Rams Improve in Areas of Emphasis

Posted Nov 12, 2012

Given nearly 24 hours to digest Sunday’s wild contest at San Francisco with the anti-climactic finish, Rams coach Jeff Fisher joined his team in expressing disappointment with letting a winnable game slip away.

Fisher also allowed himself a little bit more of an opportunity to focus on the many positives that came from a game that was nothing short of maddening.

“I’m disappointed,” Fisher said. “You set out to win every game. I guess you don’t feel as bad as you would had you lost the game but we had opportunities to win it. If we get the kick off on time or make a play or getting lined up in the appropriate formation, we had opportunities to win this game. At the end we saw improvement against one of the top teams in our division so we just have to take it from there.”

Make no mistake, the Rams are painfully aware of the golden opportunity they had to knock off a legitimate Super Bowl contender (and primary favorite for the NFC West Division) on the road and how unsatisfactory it was to let that slip through their grasp.

But given a little time to calm down and cool off from the emotionally draining 75-minute contest, the Rams gained plenty of perspective upon watching the game film from Sunday’s game.

In looking at that film, the Rams didn’t have to search deep to find some good things to take away from it, things that they can use moving forward to better help them finish eminently winnable games such as Sunday’s off.

Of course, to find those positives, the Rams also had to put themselves through the painstaking process of watching and re-living the type of game that makes you want to pull your hair out again. 

“It was frustrating,” receiver Danny Amendola, who probably had more right to be annoyed by the film than anyone, said. “I felt like we made a lot of good plays. At the same time, we left a lot of things out there but we felt like we should have won the game a couple of times. We just didn’t execute in some cases. I felt like since it was a tie, we look at taking the positives out of it and going from there. I felt like we came together as a team. We fought hard for a long time and it’s a testament to what type of guys we have in the locker room.”

For Fisher, the biggest positive for his team came in some key categories, areas that were the most scrutinized and focused on during the Rams’ bye last week.

Upon returning from a loss to New England in London, Fisher made it clear he wanted his team to be better at finishing drives with touchdowns on offense, creating turnovers on defense and improving on third down on both sides of the ball.
That led to two weeks full of emphasis in which the Rams spent extra time on red zone drills, coaches constantly yelled for defensive players to swipe and strip at ball carriers even if plays were over and third downs were prominent reps in practice.

Not coincidentally, the Rams saw solid gains in each of those areas this week against the Niners. That’s the first thing Fisher noticed in watching the film.

“When you are playing a good overall football team like we played and you’re able to improve in those areas, there’s some positives to be taken from this game,” Fisher said. “Third down offensively was much better. We protected the football offensively. We knocked three balls loose and had a fourth one on the ground. We didn’t recover any but at least we are getting them out. Defensively, our third down defense was better. Overall, we were able to get some results out of things that we emphasized. And of course last week our emphasis was to prepare ourselves for a very physical football game and we did and we hung in there.”

On offense, the Rams scored three touchdowns, the most they’d posted in a game since week 2 against Washington. On defense, the Rams did get three balls knocked out and though they didn’t recover any, that’s more forced fumbles than they had all season entering the game.

On third down, the Rams were seven-of-16 for a 44 percent conversion rate on offense and the defense held San Francisco to 2-of-11.

Against a top-notch team such as the Niners, the Rams hope those improvements are a harbinger of things to come.

“This was a different game in that it was on the road and there were a lot of different types of challenges but I think I can look the team in the eye and say we took a step forward,” Fisher said. “Overall, I am pleased with those things we emphasized to them during the bye week and the results we got from them.”

In addition to those positives, the Rams also will have a new set of things to work on and emphasize as they prepare for the Jets this week. Namely, penalties, an area that continues to be a thorn in their side.

Penalties have been a regular problem for the Rams this season, especially in the past few weeks but never have they had more of an adverse effect on them than they did on Sunday.

And it wasn’t just the delay of game on a potential game winning field goal or the illegal formation that brought back an 80-yard catch and run by Amendola. The Rams were flagged 13 times for 85 yards and regularly found themselves trying to overcome their own miscues and one of the league’s toughest defenses, a difficult combination.

“We’re not there yet,” Fisher said. “You can’t afford to have illegal formation in a game like that and those kind of things and the false starts and things like that.”

Even in those negatives, for every close game that goes down to the wire this young team plays, there are important lessons to be learned.

Running back Steven Jackson believes his team is starting to become the type of team nobody is going to want to play in the second half of the season.

“This young team has a lot of talent,” Jackson said. “We have a good coaching staff and this team is going to be a very good team and this team is going to be something to deal with the rest of the season.”

If nothing else was gained from Sunday’s game, not least of which includes no actual outcome, the Rams did come up with a stirring response to their worst performance of the season in London.

Fisher said then he was curious to see how his team would fare the next time out. He got a resounding answer as his group jumped to a 14-0 lead, lost it, got it back and continued to battle through the avalanche of penalties and miscues.

That effort against a good team didn’t necessarily ease the sting of not claiming a game that was there to be won but it did at least give the Rams some peace of mind that things are going to be different moving forward.

“With a tie, you don’t know what the hell to do,” tackle Rodger Saffold said. “The biggest thing I can come back to is this is not the same old Rams, not by a long shot. If we got a tie last year we probably would have been jumping around high fiving.”