Are Rodgers and Snelling Adequate Fill-Ins or Stealing Steven Jackson's Job?

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterSeptember 28, 2013

Sep 15, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) runs with the ball for a touchdown with defense by St. Louis Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree (52) in the first quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson hasn’t spoken to the media since he injured his hamstring in Week 2 against the St. Louis Rams. But we have two pieces of information about the timetable for his return, even without a conversation with Jackson.

A source told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure that Jackson could still be out two to three more weeks. With the New England Patriots, the New York Jets and a Week 6 bye coming up on the Falcons' schedule, the 30-year-old running back might not see game action until Oct. 20 when Atlanta hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In addition to the ESPN report, Jackson gave more insight to when he would return. No, he didn’t break team rules and talk to the media, he wrote a blog post on his personal blog.

I'm still new, and I've only really been able to participate in one game, so I have a lot of pressure on myself. I want to come in and make a huge impression on this team and on this city. So I've just been really focused on getting back healthy, and once I'm back on the field, being an impact player.

But I have to be patient. That's just part of being mature as a player. I know my body, and I have to make sure that I'm right. I don't want to come back too soon, and just be an average guy on the football field. When I come back, I want to be 100 percent healthy and be the dynamic running back who can catch the ball, run between the tackles and do all the things that I've done.

I have to make sure that I'm ready for the latter part of the season more than anything. That's what I'm focused on, and that's what I remind myself as I'm rehabbing daily.

Jackson’s approach to getting back on the field is much different that of his teammate, wide receiver Roddy White. Jackson wants to be 100 percent before he returns, while White has pushed to get onto the field as soon as possible after the preseason ankle injury he suffered on Aug. 15 in Baltimore against the Baltimore Ravens.

Why are the two able to take such different return strategies?

Both are integral parts to the Atlanta offense, but the depth behind Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling, is a much-needed security blanket for the team.

When Rodgers and Snelling stepped in last week against the Miami Dolphins, they carried the ball a combined 29 times for 139 yards. Rodgers led the way with 18 carries for 86 yards, while Snelling added 53 yards on 11 carries. They both averaged a whopping 4.8 yards per carry. Snelling even caught four passes and scored a touchdown through the air, and Rodgers had two receptions.

Take the duo’s six catches and a score and add it to their 139 yards on the ground, and the Falcons running game didn’t miss a beat sans Jackson.

But let’s not hand Jackson his pink slip just yet.

Jackson has enjoyed such a history of success. With eight consecutive 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons, he has more than shown he can succeed in the NFL.

Rodgers, on the other hand, has never carried the ball more than 94 times in a season during his two-year tenure in Atlanta. In 35 games, he’s averaged 3.7 yards per carry and only carried the ball 10 or more times on six occasions during his pro career.

Rodgers' sample size as a featured back is small and checkered.

Snelling has been in Atlanta since 2007. Other than a short period of time in 2009 when Michael Turner was injured, his time in Atlanta has been as a backup and occasional fill-in running back. His body of work over seven seasons contains 332 rushing attempts and a four-yards-per-carry average.

Snelling only has 10 games in seven seasons where he’s carried the ball 10 times or more. In those games, he has a 4.3 yards-per-carry average and six touchdowns.

Snelling has 149 career receptions and Rodgers 81. They are both more than capable of catching passes out of the backfield. But neither is as complete a package as Jackson is.

When Rodgers and Snelling combined for 139 yards against Miami, it gave the Falcons and Jackson the feeling that Jackson could take his time getting back. Miami’s run defense is ranked 18th in the NFL. Over the next few weeks, Atlanta faces the 24th-ranked Patriots run defense, the sixth-ranked Jets run defense and the 16th-ranked Tampa Bay run defense.

That’s a nice cushion of less-than-stellar run defenses for Rodgers and Snelling to exploit.

After Week 7 (Jackson’s anticipated return date), Atlanta faces five top-12 run defenses, and only twice in its final 10 games does it face a team in the bottom third of the NFL rankings.

Getting Jackson back for that 10-game stretch is important to the Falcons. He is a far more explosive running back, and his big-play ability opens up opportunities for the Atlanta offense.

If the Miami game is a true indicator, Snelling and Rodgers offer Jackson a much-needed security net for Jackson to rehab his hamstring at his own pace. But he does need to get to 100 percent quickly. He’ll be needed for the Falcons' stretch run.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.