Action Jackson

IRVING, Tex. - If the Cowboys are going to beat the Bills Sunday, it starts by containing one of the least known running backs in the NFL.

Quick: name the best running backs in the National Football League.

Present that task to a group of any size, and chances are the answers will come back with some combination of the same names in one order or another: Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Atlanta's Michael Turner, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, Baltimore's Ray Rice and Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams likely will be on every list. Many will include Houston's Arian Foster, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and/or San Francisco's Frank Gore. Oakland's Darren McFadden and Chicago's Matt Forte might well appear on some lists.

How many will mention Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson? Not many.

The graduate of Martin High School in Arlington, Texas and Coe College (that's in Iowa) is quietly putting together one of the best seasons of any runner in the NFL. Few outside of professional football's Media Siberia — errr … Buffalo — could identify him without seeing the back of his jersey, but Jackson is a big reason the Bills bring a 5-3 record with them to Sunday's noon game at Cowboys Stadium.

All the virtually anonymous Jackson has done is run for the third-highest rushing total in the entire NFL ¬— his 803 yards (on 150 carries, for an average of 5.4 yards per carry) trail league leader McCoy by just 22 yards. He also has six rushing touchdowns in eight games, which ties Jackson (with Rice) for the third-highest total in the league.

Jackson might not be a household name, but the Dallas defense is more than aware of the threat he poses to a defense that has allowed 102.4 rushing yards per game.

"(Jackson) is a great running back," Dallas safety Gerald Sensabaugh said. "He probably is overshadowed by other backs around the league because of the market he plays in, but he's as good as anyone.

"(The Bills) are not on a lot of national television games, but if he keeps piling up numbers like he is, that might change."

Jackson is not just a running threat; he also has 391 receiving yards, and his 1,194 yards of total offense trail only the 1,241 yards Forte has piled up for the Bears. Jackson is the first Buffalo player to collect more than 1,100 combined yards from scrimmage since Thurman Thomas pulled off the feat in 1991. His 1,194 total yards from scrimmage through eight games are the second-highest total in Bills history, trailing only the 1,300 put up in 1975 by O.J. Simpson.

Sensabaugh said that in addition to the absence of media attention surrounding the Bills, Jackson is hampered at least in part by his style. Jackson is fast, Sensabaugh said, but the electric game open-field runner likely to break off a highlight-reel run is his backup, C.J. Spiller. Whatever Jackson might lack in style points, he more than makes up for with pure substance, Sensabaugh said.

"(Jackson) is incredibly consistent," Sensabaugh said, "and he just keeps piling up the yards. He shows you flashes, and he has really good speed, but C.J. Spiller is the flash guy — he can really fly. Jackson just keeps piling up yards for that offense."

That's true. Jackson isn't collecting empty yards in meaningless games, or games in which the score is out of reach: his 45 first downs this season tie him (with Peterson, and behind McCoy and Forte) for the third-most first downs of any player in the NFL this season. He also is tied with Gore for the league lead with five games in which he has rushed for 100 or more yards.

In addition to his production, Jackson is durable, having appeared in 63 consecutive games, the second-longest streak among active NFL running backs. His career total of 3,663 rushing yards ranks third all time among players who arrived in the NFL as undrafted free agents, trailing only Willie Parker's 5,378 total yards and the 8,172 yards piled up by former Baltimore and Kansas City star Priest Holmes.

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