Just try and tackle Steven Jackson

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St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson doesn’t just run the football to get yards; it looks like he runs the football to punish defenses.  Jackson runs the ball fast, but he also runs the ball hard.  If you’re a secondary player, the last thing you want to see is that Rams helmet and long hair sticking out the back, and a #39 jersey running full speed your way.  Just ask the last three teams the Rams have played – he’s run for 417 yards in the last three weeks.

Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll said, “Yeah, he looks great, man. He looks great and it’s no coincidence that they’re 2-1 (in their last three games). They could have won another game too with him on the rise like this. He’s such a fantastic player. I’ve watched this guy and played against him for years, way back in college and all that. He’s always been the same guy that just…he’s the only guy you can see on the field when he’s playing. So, we’ve got our hands full with this. The fact that he’s stacked up three big games in a row and they’re getting their confidence and they’re roaring off the football, that doesn’t help us at all. It’s going to be tough.”

Jackson plays running back like a linebacker, and is now – despite missing time with a thigh injury – seventh in the league in rushing yards (707 yards, 88.4 average, 4 TDs) before Thursday night’s game.  And he’s done that without having more than two 40+ yard runs, meaning he’s banging those yards out.

But there’s another running back in the league that plays that same way, and he just happens to be in the same division as Jackson.  Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch is a bruiser, himself.  Lynch has run for 244 yards in the last two weeks, and last week pounded out more than 100 yards against the second-best run defense in the league – the Cincinnati Bengals (86.8 run yards against per game).  After a slow start (507 yards on the season, 63.4 average, 5 TDs), he’s showing the kind of runner he can be.  Carroll said, “I think he’s just working with the guys. We’re all growing together at the same time kind of. Again, you can’t get any younger than these guys are, but they’re figuring it out. He’s hitting runs well as they give him the opportunities and we haven’t always been doing that. I think it’s just he’s taking advantage of their growth and the progress they’re making.”

Lynch breaks free from Baltimore's defense (AP/Ted S. Warren)

The Seahawks are trying to reinvent themselves as a running team.  Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said, “That’s what we’re hoping for. We want to be able to run the football whenever we feel, something that we can hang our hat on. The history that (Offensive Line/ Asst. Head) Coach (Tom) Cable has in the run game is pretty good, so we want to make sure we keep that going and we know that he knows what he’s doing. We’ve just got to trust him and the guys have been trusting him the last couple weeks and we’ve been doing a better job. We want to be able to run the football, then just do everything off the run.”

Carroll agreed, “You know, this is a very young (offensive) line and it’s taken us some time. I don’t think we’ve arrived by any sense, but we’re getting better and coming off the ball with more confidence. We’ve run the ball the last two weeks against two very difficult defenses in Dallas and Baltimore. We take that into account that those guys are about as physical of a style that you could play. One’s a 3-4 team, one’s a 4-3 team more so. So we’re getting better.”

Looking at the two backs you might give Steven Jackson the edge over Marshawn Lynch.  But the Seahawks have done well against the run this year, ranked 12th in the NFL with an average of 106.4 yards allowed per game.  They haven’t allowed a run longer than 40 yards all season long.  But they haven’t seen a banger like Jackson yet.

For the Rams, it’s been well-documented – they’re the worst run defense in the league statistically (150.6 yards allowed per game).  They’ve done much better the last few weeks; Chris Ogbonnaya’s 90 yards is the most they have allowed a runner since DeMarco Murray’s 253 yards in Week 7 for Dallas.  Pete Carroll thinks they’re underrated.  “Yeah,” Carroll said, “they had that game against Dallas that threw everything out of whack. All those yards went up and that day on the big runs. Listen, we know this is a good solid group that knows how to do the things on the line of scrimmage. This is a physical tough group that attacks the heck out of you. I think their numbers are skewed from that game in particular.”

Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch will go head-to-head this weekend in St. Louis.  Both teams are coming off big wins, ones they want to build off of.  And they’ll be counting on their punishing running backs to put their teams on their backs.

The Rams (2-7) come home Sunday to host the Seattle Seahawks (3-6) at 3:05 CST.