Last week, the Buccaneers’ top-ranked run defense gave up 149 yards to the Saints, their second-highest total allowed in 2012. Much of that yardage came on plays that stretched to the outside, the result of what Head Coach Greg Schiano called “perimeter support issues.”
Before that game, the Bucs had held five of their previous six opponents below 100 rushing yards. If they want to get back on that track Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, the issue likely is not going to be perimeter support again. This latest challenge is going to coming straight at them.
That challenge is veteran back Steven Jackson, one of the NFL’s most productive runners of the past decade. Jackson is 91 yards away from his eighth straight 1,000-yard season, and he hasn’t slowed much through the years.
“He’s a big dude,” said Buccaneers DT Roy Miller. “Big guys like that I think can last. I definitely have an appreciation for him. He’s a big guy who’s been running and running well. You watch the film and you see a lot of secondary [players] taking creative angles to get to him and missing with arm tackles. When you watch film, you have a lot of respect for players that are dominant like that.”
Jackson, in fact, runs 6-2 and 240 pounds and is more than willing to dish out the punishment. Miller thinks the Buccaneers’ own big men, in particular, have the responsibility of slowing him down, because that’s not an easy task for a 190-pound cornerback. Tampa Bay’s defense has been the league’s best at stopping ballcarriers in the backfield, and that’s going to be a necessity again this Sunday.
“You talk about a guy getting downhill and watching corners run away from a tackle – that’s what you see on film,” said Miller. “We have to do a good job as a front line just getting to him and trying to stop him for negative yards or just at the line.
Rookie Daryl Richardson has proved to be a very good complement to Jackson, rushing for 466 yards and an excellent 5.1 yards per carry. Richardson is a much smaller back than his veteran teammate, but that only serves to emphasize the power in Jackson’s game when the two alternate.
“Most certainly, it’s a big concern,” said Bucs Head Coach Greg Schiano. “Both of their running backs are dangerous. They’re different in stature, but wow; Steven Jackson is still as explosive a running back as there is in the National Football League so we have our hands full, that’s for sure.”