ST. LOUIS — Belatedly, the future has arrived for the St. Louis Rams’ running game.
They’ve just got to hope rookie Steven Jackson, a young, fast, physical alternative to the aging Marshall Faulk, can stay on the field.
Jackson ran for a career-best 148 yards before bruising his right knee in the fourth quarter of Monday’s 20-7 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, a game that kept his team’s playoff hopes alive. He can get through holes that close before Faulk gets to them.
Jackson, who was healthy but didn’t play in last week’s loss to the Cardinals, averaged 6.2 yards per carry against the Eagles. Philadelphia went with reserves much of the game, having clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Still, he was every bit as effective on the game’s first drive when the Eagles starters were in the game, rushing six times for 46 yards.
“He’s terrific,” coach Mike Martz said. “He looks like a great runner to me.”
Jackson’s play helped the Rams (7-8) ease quarterback Marc Bulger back into the mix after he had missed two games with a bruised right shoulder. St. Louis rushed for a season-best 209 yards on 44 carries, with Faulk contributing 54.
While Bulger was out, instead of taking the burden off backup Chris Chandler by emphasizing ball control, the Rams went the other way and totaled 88 yards rushing on 31 attempts in a pair of losses.
Since the move to St. Louis in 1995, the Rams are 39-0 when they have a 100-yard rusher. That includes four games this year.
“I don’t call the plays, so I don’t know,” Bulger said. “But when you’re getting 6, 7, 8 yards a play, why change?”
Against the Eagles, the Rams’ opening 10-play drive was all running. The 11th play was a run, too, before Bulger completed a 12-yard pass to Torry Holt near the end of the first quarter to break the streak.
“You keep completing them, you keep throwing them, you keep moving the chains running you keep handing it off,” Martz said. “It wasn’t that hard to do.”
Jackson said after the game that he should be ready for the season finale against the Jets on Sunday, but he missed a game two weeks ago with a similar injury. He underwent an MRI exam on Tuesday that revealed a soft-tissue bruise, but that also showed what Martz described as “significant healing” of Jackson’s earlier injury.
Martz said Jackson “probably” would be ready for the finale, but he said it was prudent to see how Jackson feels on Thursday when the team resumes practicing.
“This stuff changes over the course of a few days,” Martz said. “So I think it’s better for everybody if we just wait.”
Both injuries are believed to have been caused by the rock-hard artificial turf in the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams have a more forgiving FieldTurf surface at their practice facility and would like to have that type of field installed at the dome.
“It’s just a shame that you have to have guys that make all this kind of money, that are such great athletes, playing on a horrible surface like that,” Martz said. “It’s just awful, It’s disgraceful, really.”
After both injuries, Jackson said it was like taking two hits on the same play, one from the tackler and the second from the field.
“The turf is pretty bad,” Jackson said.
On the season, Jackson has 644 yards rushing and a 5.2-yard average compared with 759 yards and a 4.0-yard average for Faulk.