Steven Jackson Still Has What It Takes to Win It All with the Atlanta Falcons

Michael SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterMarch 15, 2013

Anyone who doesn't think that Steven Jackson will make a huge impact for the Atlanta Falcons clearly isn't watching the same player the rest of us are.

Full disclosure: I'm a huge Steven Jackson fan. I don't know him, don't have any connection to the St. Louis Rams, Atlanta Falcons or Oregon State. I'm not "in" with his agents—Joel Parker and Eugene Turner—and I couldn't care less if I have a negative opinion about a player and he reads about it.

That said, if someone spends any real time watching Jackson, it's almost impossible not to become a fan.

As part of my position here at Bleacher Report, I watch every single game every single week. I almost always find time to watch games a second time with All-22 tape, and if I miss one, I double back in the offseason to do so. I chart quarterbacks and grade interior linemen for fun.

Yet, when the Rams' games were on the last couple of seasons, I've found it hard not to be drawn to Jackson. He's one of the few players that I can't "tune out" while I'm trying to watch his teammates. The way he hits the hole with such ferociousness, the way he finds a way to fall forward on every play, his burst, his vision—it's all just so awesome to watch.

NFL Insider Adam Caplan and NFL Films' Greg Cosell broke down his game and put it this way:

We've come to calling Marshawn Lynch "beast mode" I think Steven Jackson was in many ways the original guy...he's been in that mode for a lot of years. He's always been a finisher, a guy with natural power.

Now, he's a member of the Falcons, and that pairing couldn't possibly be a better fit.

The Falcons have needed a back like Jackson for a couple of seasons. As Michael Turner's skills eroded (he hasn't been "The Burner" for a long time), the Falcons found themselves with a high-octane vertical offense with no running game to take advantage of the nickel and dime packages opponents are forced to use against them.

So, the strategy for much of 2012 was to spread the field vertically and utilize Tony Gonzalez or Roddy White on short-to-intermediate routes. Matt Ryan excelled (for the most part), but the team had trouble finishing games and truly putting their feet on the metaphorical throats of their opponents.

That all changes with the signing of Jackson.

Former Falcons Pro Bowl running back Jamal Anderson took a few minutes to talk with me about the signing, and the biggest takeaway was:

This team needs a little bite in them. When you're facing a physical team like the San Francisco 49ers, it's good to have the ability to punch them back in the mouth, bottom line. That's what Steven Jackson affords them.

Jackson is a closer. He just hasn't had the "save situations" to show those talents with the Rams. That's a huge reason that he opted out of his contract with the Rams and tried to find a contender.

Why he picked the Falcons over the Green Bay Packers is probably a little more nuanced. The Packers could certainly use a running threat; that's been the case for years. In the meantime, Ted Thompson has shown little interest in paying an elite back, and Mike McCarthy has shown little interest in featuring one.

Mike Smith and the Falcons not only have the gaping hole at running back that the Packers have had, but they clearly have a better plan and more carries for him.

Anderson put it this way:

Think about the numbers that Turner was able to produce while not being as dynamic a runner as Steven Jackson. Man! This football team wasn't finishing or having the ability to run people out of there. That was one of the things that was frustrating about Michael Turner. In playoff situations the past couple of years, Matt Ryan wasn't the only one that failed. There hasn't been that presence in the backfield in those circumstances. This is why Jackson came to Atlanta.

The only real question is whether or not Jackson will hit the same "running back wall" that Turner did. He's turning 30 before the season, and running backs tend to have abrupt ends to their careers rather than gradual declines. While Jackson has been a factor (when healthy) over the last couple of seasons, there's good reason to question whether or not he will be so for the Falcons for any real length of time.

Even Anderson admitted that, while he thinks the move is an excellent one, it would've made a much bigger impact if Jackson were a couple of years younger. "If they had gotten him three years ago, it would've been a terror."

In regard to long-term team building, it's important for the Falcons not to rest on their laurels. Tony Gonzalez's return is awesome, but they shouldn't pass on a tight end they like in the draft because of it. In much the same way, if they feel a second- or third-round back can be the guy moving forward, they can't let this signing fool them into taking a lesser player.

The Falcons were already one of the premier teams to beat in the NFL for 2013. Now, with Jackson, they have what it takes to win it all.


Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.