Jeff Fisher addressed the Steven Jackson trade rumors in a press conference on Tuesday night stating that the Rams have no plans to trade Jackson. This is great news for the Rams as SJax is still the best offensive player on the team and provides valuable leadership to a very young group. The very first article that I wrote for Ramblin’ Fan was about SJax and the future of the running back position with the St. Louis Rams. In that article I assumed that Isaiah Pead would be the back who was breathing down Jackson’s neck for playing time with an X-factor alert on Richardson. Halfway through the season it is clear that those two roles are reversed as Richardson is getting nearly as many carries as Jackson and Pead has been inactive in several games. Earlier in the year the Rams granted Steven Jackson the waiver to get out the final year of his contract, making him a free agent at the end of this season. The question is what is the Rams plan for the future at running back beyond the 2012 season?
There was a time when I wished that the Rams would trade Jackson and release him from the burden of being the only playmaker on a lousy team. Jackson spent his best years running the ball against 8 and 9 man fronts because defenses knew he was the only player they had to stop. The Rams win percentage since they drafted Jackson is 29.4% (40-96 including their current 3-5 record) compared to the 51.3% win percentage for the Detroit Lions during the Barry Sanders era. I mention Barry Sanders as he is often looked at as the prime example of a great player wasting their talents for bad teams. Barry Sanders played in 6 playoff games during a career that spanned 10 seasons as the Lions reached the post season in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1997. Steven Jackson has appeared in only two playoff games, both of which came during his rookie season in 2004, with a combined total of 22 touches over those 2 games. While I used to wish the Rams would let Jackson go to a contender in the past, now I hope that the Rams figure out a way to keep him around over the next few years so he can be a part of what figures to be a contender soon.
As a football fan I have always preferred running backs to any other position, all my favorite players have been running backs and it is the position I preferred to play in high school. I also happen to be 15 days older than Steven Jackson, and as a player close to my age playing my favorite position he has become one of my all-time favorite players. I would love to see Jackson finish his career with the Rams and enjoy some of the success that I am sure will come over the next 2 or 3 years. Of course Jackson would almost certainly have to agree to a discounted price to stay with the Rams past the 2012 season as well as accept a diminished role in the offense as Sam Bradford and the Rams other young players continue to shoulder more of the load. Jackson has already seen a reduced workload this season, after 8 games he has only 108 carries a mere 13.5 per game average. If you don’t count this year or his rookie season Jackson has averaged 19.8 carries per game throughout his career, which is right in line with what a primary running back should be getting in a balanced offense. Jackson is currently riding a streak of 7 consecutive 1,000 yard rushing seasons, but that streak is in serious jeopardy if the Rams continue to use him on such a limited basis. If Jackson continues to carry the ball only 13.5 times per game at his current yards per carry average (3.73) he will only reach 805 rushing yards by the end of the season. Breaking the streak of consecutive seasons of rushing for 1,000 yards shouldn’t be a primary concern for the coaching staff as there is probably no way Jackson will break the record for most consecutive 1,000 yard seasons anyway (11 consecutive by Emmit Smith). If the Rams were to hand the ball off to Jackson an average of 20 times per game through the rest of the season he would just reach his 1,000 yard mark and the Rams offense would also be better off for it. Rams offense has averaged 31.5 pass plays and 25.1 running plays per game over the first 8 weeks, compared to the 27 pass to 30 runs per game ratio of the division leading 49ers. With the Rams limited playmakers on the outside a run first offense centered around Jackson would seem to make sense, especially given that the Rams have the defense and special teams to compete in low scoring field position battles. They certainly cannot compete in high scoring track meets as they have shown over the last two games.
If Scott Wells, Roger Saffold and Danny Amendola return after the bye week the Rams will have a larger playbook than they have had the past few weeks, but it should all start with an effective ground game followed up with the play action pass. So as I hold out hope that the Rams will somehow figure out a way to keep Steven Jackson in a Rams uniform until he retires, I expect to see them utilize him much more often down the stretch if they expect to make a push for the playoffs in 2012. Here is hoping that Steven Jackson has a huge second half to the 2012 season and is successful in the remaining years of his career, wherever they may be. Go Rams!!!