Barnett, Pickett Know Plenty About Jackson

As Green Bay prepares to face St. Louis and running back Steven Jackson this week, two members of the Packers’ defense don’t need to watch a whole lot of film to know how good the Rams’ backfield star is. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Rams Game Center Notebook: Packers Prepared For Blitzes Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Dec. 14

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Packers LB Nick Barnett tries to prevent Rams RB Steven Jackson from scoring a touchdown in last season's match-up at Lambeau Field.

As Green Bay prepares to face St. Louis and running back Steven Jackson this week, two members of the Packers' defense don't need to watch a whole lot of film to know how good the Rams' backfield star is.

Middle linebacker Nick Barnett and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett have been on Jackson's team before - Barnett in college at Oregon State and Pickett with the Rams prior to joining the Packers in 2006 - and they witnessed many of the 6-foot-2, 231-pound Jackson's talents perhaps before most of the rest of the pro football world did.

"We were always on opposite teams in the spring game," Barnett said, recalling their days together in Corvallis, Ore. "I remember one time he made a play on me on the goal-line with a stiff arm, so ever since then, we just went down and chopped his legs out."

That's a good strategy, according to Pickett, as long as you can catch up to him.

"That's a horse, man, Steven is good," Pickett said. "You look at him, as big as he is, he shouldn't be as fast as he is.

"I was watching the Atlanta game (in Week 13), and he broke out of the pack, and everybody had angles on him. The defensive backs were running at him, and he just pulled away from them, even with the angles. The boy is fast. You'd never think he's that fast."

That game against the Falcons two weeks ago was Jackson's best this year, with 167 yards from scrimmage. He had 20 rushes for 96 yards and four receptions for 71 more in an effective display of his all-around skills.

His combination of power, speed, hands and moves is tough to come by, and Jackson made the Pro Bowl last year with 2,334 yards from scrimmage (1,528 rushing, 806 receiving) and 16 touchdowns. Though this season's statistics don't measure up to that (719 yards rushing, 222 receiving, four TDs), he did miss four games earlier in the year due to a groin injury.

But he's been full strength the past five weeks and has averaged 89 yards rushing per game in that span, though he has not topped 100 yards since Week 3, before he got hurt. That's a streak the Packers' defense, which has allowed only one 100-yard rusher this season, hopes to continue.

"Everybody is playing well and everybody is doing their job," Pickett said of the stout run defense, which is ranked 12th in the league. "Just looking at our stats, everybody's tackles and stuff are down this year, and we're like, 'Man, why are our numbers down?'

"Then we looked and we saw we weren't playing many plays per game. We're stopping people on first and second down, and getting them out on third, and the less plays they have, the less opportunities they have to rush for 100."

Indeed, in arguably the Packers' two strongest defensive performances of the season, they haven't been on the field much. Against Minnesota on Nov. 11, the Vikings ran just 44 offensive plays, and Adrian Peterson was held to 45 yards rushing in a 34-0 shutout.

Then last week against Oakland, the Raiders had only 51 plays and Justin Fargas rushed for just 57 yards in another blowout, 38-7.

Peterson is the only back to top 100 yards against the Packers this year, with 112 on 12 carries in the first meeting with the Vikings back on Sept. 30. Since then, only two backs have really come close to the century mark - Carolina's DeShaun Foster (20 carries, 87 yards on Nov. 18) and Detroit's Kevin Jones (20-93, Nov. 22).

"I think the biggest key for us is just consistency, being able to be responsible for our gaps and not allow an open lane," Barnett said. "That's all it is, everybody being responsible for doing their job."

Barnett concedes the matchup this week with Jackson poses a huge challenge, but it has special meaning as well to see his college teammate on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

{sportsad300}Back in 2003, Barnett was the first Oregon State player drafted in the first round in 40 years, since the Los Angeles Rams selected quarterback Terry Baker first overall in 1963. Then Jackson became another first-round pick from Oregon State the following year.

Barnett said he still keeps in touch with Jackson occasionally, and he said the two will definitely talk after the game to catch up on things.

"Just that we're able to come from Oregon State and both have pretty good careers so far, it really means a lot," Barnett said. "Especially from Oregon State, we get overlooked a lot as one of the smaller schools in the Pac-10."

Barnett and Jackson have gone head-to-head twice before as pros. In 2004, Jackson's rookie year, he had 40 yards rushing and 35 receiving in a 45-17 Green Bay win. Then last year, Jackson posted 98 yards rushing and 20 receiving in a 23-20 St. Louis victory.

"He's made a lot of plays against us," Barnett said. "One time he gave me a good move and then I came back and got him back about four plays later. It's just fun. We're definitely competing against each other and we're going to go out there and we're going to play hard."

Hard enough for the Packers to hold him under 100? Jackson has been knocking on that door with 92, 90, 96 and 91 rushing yards his past four games.

"We always look at that every week, and we definitely don't want anybody to get over 100 yards," Pickett said. "That's our goal.

"I think this will be our biggest challenge. We're going to have to go out there and play our 'A' game to stop him."

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