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Jackson Coming On In Third-Down Role


RB Brandon Jackson posted a career-high 65 yards receiving on six catches in the Packers' 30-24 win over San Francisco in Week 11.

Green Bay's offense has been one of the best in the NFL at converting third downs this season, and running back Brandon Jackson has played a part in that, especially of late, catching the football and protecting the quarterback.

After posting just two receptions for 21 yards in his first four games this season, Jackson's production has made a jump the last three contests with nine receptions for 80 yards during the Packers' three-game winning streak.

Eight of Jackson's 11 catches this season have come on third down, tied for third most on the team, and he has picked up 84 yards on those receptions (10.5 avg.).

"I think Brandon has done an outstanding job for us," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "I think he has made plays when he has had opportunities, and I think he has made the most of his opportunities. I think he has been outstanding on third down protecting the quarterback.

"I think he certainly with his preparation has gotten better day in and day out, and I think he is playing with an extremely high level of confidence."

Jackson's third season got off to an inauspicious start when he sustained a high ankle sprain in Green Bay's third preseason game, at Arizona on Aug. 28. The injury, one that he called the most severe ankle injury he had ever battled, forced him to miss the first four games of the season.

DeShawn Wynn, who had taken over the third-down role in Jackson's absence, sustained a season-ending knee injury in a practice leading up to the Week 5 game vs. Detroit, so Jackson resumed his third-down duties against the Lions. With the Packers down to just two healthy running backs, the team re-signed Ahman Green, who posted six 1,000-yard seasons in his first stint with the Packers from 2000-06, on Oct. 21.

Jackson said he had talked to Green a few times over the years since they both played their college ball at Nebraska, and that he viewed the team's acquisition of the veteran back as just a challenge to step up his performance and preparation.

"You only really have but two options," Bennett said. "You compete and you get better, or you don't and you don't be successful. I think the type of character that (Brandon) has, he is a competitor. He jumped in there and he competed and he has gotten better. His tape shows that, and we have to continue to do that though.

"Every day we are working to get better. There is no short road. It's one of those situations where you have to have tremendous work ethic, which he does, and what you generally put in, that's what you usually get out of it. He's a hard worker and he is going above and beyond and he's been successful because of that."

Green began to take more of the reps as Ryan Grant's backup beginning in Week 8 vs. Minnesota, and again the next week at Tampa Bay when he posted a season-high 45 yards on six carries. But Green sustained a groin injury during a Nov. 19 practice, and has been sidelined for the past two games.

With Green out vs. San Francisco in Week 11, Jackson made the best of his most significant opportunity this season as he posted a career-high 65 receiving yards on six receptions, which matched his career best.

Jackson's afternoon included four receptions of 10-plus yards, a career high, including a pair of 16-yard gains. The first, a screen pass, converted a 3rd-and-11 on a drive that was eventually capped off with an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, and the second, a short pass over the middle, came with under a minute remaining in the first half down to the San Francisco 25-yard line. That reception helped set up a Mason Crosby 27-yard field goal as time expired.

"He has been doing a phenomenal job," Grant said. "Brandon has been playing at such a high level on third down and when he has been getting opportunities to run the ball. You couldn't ask for anything more, from picking up blitzes to converting third-down runs, catches, really he has been a spark.

"The guys on the sideline have been playing off of it, the offense. He has converted a bunch of third downs and has some really big plays for us that have set up touchdown drives."

{sportsad300}Jackson's chances to run the football have been limited with 23 carries for 69 yards (3.0 avg.) in seven games, but he did post an 8-yard run on the Packers' final drive against the 49ers to help the offense run out the clock, and made a nice cutback move to pick up 5 yards on a toss on 3rd-and-2 on Green Bay's opening drive last Thursday at Detroit.

"I just want to do whatever I can do to help get the first down or a touchdown or just keep the drive going," Jackson said. "It just feels good to be that guy that can come in and help give the team a spark and get us going."

As important as his contributions with the football have been the past three contests, his performance as a pass protector has been just as noticeable. Green Bay ranks No. 5 in the NFL this season with a 45.7 percent conversion rate on third down, including 26-of-49 (53.1 percent) over the last three games.

"He really takes his role very seriously and I like what he has done," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He is very active in there in the pass protection. He's very good on the blitz pickup, No. 1, but you watch some tapes and he's delivered a couple of literal knockout blows on those chips."

Jackson said that with the time off he and the rest of the team received last weekend following the win at Detroit on Thanksgiving, his ankle feels the best it has felt since he suffered the injury. While his return to health should no doubt help him down the stretch, Bennett says that isn't the only difference he has noticed in Jackson.

"Anytime you're healthy, that helps," Bennett said. "As you know in this day and age, it's rare that you are healthy for a complete 16-game season. Has he gotten better since having the ankle problem in training camp? Certainly. But I think more than anything it is his confidence, his preparation, and I think he's playing with an attitude. He's playing with a chip on his shoulder."

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