Fisher Focused on Second Quarter Corrections

Posted Oct 15, 2012

In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s disappointing near-miss loss to Miami, most Rams including coach Jeff Fisher pointed to the little things that added up to result in the three-point loss.

Given 24 hours and a chance to go through the game film with a more meticulous look, Fisher saw something that was not so little that made a big difference.

“When you lose a close game by a field goal, there’s little things that contribute and there were some little things,” Fisher said. “But to me, there was also a big thing that contributed to this loss and that was the second quarter.”

After a strong start in which the Rams jumped out to a 6-0 lead on two field goals from rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein, things began to unravel in the second frame.

The big issue of a poor second quarter performance in which Miami outscored them 10-0 was actually the accumulation of many of the little things – penalties, turnovers, mis-reads – that normally plague a team in a loss. The problem was that those little things bunched up into one short timeframe and became something larger. 

“In the second quarter, we had seven penalties, missed two field goals and turned the ball (over) inside our territory on the 25-yard line,” Fisher said. “So we were lucky to get away with (giving up) 10 points in the second quarter.”

While all teams (rightfully) put an emphasis on finishing strong in the fourth quarter, the reality of the NFL is that you can’t afford to have a let down in any of the four quarters because the league is unforgiving of mistakes.

The young Rams found that out the hard way on Sunday in Miami as they punished the Dolphins in nearly every statistical category of weight.

They outgained the Dolphins 462 to 192 in total yards. They posted 22 first downs to Miami’s 12. They held the ball for nearly seven more minutes.

“The statistics reflect a well played game on both sides of the ball but we have to be very careful to walk down the hall thinking things are OK just because the statistics are so skewed in our favor,” Fisher said. “They are not if we don’t start scoring touchdowns. That’s got to be the emphasis and just continuing to work on the little things. It’s coach speak but it’s true, there are little things that need to be corrected and need to be avoided.”

But none of that mattered because of those little errors that added up to a calamitous quarter. The Rams lost the turnover battle on Brit Miller’s costly fumble combined with an inability to come up with a takeaway of their own. They also committed 12 penalties for 94 yards, a huge amount compared to Miami’s five flags for 40 yards.
Misdiagnosing plays was another little thing that came back to haunt the Rams. Fisher cited rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins’ getting caught looking in the backfield on Miami receiver Marlon Moore’s 29-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter as a harmful example.

“When you are playing a close game, you don’t guess on a route and that’s kind of what happened with Jenks,” Fisher said. “Sometimes he guesses right but he thought he saw something and the guy ran right by him. You put together a great defensive effort and you say ‘How could we have done better?’ That’s certainly how you do better. I’m not singling him out per se but in a close game you can’t allow those things to happen.”

As the Rams prepare for a Green Bay team coming in on the heels of a dominant performance against previously undefeated Houston, Fisher said he and the staff will take a long look at all that went wrong in those 15 minutes to ensure that things don’t continue to snowball as they did before halftime in Miami. 

“That’s definitely an area we are going to look at and get corrected and get fixed,” Fisher said. “It certainly wasn’t because of a lack of effort. One penalty or two might be questionable but at the end of the day, we let things slip in the second quarter and we couldn’t make the plays in the second half to regain it.”

FIELD POSITION PROBLEMS: While the Rams offense was rolling up 462 yards of total offense, the point production wasn’t there to match it. They all lamented the inability to score touchdowns in the post-game locker room and again on Monday afternoon.

But perhaps part of the explanation for the missed chances for touchdowns extends beyond the silly penalties and poor execution that have plagued the Rams this year.

Field position seemed to be a regular problem for the Rams against Miami as the average starting field position was their own 20 on their 10 possessions. That was a product of inability to get the return game going and a strong outing from Miami punter Brandon Fields.

“Their punter did a nice job, similar to what Johnny did against Arizona a couple times,” Fisher said. “Yeah, it’s a field position game. You are playing a good defense like that, it’s difficult.”

Having to travel a long field to score a touchdown increases the margin for error for an offense because it generally takes more plays to get down there. That means more chances for penalties and turnovers, as well.

It was no coincidence that the Rams’ lone touchdown of the day came on the drive they had their best field position of the game, starting at their 38-yard line.

Likewise, it was no surprise that Miami’s two touchdowns came on their two best starting spots, their 42 and their 38.

ZUERLEIN BOUNCING BACK: Zuerlein missed the first three field goals of his young career after hitting his first 15 attempts. Afterward, he said he felt like he might have come across the ball on some of them but Fisher said wind also played a part in the misses.

Either way, there’s nobody lacking for confidence in the powerful right leg of Zuerlein and everyone expects him to bounce back.

“He’s fine,” Fisher said. “He’s very mature. He’s going to get through it. He’s made a lot of kicks for us already. He’s going to continue to make kicks for us. It’s just difficult to be consistent 100 percent of the time.”

DEFENSE RISING: Don’t look now but the Rams defense has officially arrived in the top 10 in the NFL in both scoring defense and total defense.

Heading into Monday night’s Denver vs. San Diego matchup, the Rams sit fifth in the league in scoring defense (18.5 points per game allowed) and seventh in total defense (311.5 yards per game allowed).

Of course, that ascension has come against some defense-heavy teams and there are some explosive offenses in the offing with Green Bay, New England and San Francisco lurking.

“I’m pleased with where we are but we have a lot of work to do,” Fisher said. “Clearly over the next two weekends we have significant challenges. Ask me that question again after the next three games.”