Five Takeaways: Bye Week

Posted Oct 19, 2015

While the Rams did not have a contest on Sunday, there was plenty to get out of last week's three practice sessions -- including news on Rodger Saffold, and notes on QB Nick Foles and LB James Laurinaitis.

Though the Rams did not have a game on Sunday, they did hold a week of practices to self-scout and make corrections during their bye. Here are five takeaways from the sessions.

1) Replacing Saffold

Undoubtedly, the biggest news to come out of last week was the club placing Rodger Saffold on injured reserve as the offensive linemen underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Saffold, who had surgery to repair his left shoulder in the offseason, went down with a right shoulder injury in the preseason and then again in Week 5 against Green Bay.

Head coach Jeff Fisher said last week that much like 2014, Saffold was willing to try and play through the season with the injured shoulder. But Fisher added the team and medical staff eventually agreed that would not be the best idea.

“Inevitably it’s going to come out again, when we talk about the condition of his shoulder,” Fisher said. “So, we just felt like for career-wise and future-wise, it’s best to get it fixed.”

With Saffold out, veteran offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds will step in at right guard. If there was any silver lining about the unfortunate injury, it’s the timing. It occurred just prior to the bye week, giving the offensive line a chance to practice with its newest member.

“You’ve got to go back in there and get used to how you communicate and things like that,” center Tim Barnes said. “You’ve just got to get used to playing next to that other person. It helps that we’ve been able to get those extra practices in there and get used to it.”

Reynolds will have some significant shoes to fill as he steps in the role, but Fisher has said that he was pleased with the way the veteran played when pressed into action against the Packers.

“Garrett plugged right in,” Fisher said. “I was fine with the way he played. He was a settling factor and was cutting people downfield and finishing plays. Yeah, so I thought he was fine.”

2) The self-scouting process

With no opponent on the docket, the Rams spent their time correcting mistakes they had noticed in film study of the season’s first five weeks. It was a time for both the offense and defense to get in some good work just against themselves.

“Just being in the weight room, being in the film room, being out there, just getting some work in this week is huge for us to go back and self-scout on what we did,” quarterback Nick Foles said. “The good things and the things we need to improve on. It’s a good opportunity for us this week to get some work in.”

“Our coaches did a great job of self-scouting this past week,” wide receiver Stedman Bailey. “Just looking at things we could do better -- third down, first-and-second down. We got some pretty good work done this week, and we’re just looking forward to building from here.”

Linebacker James Laurinaitis echoed the sentiment from the defense’s perspective.

“You really self scout and you try to say, ‘What am I tipping off to the offense,’” Laurinaitis said. “Just like we look at their tendencies and what they tip to us, what are we tipping to them? [The bye week] allows you to do it.

“Five weeks isn’t a huge sample size,” Laurinaitis continued, “but it’s good enough to where can make some changes and continue to kind of look forward to what we’re going to change and how we can confuse some offenses.”

3) Developing consistency

Aside from the self-scouting, one of the offense’s common themes for the week was developing consistency -- from the quarterback on down.

“There’s some good and there’s some stuff we need to improve on,” Foles said. “Whether it be my play or just us moving the ball. Too many mental errors, too many just errors. It’s the ultimate team game in the sense, on offense everybody’s got to work together.”

One way players put in the effort of trying to improve was staying on the field after the conclusion of practice to work. That went for essentially every position group on the offense. While, for example, the line may not have been working directly with Foles for the extra sessions, the quarterback noted how much everyone was putting in.

“It’s what do you have to do to do a little more than you did before? How can I get a little bit better this week? How can I get a little bit better today?” Foles said. “You can see guys are doing that and that’s what we have to keep doing.”

4) A defensive identity

With the unit playing well over the last few games, Laurianitis said the defense has started to find an identity -- and that’s a boost as the team goes forward.

“I think what we’ve done really the last two weeks is we’ve played the run pretty well and we’re starting to realize what coverages -- without saying what they are -- what coverages that we do well, what blitzes,” Laurinaitis said. “If we keep confusing people, making them go to their second or third read, our D-line is going to get there more often than not.”

“I really like kind of the total understanding of the concepts we’re trying to do from, really, the whole back seven,” Laurinaitis added. “And those D-linemen can’t really disguise for us. So the whole back seven has really matured a lot.”

But even with the strong play, Laurinaitis said the defense still has one critical goal it has not yet fulfilled this season: Scoring on defense.

“We talk about it every single game, and we don’t just say it to be positive. We say it because it’s really a goal of ours,” Laurinaitis said. “When you score defensively, it really changes the whole game. It’s hard to overcome it. And we have the ability to do it. And so we’ll keep harping on it, and keep practicing it, and make sure that when guys do get interceptions or fumble recoveries in practice, that we actually do take it to the end zone and score.”

5) Season records can be deceiving

The Rams now have three of their next four games in St. Louis -- and those three home matchups are against teams with a record under .500. But as Laurinaitis said, those records can sometimes be a bit deceiving.

“I’m not a big fan of the whole ‘on paper’ thing,” Laurinaitis said. “I’ve done the on-paper, light part of the schedule too many times in my career early here. I know any given Sunday, you can get a team’s best.”

St. Louis’ next opponent, Cleveland, may come to town on Oct. 25 with a 2-4 record, but it’s a team that just picked off the Broncos’ Peyton Manning three times, narrowly losing the contest in overtime. And in Week 5, the Browns upset the Ravens on the road in OT.

“They just fought in a division game on the road. I know how hard that is, to win a division game on the road,” Laurinaitis said. “And I know the AFC North is no joke. So for them to go on the road and beat Baltimore there is really impressive.”

That attitude is a positive sign in terms of how the Rams should be prepared to take on whoever is coming next, irrespective of the club’s record.