The return of running back Steven Jackson is just what the doctor ordered for the St. Louis Rams.

St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson has been out of action since suffering a groin tear after rushing for 115 yards on 30 carries Sept. 23 at Tampa Bay.

But he was expected to return for the Rams’ home game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the punchless, winless club.

Just how badly has Jackson been missed by the reeling Rams?

“You guys all know what he adds to the table for us,” embattled second-year Rams coach Scott Linehan said early in the week. “It gives us an explosive player on the field who can affect the game in a positive way with his ability to run the ball and catch it out of the backfield and his leadership.”

All three of those aspects have been sorely missed in recent weeks. But leadership may be the thing that’s lacking most with this Rams offense, which needs someone — anyone — to step forward and take charge.

Even a semi-healthy Jackson might be able to lead by example.

“My feeling is it’s (Jackson’s health) not 100 percent, but it’s close enough where it looked like he had the burst he needs to have,” Linehan said after watching his marquee back practice.

On Thursday, the day after Jackson’s first full practice in about four weeks, he said he felt fine. But Jackson cautioned he won’t know how healthy he really is — or how effective — until he tests himself in a real game.

Rams riddle

The Rams have failed to score a touchdown in each of their last two games. When was the last time the Rams played back-to-back games without scoring a touchdown? Answer below.

Happier days

The last time the Rams and Browns met was on Dec. 8, 2003, at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Rams beat the Browns 26-20, improving their record to 10-3 to clinch an NFC playoff berth.

Rams running back Marshall Faulk rushed 24 times for 102 yards for his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game. Kicker Jeff Wilkins made three of four field goals, placing him first on the Rams’ list for most field goals in one season (33).

And safety Aeneas Williams had two interceptions, returning one 46 yards for a score to tie Ken Houston for second place on the NFL’s all-time list of interceptions returned for touchdowns.

Tough road

Incredibly, the Rams have not scored an offensive touchdown on the road this season. In four away games, they have been outscored by a whopping 114-19.

Just in passing

Through seven games, the Rams have not scored a touchdown on the ground. All five of their offensive touchdowns this season have come through the air, with Torry Holt hauling in three of them.

Rams newcomers Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael caught the other two.

Replacement player

The Rams have signed street free agent Rob Petitti, an offensive tackle and former Dallas Cowboys draft selection, to fill the roster spot created when they released problem-plagued Claude Terrell earlier in the week.

The 6-foot-6, 327-pound Petitti started all 16 games for Dallas in 2005 and played every offensive snap as a rookie. He was claimed by New Orleans off waivers prior to the start of the 2006 regular season but appeared in only one game for the Saints last year.

Pro Bowl punter?

Donnie Jones has posted Pro Bowl punting numbers so far this season. He is first in the NFC and second in the NFL with a 50.5 punting average, and he is second in the NFC, third in the NFL, with his 42.1 net punting average. Jones trails only Denver’s Todd Sauerbrun in punting average, by less than a yard, but has more than twice as many punts as Sauerbrun.

At Seattle, Jones punted six times for a 52.3-yard average and boomed a career long of 80 yards — the third-longest punt in Rams history and longest in the NFL this season. It surpassed his then-career long of 66 yards he set during Week 4 at Dallas.

Against Arizona in Week 5, Jones punted four times for a 56.0 average with a long of 60 yards. His 56.0-yard gross average was the best single-game average in franchise history, surpassing Jack Jacobs' 55.8-average at Detroit on Sept. 27, 1942.

Riddle result

The last time the Rams played back-to-back games without scoring a touchdown was Nov. 4 and Nov. 11, 1962, when they lost 12-3 to the Detroit Lions and 14-2 to the Baltimore Colts.

Hal Pilger can be reached at (217) 788-1548 or