How Steven Jackson Gives the Falcons the Most Dangerous Offense in the NFL

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMay 31, 2013

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 23: Running back Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams takes a moment before play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers December 23, 2012 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

If there was a prevailing theme in the 2013 offseason, it's that the rich got richer. For the Atlanta Falcons, that meant adding a running back whose versatility makes an already potent offense potentially the NFL's most dangerous.

That running back is Steven Jackson, who joined the Falcons in free agency after spending his first nine NFL seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

In the last eight of those seasons, Jackson gained over 1,000 yards on the ground, and in seven of those seasons Jackson topped four yards a carry.

The Falcons signed Jackson to bolster a rushing attack that ranked 21st in the National Football League in 2012, but Jackson's ability goes far beyond just banging the rock between the tackles.

Over the past several seasons Jackson has been one of the top receiving backs in the National Football League, and as head coach Mike Smith recently told D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jackson's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield gives the Falcons another weapon in an already loaded arsenal.

“He’s a big strong running back that catches the ball extremely well. He creates issues for defenses. He’s just another weapon that we have in our offensive arsenal. He’s a guy who had close to 100 catches in a season, so he’s a guy that we can use in the passing game. He’s not just a running back, he’s a receiving back as well.”

That dual-threat in the backfield will be greatly appreciated by quarterback Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense in a number of ways.

First, of course, there's the upgrade that Jackson provides over Michael Turner at running back.

As you can see from the chart, in three of the past five seasons Steven Jackson has out-gained Michael Turner in total yardage. Given that Turner gained more yardage on the ground in three of those years, the flipped script is entirely attributable to the fact that Jackson gained over 1,300 more yards through the air than Turner over that span.

That's not even taking into account Jackson's 2006 campaign, in which he caught an eye-popping 90 passes.

Granted, no active running back in the NFL has more career carries than Jackson's 2,395. However, Jackson appears the have held up better under a heavy workload than Turner, perhaps because Turner accrued over 300 carries in three of the past four seasons.

Jackson's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will also have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the Atlanta offense.

In Julio Jones and Roddy White, the Falcons have the best duo of outside receivers in the National Football League. Their ability to draw coverage away from the middle of the field was a big part of the reason that tight end Tony Gonzalez topped 90 catches and 900 yards last year at age 36.

Sure, the fact that Gonzalez is quite the possibly the greatest tight end in NFL history doesn't hurt. Neither does all the open real estate that having Jones and White on the field affords Gonzo.

Throw Jackson into that mix and things get downright ridiculous.

Now Matt Ryan has two elite wide receivers, an all-world tight end, and one of the league's best receiving backs at his base formations.GA

Odds are pretty good that at least one member of that quartet is going to be wide open with alarming regularity.

Jackson's arrival could even affect the amount of time that Ryan has to deliver the football. Granted, Jackson isn't known as a great pass blocker (according to Pro Football Focus he ranked among the 10 worst backs in the NFL in that regard from 2009-2011), but his presence creates a dilemma for defensive coordinators.

If they send the blitz, then given all the targets available to Ryan, someone is going to be wide open. Even if they aren't, Ryan now has one of the best check-down backs in the league at his disposal in Jackson.

If they don't blitz, and just sit back in a soft zone, then Ryan will pick them to pieces. You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't. It's a no-win situation.

Assuming everyone stays healthy, opposing defenses are going to face a lot of those no-win situations in 2013. The Falcons' defensive deficiencies may be held aloft as the reason why Atlanta isn't the NFC's leading Super Bowl contender (an honor that must pundits appear ready to bestow on one of two teams in the NFC West), but there's one thing that's rather hard to argue.

The Atlanta Falcons are absolutely a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, and that's because an offense that was already plenty scary now arguably has more firepower than any in the NFL.

Welcome aboard, Mr. Jackson.




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