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Should the Rams be worried about Steven Jackson?

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Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams runs with the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on November 14 2010 in San Francisco California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams runs with the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on November 14 2010 in San Francisco California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Don't be alarmed, yet, but St. Louis Rams RB Steven Jackson is having a rougher season than observers might have imagined. 

Jackson has started in all 9 of the Rams' game this season. Through that time, he has 192 carries for 757 yards and 3 TDs. As a receiver, he has 25 catches for 236 yards and 0 TDs. Not bad numbers. However, he's averaging 3.9 yards per carry, the lowest total of his career. In 2008, he averaged 4.1 YPC, rushing for over a 1,000 yards in 11 starts. 

Calculating Jackson's totals over a complete season, he's on pace for 1,345 yards, which would be his third highest total, less than last year's 1,400+ yards. More of a red flag for the Rams front office is Jackson's pace for total carries. Extrapolating his average attempts per game, 21.3, out over the rest of the season, Jackson is on pace for 341 attempts. That would be his second highest total. He had 346 carries in 2006, and then missed 4 games the next season with injury issues. 

He's on pace for 45 receptions (third highest total), 419 yards (second highest), and has an average YPC of 9.4, a number consistent with his best YPC totals through the years. 

That Jackson's rushing numbers have slowed from expectations as well as historical norms should concern fans and the team alike. In part, you can blame some weaknesses in run blocking this season, though Jackson's had to contend with lesser offensive lines than this one. FB Mike Karney is also having a down season, likely slowed by age and the physical nature of what he does. A renewed emphasis on the pass has changed the nature of the offense that used to only feature Jackson, but it's not as though Sam Bradford's passes are taking reps from Jackson.

The biggest concern is with Jackson himself and natural decline of players in his position who feature that physical style of running. Of course, he's been a one man show for the Rams offense over the years, which has accumulated in extra wear and tear. Injuries have kept Jackson off the field only once this season, when he left early with a groin injury in the Rams week 3 win over Washington. However, that groin injury bothered him for a few games following that one. He's had to contend with a broken hand since then as well. Neither injury has kept him on the bench, but they both raise big red flags about Jackson's health in the weeks ahead, not to mention the next season.

The most concerning sign of all might be the noticeable lack of lengthy runs Jackson has this season. He has just 4 runs of 20 yards or more. He had 12 in 15 games last season. Using more advanced stats, the Rams running game, i.e. Jackson, has an open field yardage number (runs 10 yards beyond the LOS) of just 0.54, the 23rd lowest in the league. Last season, that number was 0.88, the 11th ranked in the league.

It's premature to call it the end of Steven Jackson. What it does say is that there's a legitimate concern about his health for the rest of the season and, more so, next season. It's clear that GM Billy Devaney has to find a backup for Jackson; really, he needs to find a guy who can take away about 100-120 carries, making Jackson more effective and extended his career.