Saints vs. Falcons Keys To Victory: Stop Steven Jackson!

The Saints must break Matt Ryan's new toy. - Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

The highly anticipated season opener features two very dangerous aerial attacks. But recent history shows that the running game usually influences the end result.

Steven Jackson is a beast.

At 6-2, 240-pounds, Steven Jackson is one of the most physical runners in all of football. As a full time starter for 8 seasons in the sputtering Rams offense, Jackson has managed to put up eight straight 1,000 yard seasons while catching at least 38 passes every year. Considering how few weapons the Rams have had through most of Jackson's career, the 10th year running back out of Oregon State may be this era's Curtis Martin. He may not get the publicity and praise of some of the other running backs in the league, but Steven Jackson has been a dangerous player for years. When it comes to facing the Saints, #39 has had our number.

In five career games against the Saints, Jackson averages around 22 carries, 112 rushing yards (5.1 yards per carry), and a rushing TD per game. He also has around 5 catches and 32 receiving yards per game to add to that impressive rushing total. As a starting running back for the Rams, the Saints are 2-3 against him. He replaces the unemployed Michael Turner, who averaged 4.1 yards per carry in his career versus the Saints. The Saints were 6-3 against him as a Falcon.

While Jackson has found himself on a much better team, there is no guarantee that he will provide similar results. His rushing attempts and targets per game have dropped each of the last 4 years in an offense that was centered around him. Even in his lowest attempt per game season in 2012, Jackson still averaged 16 carries per game and averaged over 20 carries per game from 2006-2010. Usually, when a running back is used this much in today's NFL, we see a significant decline in production when the running back hits 30 years old. (Of course there are a few exceptions to this rule, let's hope Jackson isn't one of them). Steven Jackson turned 30 in July.

The Falcons were tied for 28th in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt (3.7) in 2012. While a lot of the blame could be pointed in the direction of an aging Michael Turner, it is no question that the run blocking by the Falcons' offensive line deserved plenty of ridicule. Not only did Turner fall short of 4 yards per carry last season, but backup running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling also failed to reach that number. Atlanta has attempted to fix that problem by moving Peter Konz to center, while sticking with 5th year man Garrett Reynolds at right guard, who played well while Konz was hurt in 2012. Second year man Lamar Holmes replaces Tyson Clabo at right tackle, a move that I consider a downgrade. Holmes has played one regular season game at the NFL level and could be a concern all season for the Falcons.

With all of that said, Steven Jackson still has the luxury of playing alongside one of the most dangerous receiving duos in football (Julio Jones and Roddy White) and a future Hall of Famer at tight end (Tony Gonzalez). There's obviously a lot for the Saints new 3-4 defense to worry about in week one. However, history tells us that if we win the running game war, then we have an excellent chance to win this game.

Since 2006, the Saints are an impressive 11-3 against our hated rival (6-1 at home, 5-2 on the road). In all three losses, the Falcons rushed for over 100 yards and/or outrushed the Saints. When the Falcons rush for over 100 yards, the Saints are 4-3. When the Saints hold the Falcons to under 100 yards rushing, the Saints are 7-0. I like our odds if we stop Steven Jackson on Sunday.

Another thing to mention is that the Saints are 7-0 when they outrush the Falcons. I believe that the Saints will need to commit to the running game early and often and not get lost in the temptation of chunking it 45 times. Besides, Atlanta's defense was 4th in rushing yards allowed per attempt in 2012, so there may be something to exploit there.

Unless Drew has another disastrous 5 interception game (not likely in my opinion), the Saints will keep up with Atlanta in the passing game. But who will win the war in the running game? If the Saints can contain Jackson and get the three headed rushing attack going, the Saints have an excellent shot to start the season 1-0 and put the Dirty Birds to rest in the Dome for the seventh time in eight seasons.

Get you some Roasted Falcon Coach Payton!

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