Key matchup: Jackson's action against Vikings

The Vikings defense prides itself in stopping the run, but Steven Jackson destroyed them and kept them from achieving a major milestone a few years ago. The Vikings haven't forgotten about that and know what a workhorse he is.


It's rare when a key matchup is a one-on-seven affair, but, when you have a team as bad as the Rams have been over the last two-plus years (posting a record of 5-31 in that span), obviously they don't have a lot of top-end talent. They no longer have the receiving threats of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace is in Chicago. Even quarterback Marc Bulger has been in and out of the lineup. The only true offensive star they have is running back Steven Jackson, making his battle with the Vikings' front seven this week's key matchup.

When the Rams were on top of the NFC West, Jackson was the fuel that drove the offense's engine. A threat both as a runner and a receiver, Jackson was one of the game's top running backs. He still is, but the cast that surrounds him has experienced a big drop-off in talent. It has forced even more of the onus of offensive production on the shoulders of Jackson.

The Vikings are no strangers to Jackson. On a team that prides itself in its ability to stop the run, Jackson ate them alive in the 2006 season finale – rushing 25 times for 141 yards, catching two passes for 24 more yards and scoring a career-best four touchdowns. His huge day denied the Vikings a chance to set a modern-day NFL record for fewest rushing yards allowed in a season. Linebacker Ben Leber was on the field that day and said nobody who was there has forgotten what he is capable to doing to a defense – even one as strong against the run as the Vikings.

"We're going to have to combat their physical offensive line because they can really get after it, but obviously Jackson is our number one key," Leber said. "He's a potent back who gashed us in 2006 in the last game of the season. We're very aware of him and what he is capable of. He's going to be a point of emphasis and, if he we can stop him, then we play the kind of football we're accustomed to playing on defense."

Few backs in the league have been more of a focus to their offense than Jackson has been for the Rams. Through four games, Rams running backs have carried the ball 90 times. Jackson has 83 of those carries for 367 yards. The rest of the team has just seven carries. To put that in perspective, Adrian Peterson has 84 carries, but guys like Chester Taylor, Percy Harvin, Jeff Dugan and Naufahu Tahi have combined for 28 carries. While Peterson has accounted for 75 percent of the Vikings' rushing attempts, Jackson has been responsible for more than 92 percent of the Rams' rushing attempts.

Add to that 12 receptions, just one off the team lead, and it becomes clear that Jackson is not only the sole running attack for St. Louis, but also one of their key passing options, given the youth of the new-look Rams receiving corps.

"What makes him stand out is how they use him," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Some backs are power runners between the tackles. Some are guys who can turn the corner and make you stick to your assignments so you don't let him get outside for big gains. Some are receivers that come out of the backfield. He can do all of those things. He's a threat whenever he touches the ball and we will have to be aware of where he is at all times."

The Rams are an offense that has been sputtering out of the gate, having been shut out twice and scored just seven points in one of their other two games. With Bulger a question mark for Sunday, the workload for Jackson is expected to be intense. Other teams have found surprising success running on the Vikings, but, coming off a solid week in which they limited Ryan Grant from having a big night, Jackson will likely be their stiffest challenge to date in the backfield. If the defense can stop Jackson and make the Rams offense one-dimensional, a fifth straight win for the Vikings would be all but assured, making this the key matchup of the week.

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