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San Diego's 3-4 defense is a challenge
Jackson relishes chance to match up against Chargers
BY STEVE KORTE
ST. LOUIS - Running back Steven Jackson is looking forward to going against the NFL's No. 1 defense.
Jackson and the St. Louis Rams (4-2) will play the San Diego Chargers (4-2), who own the No. 1-ranked defense in the league, at 3:05 p.m. Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
"Big challenge," Jackson said. "It allows us to measure where we're at as an offense overall. They run a 3-4 scheme, something different than we've seen all year, and they run it well."
Jackson's blocking will be as important as his running against the Chargers' 3-4 alignment.
The advantage of the 3-4 with three linemen and four linebackers over the 4-3 with four linemen and three linebackers is the blocking problems it creates. Any of the four linebackers can blitz at any time.
"(It's) very important for us to give Marc a good pocket," Jackson said. "We have to help on guys sometime. As a running back when the blitz comes, you have to be pretty stout so Marc can see the field."
Coming off a bye week, Jackson said he's feeling about as healthy as he's going to feel during a season.
"I feel pretty good," Jackson said. "My legs are there. I'm not aching anywhere. We have a long stretch ahead of us, 10 games in a row."
Jackson also should benefit from having fullbacks Madison Hedgecock and Paul Smith both back from injuries.
"It helps a lot," Jackson said. "You get to wear a defense down in the running game. Madison has more power and Paul has more speed. They're both aggressive at the point of attack."
Jackson currently ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing with 521 yards and fourth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 745 yards.
Jackson said he's prouder of being among the leaders in yards from scrimmage than being among the leaders in rushing yards.
"It shows the diversity of my game and how coach allows me to be an important to the passing game," Jackson said. "Either way, yardage is being made around here, and it feels good to be able to contribute."
Jackson said his somewhat modest 3.9 yards per carry isn't something he's worried about.
"I don't run the ball and say, 'I got there 3 here,'" Jackson said. "You just want to be consistent. When you run the ball, you make the defense respect that you are going to be a balanced offense and not about the outcome of the yardage."
Jackson would like to improve on his touchdown total. He has two touchdowns so far, something fantasy football enthusiasts are quick to point out to him.
"I get a lot of requests for more touchdowns," Jackson said. "At the gas station pumping my gas, I've gotten yelled at a couple of times. At the airport when I was traveling last week. I realize that fantasy football is pretty big."
So what does Jackson say to those owners of fantasy football teams?
"I need more touchdowns, too," Jackson said. "I'm in the same boat. Torry Holt (with seven touchdowns) is a good guy to have on your team right now."
Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa got some limited work in practice on Thursday after suffering a small fracture on his left hand near the end of practice on Wednesday.
Tinoisamoa is listed as probable on the Rams' injury report for the Chargers.
"His hand is a little sore," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "They're going to put a cast on it. He'll play Sunday. It was a little tender for him today."
Tinoisamoa already wears a brace on his dislocated left elbow.
"I guess if there is a positive, it's on the same side as his bad elbow," Linehan said. "At least it doesn't make for two bad sides."
Chargers will have Merriman
Chargers star linebacker Shawne Merriman will be allowed to play against the Rams after appealing his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's steroid policy.
Merriman confirmed that he tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolene, which he believes was in a nutritional supplement that he has been taking for some time.
Merriman reportedly will play in his team's next two games as he waits for the appeals process.
Jackson said the Rams have been preparing for the Chargers as if Merriman, who was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year after registering 10 sacks last season, would be playing all along.
"He's in an elite club," Jackson said of Merriman. "A lot of time coaches feel like it's not about them, it's about the offensive unit, but you have to respect a guy like Merriman and his ability to play the game the way he does. With the way he racks up sacks, you have to take account for him."