Steven Jackson: Was Rams' Star Injured or Benched Following Penalty?

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2012

Sep 19, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson (39) spikes the ball after being called short of the end zone on a run against the Washington Redskins during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Jackson was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE
Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

The St. Louis Rams defeated the Washington Redskins 31-28 on Sunday, but star running back Steven Jackson didn't play after receiving an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the second quarter.

The infraction occurred when Jackson spiked the ball in frustration after being stopped short of the goal line on a third-down try. The three-time Pro Bowler didn't see the field for the rest of the game, finishing with 58 yards on nine carries.

Even though rookie ball-carrier Daryl Richardson ran for 83 yards in Jackson's absence, this unexpected move still left fans scratching their heads.

 

UPDATE: Sunday, Sept. 16 at 9:21 p.m. by Ian Hanford

The St. Louis Rams answered our question Sunday night after the game via their official Twitter feed:

RB @sj39had a strained groin. That's why he did not return to game. He said in locker room that it's not too bad and should heal quickly.

— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) September 17, 2012

This makes much more sense than simply benching Jackson as a result of the penalty. Now, the Rams must hope he actually does heal quickly.

They will need him if they want to defeat the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field next Sunday.

 

---End of Update---

 

NFL.com's report following the game made it sound like Jackson was just benched, stating that "A team spokesman said Jackson was fine physically."

However, CBS Sports reporter Jason La Canfora makes the situation sound less cut-and-dry:

Steven Jackson had a hamstring issue, I'm told, which played a role in him sitting out much of the game. Wasnt just a benching

— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) September 16, 2012

The keyword in La Canfora's report seems to be "just." No matter where you look, it appears that the Rams coaching staff was not happy with its workhorse. Multiple factors seem to be at play here.

If Jackson was simply benched for the penalty, I'm completely puzzled. He's not a notorious troublemaker, and he wasn't frustrated at anything out of the ordinary. He wanted to score the ball, and he came up a few agonizing inches short.

That's a perfectly fine reason for an established veteran to spike the football. No team likes to accept a 15-yard penalty, but some things just happen. That's the nature of the game.

It's not like he was yelling at his teammates. He didn't start a fight, and he didn't show up his coaches. Outside of that, there aren't any reasons to yank him from second-half action.

Maybe Jackson did tweak his hamstring. He's only played 16 games twice in his nine-year career, so it's not an unrealistic idea, but there seems to be more to this one.

Standing the way that he was—helmet in hand, eyes to the ground—didn't suggest a minor injury. He looked like he was in the doghouse. With new head coach Jeff Fisher still getting his feet wet in St. Louis, it's hard to tell what the team's dynamic is at the moment.

Anything is possible, but I'm thinking we haven't heard the last of this one. A hamstring injury could provide a very convenient excuse for something else without creating the media hubbub of an in-house controversy surrounding the squad's best player.

Richardson performed well in Jackson's stead, but the Rams won't go far without their veteran running back. Whatever the issue is, it must be resolved quickly.