Jackson not carrying a heavy load
ST. LOUIS -- Steven Jackson is coming off his first 100-game of the season and is ready for heavy duty. But it might be a while before he gets a 20-carry game, even if the St. Louis Rams have built their offense around him.
Jackson has always believed he's at his best in the fourth quarter, after the 235-pounder has worn down the opposition.
"I'm kind of like a streaky 3-point shooter," Jackson said Thursday. "The more I get a chance to touch the ball, the more I get a feel for what the defense is trying to do. It allows me to get that good lather and kind of get downhill and take advantage of the fatigue on defense."
Jackson had 104 yards on 17 carries in a 9-7 loss at Washington last week. He was limited to 67 yards on 16 carries in the opening 28-0 loss at Seattle after the Rams (0-2) got stuck playing catchup, so he should be feeling pretty fresh heading into Sunday's home opener against the Green Bay Packers.
"He's in great shape, came to training camp in great shape, always upbeat, does everything 100 mph," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "What more could you ask for as a coach?"
More carries, of course. Jackson understands it's part of the growing process for a rebuilding franchise, under a new staff with unproven skill players, that has scored only one touchdown in two games.
"He needs to be the focus of this team and this offense," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "We're constantly going to make an effort to get him the football."
Like every other team, until the Rams show they have other playmakers, the Packers (1-1) will be trying to take Jackson out of the game by jamming the line. Green Bay struggled last week against the Bengals, with Cedric Benson rushing for 141 yards and a 4.9-yard average per carry.
"You always want to try to make the offense one-dimensional," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We are definitely planning to take the run away from them."
Rams offensive tackle Jason Smith, the second overall pick of the draft, could miss two weeks with a sprained left knee, although he got a vigorous workout on the sideline Thursday with cycling and pilates exercises. Center Jason Brown has a sprained right knee, although he has not missed any practice time.
Jackson's game average of 18.5 touches, counting receptions, is well below his accustomed work load. He got the ball 27 times per game in 2006, his best season, when he rushed for 1,528 yards and caught 90 passes to set a franchise record for a running back.
He averaged 24 touches last year, picking up his fourth straight 1,000-yard season despite playing only 12 games due to injuries.
The Rams were fairly balanced last week, with 28 passes and 21 runs, and St. Louis is averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry on the year. The biggest problem has been getting the opposition off the field, with opponents running 115 plays (67 runs) and the Rams 71 (39 runs).
"We have to win time of possession," Jackson said. "We have to be able to grind on a defense, wear them down, so we can run the ball more."
St. Louis had three drives that lasted 10 or more plays last week, a step in the right direction for a team plagued by missed blocks, missed reads and false starts. Spagnuolo has been stressing fundamentals this week.
"To me, the difference is in the details," Spagnuolo said. "The teams that play together and focus on the details and don't make the minor mistakes that kill you, those are the teams that win."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press