landed the most punches as he bulled his way to a third consecutive 100-yard game, finished with 128 yards on 27 carries to go with three catches for 23 more yards.
“This is the type of the game that a big back that’s hungry, a big back that expects a lot out of himself; he enjoys,” Jackson said. “So whatever the situation is, whatever it calls for, if it’s to pick up blitz, I’ll do that but anytime I get to wear a defense down and continue to allow my will to take over I definitely thrive in that area.”
The windy conditions didn’t necessarily shut down the Rams’ passing attack but quarterback Sam Bradford and coach Steve Spagnuolo acknowledged that it had to change their approach a little bit offensively.
Considering that Cleveland ranked 30th in the league against the run and Jackson was healthy and riding the wave of two dominant performance the previous two weeks, the game plan didn’t seem to be all that complicated.
“Real proud of Steven,” Spagnuolo said. “We need him. I think Josh did a good job to continue to feed it to him and that certainly helped us win the football game.”
Even after falling behind a couple of times in the second half, the Rams never abandoned Jackson. And is his custom, the 240-pound beast just got better as the game went along.
Despite a costly fumble to kill a drive in the second half, Jackson responded and carried the mail for most of the second half. And, after a missed field goal left the Rams needing a first down to run out the clock, it was Jackson who rushed twice for 11 yards to seal the victory.
The trio of contests hitting the century mark is the fourth time in Jackson’s career he’s hit that mark. In his eighth season in the league, Jackson is on pace for his best yards per carry output of his career and looks like he’s running better than ever in his record-setting career.
“He’s running possessed right now,” Bradford said. “He’s running hard, he’s fast. He looks great. He’s been huge for us the past three weeks. At times when we’ve struggled to get things going in the air, he’s stepped up and made some nice runs to keep drives going. Anytime we can get him going, I feel like it helps our offense.”
When informed that Bradford called him possessed, a sly smile crossed Jackson’s lips and he couldn’t find it in himself to disagree.
“Actually it is kind of scary,” Jackson said. “It is. I look forward to Sundays. I look forward to taking over. I am a man possessed on Sundays. To be honest with you, I think that’s the way you should play.”
Even as the Browns repeatedly loaded the run box with an eighth and sometimes ninth defender, Jackson continued to get the ball as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called plays in an effort to get Cleveland to back off a little bit to create running room.
“Josh does a good job of putting guys in favorable placements for the run,” Jackson said. “If the defense is taking away a certain road or loading up the box, you try to back them off with the play calling and then continue to come back to me. It allows me to get to the outside, it allows me to get downhill and he actually listens to me as the game goes on and I tell him what I see and how I’m feeling. He’s taking advantage of my insight too.”
With all of those carries, it would have been understandable had Jackson needed to come up for air at some point but that wasn’t an option after Cadillac Williams pulled a calf while running on to the field to replace him early in the game. That left the onus on Jackson, a task that he’s never and will never shy away from.
“It’s unfortunate,” Jackson said. “Things like that happen. It puts me back in the comfortable role of being the bellcow. Hopefully Cadillac will be back as soon as possible but I am definitely comfortable being the primary back, the guy that gets a ton of carries. I train for that. I look forward to that and until he’s back that’s the role I will be in.”
INJURIES PILE UP: Williams’ odd injury was a little different than the rest the Rams suffered on what was clearly a devastating day for them in terms of injuries.
“I just wish we could get over the injury bug,” Spagnuolo said. “I am feeling right now for the guys that got injured. This is a tough deal. I am proud of the guys that went in for the injured guys (though).”
Heading the list is a pair of ailments that appear likely to prematurely end two more seasons. Cornerback Al Harris and tight end Mike Hoomanawanui suffered knee injuries that Spagnuolo referred to as “significant” and indicated would likely turn out to be season ending.
“They are probably not good,” Spagnuolo said. “Yeah, that’s the fear. I don’t want to say that but you go off what the doctors and tests say.”
Elsewhere, the Rams had a variety of other injuries of which the severity is not yet known.
Tackle Rodger Saffold took a blow to the head and did not return. Spagnuolo said they wouldn’t call it a concussion yet but the medical staff wanted to play it safe so he did not return. Mark LeVoir replaced Saffold on the left side.
Safety Darian Stewart suffered a neck injury and also did not return. Williams’ calf injury also kept him out the remainder of the game.
“Steven got tired and he was going out there,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s funny how those things happen. I’ve done the same thing jogging.”
Saffold, Stewart and Williams will all be evaluated further on Monday before it’s known how long their injuries will keep them out.
Linebacker Chris Chamberlain (stinger) and Marquis Johnson (stinger) came off briefly and returned.
Bradford did the same after he took a helmet to the thigh. He had what he called a “dead leg” and missed one play walking it off before returning and finishing the game.
CLAYTON LIMITED: Receiver Mark Clayton made his much anticipated return to the field after being activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list earlier in the week.
Clayton’s role was limited though as he worked his way back into shape. He was targeted once and did not have a catch.
“We wanted to be a little careful,” Spagnuolo said. “You get him too many and he gets a little fatigued at the end. He didn’t have any training camp.
Mark and I talked yesterday and I thought he did a great job during the week and looked more like Mark Clayton last week. Hopefully with a game under his belt and some snaps and whatnot, we’ll try to get him oiled up and up to speed as soon as we can.”
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