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Steven Jackson is hitting his stride
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Steven Jackson has a number in mind, but he's not telling. At least not now.
"When I hit it, I'll let you know," Jackson said last week. "I promise, I'll let you know."
Those remarks were made prior to last Sunday's Rams game against Arizona, when Jackson topped 1,000 yards rushing for the second year in a row. Jackson enters Monday night's game against Chicago with 1,028 rushing yards. But that's not the magic number, either.
"I'm not at that number yet," Jackson said. "But it's an even number, and hopefully by Week 17 we'll be there."
Jackson may never make Rams fans forget Marshall Faulk. But with four games to play, he's putting up Faulk-like numbers. Jackson is on pace for 1,371 yards, which would be just 11 yards shy of Faulk's career-high 1,382 rushing yards for the Rams in 2001.
Throw in Jackson's receiving yards, and he's on pace for 2,200 yards from scrimmage, a total Faulk surpassed only once in St. Louis with his NFL-record 2,429 yards from scrimmage in 1999.
Safety Corey Chavous has played with and against some top flight running backs in nine NFL seasons with Arizona, Minnesota, and now the Rams. He ranks Jackson with the top backs in the game today.
"He is, in my opinion, one of the top three running backs in professional football, if not the top back," Chavous said. "When you start looking at his numbers, and what he's been able to do."
By the numbers, Jackson deserves to be mentioned among the game's elite backs this season. He ranks third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,650); sixth in rushing yards; is tied for third in first downs gained (77); and is tied for third in receptions (72).
Short yardage, you say? Jackson and Brandon Jacobs of the New York Giants share the league lead with 10 first downs on third-and-1.
The only category where Jackson falls short of elite backs such as San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson and Kansas City's Larry Johnson is touchdowns. Jackson has scored a modest six times this season, well short of Tomlinson's 26 or Johnson's 15.
The biggest surprise with Jackson in 2006 has been his pass catching. He's on track for 96 catches, which would break Faulk's franchise record for catches by a running back — 87 — set in 1999.
"I don't know if it's a surprise," coach Scott Linehan said. "It's kind of an untapped resource that I think has been utilized based on him playing full time now. He's taking full advantage of it."
In terms of receptions, Jackson and Torry Holt form the top receiving tandem in the NFL, with 142 catches between them.
"I approached this year knowing that I'm going to be the guy," Jackson said. "So I didn't want to come out on third down. I had to make sure I was catching the ball pretty well. It's carried over throughout the season. I've been able to make some guys miss in the open field, which has allowed me to get the yards in the receiving category."
Because of his size — 6-2, 231 pounds — Jackson wouldn't seem to fit the mold of a receiving back.
"Naturally, I'm a big back, so people assume that I'm just a downhill runner, hit the pile and move it for two or three yards," Jackson said. "So it's been good for me this year to show and display my receiving ability."
Jackson needs to showcase all of his talents to earn his first trip to Hawaii. With Pro Bowl voting taking place next week, there remains no better showcase than "Monday Night Football."
Pro Bowl voting can be curious and political. Jackson's main competition for a berth on the NFC squad seemingly comes from Frank Gore (San Francisco), Tiki Barber (New York Giants), Chester Taylor (Minnesota), and Thomas Jones (Chicago). Gore, Barber and Taylor currently have more rushing yards than Jackson.
Obviously, there are better teams to pile up yards against than Chicago. But even though the Bears rank second in total defense, they are a modest 12th in rushing defense. Even so, Jackson expects tough sledding against a Bears defense that likes to stack the box on running downs.
"I believe to reach 100 yards in this game, there's going to be a lot of 3-yard, 4-yard tough (carries)," Jackson said. "Taking a lot of shots. Hopefully, as the fourth quarter comes, we can wear those guys down and still have a chance to be a balanced offense. We want to get that done. I'm ready for it."
Re: Steven Jackson is hitting his stride
What Jackson is doing more this year is lowering his shoulder's and running guy's over..A perfect example of this was his TD in Seattle when he carried 3 or 4 tacklers with him into the end-zone..He is a real power back and he seems to be learning and improving all the time..At least with all the problems we have we don't have to worry about the RB position..:l