Steven Jackson's debut with the Atlanta Falcons was not an ideal one as the Falcons dropped their season opener to the New Orleans Saints, 23-17.
Jackson was the Falcons' biggest offseason acquisition, hoping his powerful legs could revitalize a weak ground attack for the Falcons in their push for Super Bowl success in 2013. In his debut, the Falcons saw glimpses of that ability.
Jackson finished the day with 77 yards on 11 carries, as well as 45 yards on five receptions. Perhaps the most noteworthy play came at the end of the game where Jackson dropped the potential game-winning touchdown.
Ryan locked in on Jackson on 3rd-and-goal from the Saints' 3-yard line, but with Ramon Humber draped over him, Jackson could not reel in the pass to give the Falcons the potential win.
But outside that play, Jackson played well. It was certainly a performance that the Falcons can build off going forward this season.
On the Ground
It was clear that the Falcons wanted to establish Jackson early in the game, as he opened the game with a pair of carries on the first two plays from scrimmage for the Falcons. Six of his 11 carries came in the first quarter of the game.
After that, Jackson was largely a forgotten man as far as rushing the ball. But he still managed to stand out, despite only limited carries over the last two quarters. That was notable on a 50-yard gain near the outset of the third quarter which set up a Falcons' score, their final of the game.
NFL.com provides a video of the Atlanta Falcons running back rumbling for those 50 yards. On that play, he found space off the right side of the Falcons line and was able to use his speed and bounce the play outside.
Jackson, who was not known for his ability to generate big plays during his final years in St. Louis, showed good speed and burst to run away from a couple of Saints defenders. Knowing that Jackson can still provide a big-play spark and isn't just a grinder will be instrumental to the Falcons' offensive success the rest of 2013.
But most of Jackson's added value came in the passing game where his eight targets were second-most on the team. With Roddy White nursing an ankle injury and not being 100 percent after limited participation in practice this week, Jackson took on the mantle of being a reliable outlet for Matt Ryan.
The Falcons dialed up a number of screens for Jackson, and he saw his fair share of checkdowns from Ryan on his way to the five grabs he made on Sunday. That is a stark change from a year ago with Michael Turner at running back.
Turner struggled with drops and inconsistency as a pass-catcher throughout his tenure in Atlanta. Despite Jackson's notable drop at the end of the game, he showed sure hands and ability after the catch.
That ability on screens will be important moving forward if the Falcons continue to struggle in pass protection as they did against the Saints. Ryan was sacked three times and hit six times. Being able to dial up screens to thwart the rush could be critical to the Falcons success if there isn't significant improvement.
The drop at the end leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth, but there were strong signs that he is poised for a very good 2013 season in Atlanta. He had a number of solid runs and catches that show he's already an integral part of the Falcons offensive attack, with only room to grow.
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