Why Steven Jackson Will Be Even Better in Atlanta Than St. Louis
Steven Jackson will have one of the best years of his long career now that he's with the Atlanta Falcons. While he was excellent in St. Louis, he was toiling away on a team that was mired in mediocrity.
Jackson is one of the few players in NFL history with over 10,000 rushing yards and 3,300 receiving yards for his career. He's also known for a bruising style that makes him one of the top backs for a team like the Falcons to have. He will prosper well in their scheme, which mixes zone and man blocking for its running game.
The biggest things that will make Jackson more of a threat in Atlanta than during his Rams career are the options he will have around him, the more improved defensive line and how Dirk Koetter loves to run his screen-based scheme in the passing game.
Offensive Line is Better Than What He Had
In St. Louis, the Rams offensive line was mediocre at best. While Rodger Saffold, Scott Wells and former Falcon Harvey Dahl looked good, the rest of the line was terrible. Left guard was a revolving door, while right tackle had the extraordinarily weak combination of Barry Richardson and Wayne Hunter there. That doesn't look as good as the Falcons current projected starting offensive line.
How many yards will Steven Jackson run for this year?
What it may lack in experience, the lineup of Sam Baker at left tackle, Justin Blalock at left guard, Peter Konz at center, Mike Johnson at right guard and Lamar Holmes at right tackle, shows a ton of natural talent. It also shows a ton of investment. From left to right, it goes first-round pick, second-round pick, second-round pick, third-round pick and third-round pick.
It's also one of the biggest offensive lines in the league. Baker is the runt of the litter at 6'5", 310 pounds, but Blalock flanks him at 6'3", 330 pounds. Konz and Johnson increase the size at center and right guard as both are 6'5", 315 pounds. Holmes (6'6" 330 pounds) is actually bigger than the make he's replacing in Tyson Clabo (6'5" 325 pounds).
Investment-, size- and talent-wise, this is one of the best lines Jackson has been able to run behind. It may be unproven, but Pat Hill has done more with a lot less. I mean he did coach the Browns for a long time and was known for turning 2- and 3-star prospects at Fresno State into draftable offensive linemen.
Offensive Threats Keep Defenders Out of the Box
Not only does his group of linemen look better than what he had in St. Louis, but the overall talent around him will open up the offense and allow him less defenders in the box to have to weave through. Receivers Julio Jones, Harry Douglas and Roddy White combined with tight end Tony Gonzalez will make it tough for any team to stack the box.
Jones, White and Douglas are a trio who could challenge for a combined 3,000 yards again this season, after falling just 56 yards short of that mark last year. Gonzalez is still the best tight end of all-time, but he doesn't have the same kind of speed he once did. He can still throw up over 900 yards and a handful of touchdowns every year though.
When the Falcons come to play in the fall, don't be surprised if quarterback Matt Ryan is given a pass-run combination call every down. The Falcons have the running back and blockers to take advantage of six- and seven-man boxes. And they have the receivers to burn the defenses deep in eight- and nine-man boxes.
All Dirk Koetter will have to do is make sure Ryan sees how many deep safeties and corners there are on the field. In a four defensive backs formation with a safety dropped into the box, Ryan should check to the pass call from the huddle. However, when the box is containing just six or seven men, Jackson should be given the ball, and he'll have a field day with it.
Jackson Doesn't Have to Come Out on Third Downs
One of the biggest strengths in having a running back like Steven Jackson is that he can run the ball like a monster from any formation. But even more important than that is his ability to catch the ball out in the flats as a checkdown and still be able to gain important yardage. Jackson's amassed over 3,300 career receiving yards from this skill and that should continue through this year.
Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter loves using the four verticals concept in his passing offense. The best part of a four verticals call is the ability to check down to a short route run by a hard-charging running back underneath the verticals. Jackson can not only run that route, but it could be one of the most effective routes on the play for the Falcons.
Add in how the Falcons will be able to enhance their already effective screen game with the addition of the bruiser, and Atlanta could have just made an offense that was already unstoppable even better. A scary thought if you are Tampa Bay, New Orleans or Carolina. There isn't really anyone who can stick with Jackson on all three downs.
Because he doesn't have to come out, the Falcons will be able to maximize their return on the future Hall of Fame running back. And in the end, Jackson will have one of the finest seasons of his career. If he ends up stealing the show and the Falcons make it to the Super Bowl, he will be the man that brought them over the hump and into the promised land.
And who knows?
Maybe Tony Gonzalez and Jackson can earn the Super Bowl rings that would cap off their already amazing careers.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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