DARRIN BEENE; The News Tribune
Last updated: January 7th

The St. Louis Rams running game ain’t what it used to be – and that worries the Seattle Seahawks.
Even though Marshall Faulk’s productivity is in decline, the Rams have suffered no dropoff in their ability to run the ball. The reason is rookie Steven Jackson.

Faulk, 31, led the Rams in rushing for the sixth consecutive year this season, but he did it with his lowest total (774 yards) since his injury-plagued 1996 season with the Indianapolis Colts. A bruised left knee and Jackson’s development cost Faulk carries this year.

Jackson, a 21-year-old out of Oregon State, rushed for 673 yards and showed power and speed. That presents St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz with a pleasant problem for Saturday’s first-round playoff game against the Seahawks: Faulk or Jackson?

If that sounds like a changing of the guard, that’s because it is. Martz did not even hesitate when asked this week if he sees Jackson as Faulk’s eventual replacement.

“I think that there is a bit of that going on. No question about it,” Martz said. “Steven is on his way, I think, to a brilliant career. We just need to make sure we do it the right way with him.”

The right way involves taking it slowly with their first-round draft choice (24th overall pick). Faulk had more carries than Jackson in each of the Rams’ first 10 games, but over the past six games, Jackson has 28 more carries than Faulk.

Jackson said he’s soaking everything in and trying to learn from Faulk.

“Some people don’t even get to play on a team with a Hall of Famer and here I am, in my first year, sharing a backfield with one,” Jackson said. “It’s only going to help me later on in my career having seen the things he does, how he conducts himself on a daily basis.”

Jackson gained over 100 yards twice in the season’s final six games, including a 148-yard effort on Monday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles that cemented his claim as the Rams’ future.

The present, however, is what concerns Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren. If Jackson – who has been battling a knee injury – is healthy, and Faulk is rested, how do the Seahawks stop that in addition the Rams’ passing game?

“Thanks for reminding me,” cracked Holmgren earlier this week. “They are a very good offensive team. It’s a challenge for our defense. We’ve been scrapping and trying real hard, and we’re going to do the same thing on Saturday.”

The Seahawks haven’t had much success against Faulk or Jackson this season. In the first meeting – the one the Rams rallied from 17 points down to win, 33-27, in overtime – Faulk and Jackson combined for 115 yards rushing on 20 carries on a day when quarterback Marc Bulger threw for 325 yards.

The rematch saw Faulk have his best game of the season – 139 yards rushing on 18 carries – and Jackson add 47 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. The Rams built an early 17-0 lead and won easily, 23-12.

While Faulk’s rushing totals have slipped each season since he gained a career-high 1,382 yards in 2001, Holmgren said he’s still a multipurpose threat. The addition of Jackson means yet another weapon for Martz to employ.

“Marshall, he was – and is – the total package,” Holmgren said, correcting his grammar to include the present tense. “Outstanding runner, great pass receiver coming out of the backfield as a back. And also, he is a great pass blocker. He’s really a tough guy. …

“Steven Jackson comes in, and I know they drafted him to be their guy and he’s had a couple of good games, and it doesn’t get any easier. Now they’ve got two of them.”

Two backs and just one football could be a problem on some teams. Jackson said that hasn’t been an issue with the Rams.

“We’re good friends,” Jackson said. “There hasn’t been any bitterness toward one another. On the day I was drafted, there was an understanding that in due time, I would be the one to replace him.” Darrin Beene: 253-597-8656 darrin.beene@thenewstribune.com