Breaking Down What Steven Jackson Brings to the Falcons' Backfield

Alen DumonjicContributor IIMarch 19, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 9: Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams carries the ball during an NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

One of my favorite moves this off-season was the Atlanta Falcons' signing of former St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson.

Jackson, who hit the market after nine years with the Rams, agreed to become the Falcons' lead running back only days into free agency. He's an ideal fit for the team, which prefers to run the ball with power and use their backs in the passing game.

During his near decade long run with the Rams, Jackson was one of the league's most complete running backs. He amassed eight straight seasons of at least 1,000 yards rushing and 38 receptions. He also did it in style and with a rare skill set.

Whereas most are considered "power" backs at 5'11" and 230 pounds, Jackson is much bigger at 6'2", 240 pounds, but still moves elegantly like a small, "finesse" back.

He glides through gaps and has an absurd jump-cut that illustrates just how agile he is. He also has complete field vision, showing the ability to run on the front-side of a play and identify the cutback lane on the back-side.

He also has soft hands and the ability to catch the football from any alignment on the formation. He can line up outside or run routes from the backfield. After doing so, he catches the football and punishes defenders attempting to arm-tackle him.

There's simply not many like him.

Jackson showed all of the above this past season. In Week 12, he had a season-high 139 yards rushing, including an impressive 46-yard run.

It came at a time when the Rams needed it the most. They were backed up in their own territory with poor field position and, as usual, turned to Jackson to bail them out.

Only Jackson was in the backfield and two tight ends were along the line of scrimmage. One of the tight ends was lined up in-line at the left end of the formation, while the other was flexed out on the right.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals were lined up in a 3-4 Over front. They walked down a safety into the box, creating an eight man front. However, that didn't faze Jackson. He's seen every type of eight man box over the years with the struggling Rams.

Once he got the handoff, Jackson patiently ran to his right and stretched the play out as far has he could. With the majority of the Cardinals' defenders over pursuing, he planted his inside foot into the turf and eyed two cutback lanes. One was in the middle of the field, another on the backside of the play.

If he ran to the alley in the middle of the field, there was a good chance that he'd be facing contact only five yards later. Conversely, stretching the ball all the way to the backside meant there was only one defender and a greater chance of breaking a big run.

Jackson chose the latter. He shuffled across the formation and outran the contain defender, who lost his footing as Jackson ran by.

He worked outside the hash and then the numbers, running toward the sideline before being tackled by a defender. He didn't have the long speed to take it to distance like he once did, but he still had the vision to find the crease that many running backs don't.

This will be a great asset for the Falcons because it'll give them more freedom to run stretch concepts. They weren't able to do it consistently with Michael Turner, who they have since released, last season because he slowed down a significant amount and is more of a front-side runner.

What Jackson also brings to the team that Turner didn't is the ability to catch passes. In Week 13 against the rival San Francisco 49ers, he caught a 20-yard pass for a first down out of the backfield.

Lined up to quarterback Sam Bradford's right as part of a split-backs formation, Jackson scanned the field as he prepared to run his out route.

The ball snapped and Jackson released from the backfield, giving a slight nudge to the near pass-rusher, and worked his way up the field. He stemmed his route vertically to avoid tipping off his intentions to the cover linebacker and then made a rounded cut to the outside.

Upon effortlessly catching the football, he secured the ball with his right arm and stuck out his left to avoid the tackle by the linebacker. He shook the linebacker loose and targeted the first down marker, where he would collide helmets with a defensive back after moving the chains.

The route was a simple one, but ran efficiently and effectively. He beat the linebacker with technique and quickness and showed he still had the strength to avoid tackles.

It's tough to predict if Jackson will be able to handle a heavy workload in Atlanta like he did for the Rams in his career, but he appears to still have the talent to do so. He hasn't slowed down much despite approaching 30 years old and is still one of the NFL's most complete running backs.

He can run on the front-side and on the back-side of play calls. He can also catches passes with ease, which will be a significant asset for offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Koetter has a history of using his running backs on option routes out of the backfield against linebackers.

For linebackers and defensive backs, that can't be good.