Leonard Fournette issued the challenge and turned himself into a one-man highlight last Sunday.
Fournette, Jacksonville’s excellent rookie running back, found himself with open space during a run, then motioned for Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell to come tackle him. Mitchell lowered his shoulder, Fournette braced for the hit and both players hit the ground after a hard but clean collision.
So, this is what the Rams will face Sunday in Jacksonville. Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, ranks second in the NFL with 466 yards, 61 more than the Rams’ Todd Gurley.
Fournette is coming off an extraordinary game against the Steelers, in which he rushed 28 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Fournette’s biggest play was a 90-yard touchdown run.
Listed at 6 feet, 228 pounds, Fournette is built like a speedy linebacker and doesn’t shy from contact, as the Steelers learned last week. Teammates were thrilled at Fournette’s moxie.
“It just shows what kind of team we are,” defensive lineman Malik Jackson told reporters in Jacksonville on Monday. “We’re a tough team. We like contact. We’re very physical. We want the issue to be brought to us so we can show people that we can stand up to it and overcome it.”
Fournette is the motor behind a Jaguars offense that has been surprisingly efficient. The Jaguars average 27.8 points per game, fifth-best in the NFL, even though their average of 324.8 yards per game is only 20th-best in the league. They, like the Rams, have improved their scoring dramatically in 2017.
Even quarterback Blake Bortles, who had his starting job threatened in training camp, has been solid. Bortles has completed 54.8 percent of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns in five games.
WHO’S COACHING THE JAGUARS?
Doug Marrone, in his first full season with Jacksonville, coached three current Rams (Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Nickell Robey-Coleman) during his previous stint as head coach in Buffalo.