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Anatomy Of A Play: Steven Jackson Finds Running Room

Steven Jackson stiff-arms Usama Young. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

In recent weeks, the Rams rushing attack has taken off. Call it an adjustment on the part of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Credit SJ39 for finally being healthy. Whatever it is, it is working. 

The Rams have called on Steven the last three weeks and he has responded very well. SJ39 has had 81 carries in the last three games. That is the third highest carry total in a three-game span in his career, and those 81 carries have resulted in 417 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Perhaps more importantly, those carries have resulted in two wins, and a third game that the Rams led well into the 4th quarter.

How is he doing it? The Rams have not been able to consistently establish the run in years, even when Jackson at full health. Let’s go to the tape and see what they’re doing.

Here is the breakdown of SJ39’s longest run from this past Sunday, a 22-yarder that set the Rams up in scoring position at the end of the first half. (Play diagram and crudely animated GIF after the break.)

Situation: 1st and 10 from CLE 37. Play Call: Split Zone with a BOB tag

After a good punt return from Austin Pettis, the Rams are driving and trying to eat up the clock at the end of the first half.

The Rams come out in 22 personnel (two backs / two tight ends) and line up in I-formation.  Both tight ends, Bajema and Illinois Mike, are to the right with the lone receiver, Brandon Lloyd, split to the left. The Browns line up in a 4-3, with the 3-5 side to the strength of the formation.  The defensive line will slant left. The Browns run a fire blitz behind with both the Sam and Will backers coming.

How’s it’s drawn up

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Ideally on this play, the line work in pairs – Wragge (64) and Dahl (62), Goldberg (73) and Bajema (47) – to get movement on the first level.  Once winning the battle on the first level, one lineman from each pairing will climb to the next level and get a body on a linebacker. Hence, the “split” within the zone blocking scheme. Illinois Mike (86) is responsible for the overhang safety, Usama Young (28).

The split zone with BoB tag sends fullback Brit Miller (49) to the backside of the play call (opposite) for an isolation block on the Will backer, Chris Gocong (51). If executed to perfection it should leave Steven Jackson (39) left to beat Joe Haden (23), a match up very favorable to the Rams.

How’s it’s executed.

Illinois Mike: Mike has a fairly easy block being that he is outside of the point of attack and on a defender that he has 60 pounds on.  However,  Mike does a very good job staying on Usama Young and driving him down field.

Billy Bajema and Adam Goldberg: These two are responsible for the 5-technique, rookie Jabaal Sheard (97), and Sam Backer, Scott Fujita (99). The Rams benefit from the Browns play call. Sheard slants down, across Goldberg’s face making this an easy block for Goldberg.  Goldberg is does a good job washing Sheard down.  Bajema is now left to climb to Fujita who is now replacing Sheard’s gap responsibility on a fire blitz.  Bajema comes off of the double just in time to pick up Fujita.  The hole is now formed for SJ39 to run through.

Harvey Dahl: Harvey Dahl has Ahytba Rubin, 6’2 330 lbs, attempting to slant across his face.  Dahl is able to prevent the slant and stalemates Rubin at the line.  Dahl does a good a job staying on Rubin until SJ39 has run through the hole.

Wragge:  Because of the slanting up front, Wragge is left uncovered.   His responsibility is now Mike linebacker, D’Qwell Jackson, who sits stacked over him.  Wragge gets enough of Jackson to prevent him from getting into a good tackle position on SJ39.

SJ39: Running hard through the hole, SJ39 is able to break tackle the tackle of both Joe Haden and D’Qwell Jackson.  Steven is able to gain another 18 yards after contact, finally being dragged down at the Cleveland 15 yard line by Michael Adams (20), the deep safety.

An ode to Jackson

In a league where it seems almost predestined for backs to break down as they approach the age of 30, Steven Jackson is doing his best to break the trend. 

It seemed as if SJ39 was fated to follow suit after coming off a career low in yards per carry last season. He burst through the hole and down the field so violently in his first play of the regular season — a 47-yard touchdown — that he strained his hamstring on the play. Other than the hammy barking, he wasn’t touched.

Flash forward to 9 weeks later and Steven is climbing towards the top of the leader board in rushing yards. Despite only having 6 carries through the schedule’s first 3 games, Steven sits 9th in the league in rushing yards.

He currently is enjoying his best yards per carry average in his career.  He’s had three 100-yard games in a row.  Now in his 8th season, SJ39 has only put together four 100-yards games in a row once in his career… that feat came during Weeks 7-10 in the 2009 season. 

Up next for Steven and the Rams is the Seattle Seahawks, and the 12th-ranked rushing defense in the league.  The Seahawks have only yielded one 100-yard rusher all season.  In doing so, they’ve held some impressive backs in check (Gore – 59 yards, Mendenhall -66 yards, Turner – 70 yards, Rice – 27 yards). 

This will be a fun area of the game to watch this Sunday.

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