If ever a game plan called for a busy workload for St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, it would seem to be Sunday's contest at Denver. Only the lowly Buffalo Bills have yielded more yards on the ground than the Broncos.
Denver has been particularly vulnerable recently: In three of its last four games, it's been gashed by a 100-plus-yard rusher. On Monday night, San Diego journeyman Mike Tolbert rambled for a career-high 111 yards in a 35-14 Chargers victory that dropped the Broncos to 3-7.
If that weren't reason enough, there also is this: Jackson is itching for action after getting just 11 carries in last Sunday's 34-17 loss to Atlanta.
"I shouldn't feel this fresh," Jackson said. "I think over the years, we've seen that I play better as the game goes on."
Since taking over for Marshall Faulk in 2005 as the club's marquee back, Jackson has had 11 or fewer carries in a game only five times. The Rams dropped all five, by a combined score of 134-59.
Jackson hasn't had a gigantic game this season, but he's usually been steady and is poised for a nice day tomorrow in Denver.
Marshall Faulk rushed for 1,319 yards and caught 86 passes in 1998.
Edgerrin James followed that the next two years in Indianapolis by averaging 1,631 yards on the ground and scoring a total of 35 touchdowns.
Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians had an up-close look at both of those running backs during his brief time on the Colts' coaching staff a decade ago. He gets flashbacks when he sees Rashard Mendenhall.
"He is a good combination of both those guys," Arians said. "He has that kind of skill set. There is no doubt he can do what those two did."
It's an understatement that the Steelers have high hopes for Mendenhall in his third year. Despite his rookie year being limited to 19 carries and his second year marred with a benching because of a lack of attention to detail, Mendenhall is the player the Steelers are relying on in the running game.
They decided not to re-sign Willie Parker in the offseason and didn't bring in veteran running backs to compete with Mendenhall.
There was a reason for that.
The Steelers expect Mendenhall to do everything this year, meaning he will rarely come off the field.
"My goal is staying out there until I can't," Mendenhall said. "That's my role."
In this era of the running back by committee, the Steelers are looking in a different direction when it comes to Mendenhall.
"He is such an explosive player that you just don't take those guys off the field," Arians said.
Arians plans to use Mendenhall much more than the 242 carries and 1,108 yards he totaled last year. He expects to utilize Mendenhall more out of the backfield as a receiver as well. Mendenhall caught 25 passes a season ago and found the end zone eight times.
Mendenhall is expected to be the third-down back, the goal-line back and possibly the short-yardage guy, too.
Mendenhall is a top ten back in both our regular rankings and our PPR rankings, and in some drafts, he might not be taken in the first round (his current ADP is 13). If you are drafting late in the first round, he's a good guy to get. If you can take him in the second round, he will offer exceptional value.
"The game has evolved a little bit, thanks to Marshall Faulk , and Brian Westbrook and even Brian Mitchell with the Redskins," said Maurice Drew. "The position [running back] is more about touches now than carries. Guys may not get those 330 to 400 carries, but I may get 330 to 350 touches. It's about catching ball, too, being versatile out of the backfield, get out in space and make plays. That's what we're doing here."