Sep 8, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Daryl Richardson (26) runs for a first down against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
By Howard Balzer for KSDK Sports
When the decision was made for running back Steven Jackson to become an unrestricted free agent in March and eventually sign with the Atlanta Falcons - this week's Rams opponent - one of the major factors was the Rams' plan to move forward with essentially a running back by committee rather than relying on a bellcow back.
Jackson wanted to be the bellcow, and that wasn't going to happen in St. Louis. As free agency began, Jackson had strict instructions for his agent. He said in a conference all Wednesday, "I went away on one of my safari runs and I just got away from it all. I put the criteria together as a list. I was telling my agent, 'If teams are not looking at using me to the way I wanted to be used, don't even interrupt my vacation.'"
Now, as the Rams prepare to travel to Atlanta Sunday, they will do so perhaps without a bellcow back, but with one that got all but one rushing attempt in Sunday's win over Arizona.
Daryl Richardson had 20 rushes, which is more than Jackson averaged per game in 2012 when he had 257 attempts (16.1 per game). Rookie Zac Stacy had one rush, the only one not by Richardson, who left the game for a few plays when he suffered a minor foot injury. Last season, Jackson had just four games with 20 or more rushing attempts.
In addition, Richardson had five receptions Sunday for a total of 25 touches. Jackson had three games with 25 combined touches in 2012 and averaged 18.4 per game.
Asked after the game if the plan was to get the ball to Stacy more, coach Jeff Fisher said, "You want to try to do that, but sometimes the game just goes that way. You got a three-and-out, and then you come back and if you get a long drive, you're better able to get him in. One of those other things you talk about improving, we've got to work on the run game. It's a stout defense, but we're going to have to run the ball a bit better as well."
Certainly a factor last Sunday was the absence of Isaiah Pead, who wasn't available because of a one-game league suspension. He is back on the roster this week. When asked if Pead will play Sunday against Atlanta, coach Jeff Fisher said, "We'll see."
However, the team's depth chart has Pead back in the No. 2 spot behind Richardson. Pead received a significant number of reps with the first unit Wednesday as Richardson didn't practice because of the injury. Fisher said he would practice Thursday, saying he just needed "some rest."
It's safe to assume there will be more of a rotation at the position with Pead reinstated. Richardson had just 63 yards against the Cardinals, but he did a good job of working to get positive yardage even when there wasn't much room to run.
Despite the modest yardage total, quarterback Sam Bradford said Richardson played well.
"I thought Daryl did great," Bradford said. "Like I said, I think they threw a lot of different looks at us. I think he showed that he has matured a lot since last year, both in his ability to run the football and to pick up blitzes. I'm extremely proud of him and I'm excited for what this year is going to be for him."
On Wednesday, Bradford referenced the maturity of both Richardson and Pead, reflecting back on when Jackson left the franchise. Throughout last season, Bradford advocated for Jackson's return, saying he couldn't imagine the team and the locker room without him.
Bradford said, "It was definitely a little different around here those first couple weeks without him here. I think the biggest thing was last week or a couple weeks ago when we were playing Baltimore in the preseason, turning on the film and actually seeing him in the Falcons jersey - that was really weird to see that. (The Falcons played the Ravens on Aug. 15). I think it's a credit to the guys in this locker room and especially the guys in the running back position, I think that they've really stepped up. They've matured a lot and they've helped fill that void."
Jackson's reaction was similar to Bradford. When asked if it felt strange putting on a Falcons uniform for the first time, he said, "Actually, it didn't feel different until I actually saw it on film. When you actually look at it and you see yourself in red and black instead of the blue and gold, it was quite different then."
Meanwhile, the Rams defense has to deal with Jackson as well as the passing attack led by quarterback Matt Ryan. They will have their hands full.
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis acknowledged the "huge challenge" of facing Jackson: "He looked sharp, showing that ability to break big runs (he had a 50-yarder against New Orleans Sunday). It will definitely be weird going against him. But I told the young guys, 'Tackle low.' It will be a whole new beast trying to tackle him, different than it ever was in practice. It's one thing when it's thud in practice. It's a whole 'nother thing when you to have get him down and take him to the ground."
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan said, "He's going to be amped. I told James, 'Watch it, he's coming after you.'"
Told of Finnegan's comments, Laurinaitis said, "Tell 31, that after all the times he gave it to Jackson in practice, he's coming after you. When he's snorting, getting to the next level, that's something you don't want to have to deal with."
Howard Balzer will be contributing to KSDK Sports throughout the 2013 season. Howard hosts PrimeTime Monday-Friday from 6-8 pm on CBS Sports 920, and Pro Football Sunday pre- and post-game shows on 590 the Man. He is also a host on SiriusXM NFL radio and one of 44 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.