By the second quarter, ten of Green Bay's 11 offensive starters swapped helmets for baseball caps after four straight three-and-outs. Jackson stayed in. In his first ever professional game, he played until one minute remained in the third quarter.
Maybe Jackson didn't erase the Packers' Running Back State of Emergency. But the situation was certainly downgraded from Code Red to Orange.
Jackson started sluggish, rushing for only 14 yards on his first eight carriers in the first half. A stingy Pittsburgh run defense that finished third in the NFL last season and held New Orleans' potent attack to 82 rushing yards last week, consistently plugged the Packers' rushing lanes. But Jackson made the best of it. He didn't dance or hesitate. He salvaged what he could after making the necessary one cut in the zone blocking scheme.
And as the game progressed, so did Jackson.
In the second half, Jackson ran for 43 yards on eight attempts. He finished the night with 57 yards on 16 carries for a modest 3.6 yards a clip. Overall, Jackson wasn't flashy. But on two consecutive runs, he provided a taste of his potential. On first down, the back blasted through a gaping hole up the gut for 15 yards. No wasted motion.
The next play, Jackson answered any lingering ‘soft' labels critics may suggest. Jackson took a pitch five yards behind the line of scrimmage to the left. That side was cluttered, so he instantly cut right, ran for 10 yards and bulled through Steelers' safety Grant Mason for five more.
Those two runs are enough to lift optimism.
"We got him going there in the third quarter," the coach said. "His pad level was a little high early. But he's a tough kid that just needs to play."
Expect McCarthy to keep feeding Jackson. More carries in more blocking schemes. Jackson needs to get a feel for the starting offensive line and vice versa.
Against a pedestrian Seattle run defense, another 15-20 carries would give McCarthy a much more realistic gauge of Jackson's progress. At Pittsburgh, he provided glimpses of what made Ahman Green and Dorsey Levens great - running harder with increased carries. Jackson didn't show any wear or tear as his workload increased against one of the league's best rush defenses. Next week ... against a conference rival ... at home ... with his starting fullback in the line-up (Brandon Miree) ... and with another week of practice in the books, Jackson's fate as the team's starting back can more adequately be judged.
Against the Steelers, Jackson got off to a solid start.
Did Not Suit Up
Starting cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris did not make the trip to Pittsburgh. Woodson (hamstring) and Harris (back) have been handled cautiously by the coaching staff during training camp, often being held out for practices. Running backs Vernand Morency (knee), P.J. Pope (knee) and DeShawn Wynn (quad) missed the game as expected. OT Tony Moll and DE Devon Hicks didn't suit up either.
The following Steelers also didn't go: RB Willis Parker, C Chuckky Okobi, G Alan Faneca, LB James Harrison, and LB Lawrence Timmons Former Packer, Najeh Davenport rushed for 34 yards on 7 carries in Parker's absence.
Green Bay won on the scoreboard and on the infirmary report. Only two Packers were injured at Pittsburgh.
Safety Marviel Underwood sustained a hamstring injury and quarterback Ingle Martin sustained a "blow to the head," according to McCarthy. Martin's injury prompted an unexpected appearance by No. 4 QB Paul Thompson. Martin was 1-for-2 for 8 yards.