NFL Wire News

Rams look ahead with optimism at their bye


The Sports Xchange

EARTH CITY, Mo. — The gauntlet for the St. Louis Rams is over and despite some roller-coaster performances, they emerged from the first five games of the season with a 2-3 record, a mark that is shared by six other teams in the NFC. Only six teams have better records, and four of those are division leaders.

In the first five games, the Rams defeated division rivals Seattle and Arizona, while losing to Washington, Pittsburgh and Green Bay.

This week, as they experience their bye, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with a four-game stretch after the bye that features three games at home against Cleveland, San Francisco and Chicago, with a road game at Minnesota.

There is a lot to work on, along with a feeling of optimism that the final 11 games could begin to see a team capable of stacking wins together. Running back Todd Gurley totaled 305 yards in the two games before the bye and the defense allowed a total of just four touchdowns in the previous three games against the Steelers, Cardinals and Packers.

The obvious problem area is pass protection as well as an inability to convert third downs while not being productive enough on first and second down to avoid having too many third-down plays.

Against Green Bay, the Rams were 5-for-18 on third down, and quarterback Nick Foles completed 5-of-16 passes for 51 yards on third down with all four of his interceptions occurring on third-down plays.

Said head coach Jeff Fisher, “Our issues right now are related to the passing game and getting off to a quicker start. As we talked as a staff: it’s first-down offense, it’s second-down offense and it’s third-down offense. Like I’ve been saying, our first- and second-down offense has to get better. We need to get chunks, we need to create first downs and create opportunities. We were five-for-18 on third down in this game, and 18 third down attempts is not good. We have to bring that number down.”

Foles was hit early and often by Packers defenders, as Green Bay coaches in their tape review credited players with 14 quarterback hits and 14 pressures of Foles.

There was a certain degree of expectation there would be growing pains for an offensive line that featured two rookie starters, right tackle Rob Havenstein and left guard Jamon Brown, a center, Tim Barnes that had four career starts before the season, and a left tackle, Greg Robinson, who started 12 games last season as a rookie. Guard Rodger Saffold played just four snaps in the preseason after suffering a shoulder injury in the first summer game, and when he came back just before the start of the season, he flipped from left guard to the right side with Brown going from right to left guard.

That group opened the season having not played together as a unit at all in the preseason. Then, Saffold exited after the 17th play of the Green Bay game with another shoulder injury and Garrett Reynolds replaced him.

Asked if the line is where he thought they’d be at this point in the season, Fisher said, “They’re way ahead of where I thought they’d be in the run game. I think we have some work to do in the pass game. Just in subtle techniques. It’s not a matter of having mental errors and things like that. They know what to do. The group has to work together. When Garrett went in, it was kind of almost a settling factor in there. The guys almost seemed to settle down when Garrett went in there. That’s not a negative towards Rodger, but it just settled down for us, so we’ll see where it goes.”

Fisher concluded, as he talked about where the focus would be in bye-week practices, “It’s a body of work is what we’re looking at. Are there trends? That’s what we’re looking at right now. The trends are that we’re not making enough first downs on offense. Defense, we’re getting the turnovers. Offense, number-wise, we’re not giving up sacks, per se, but we’re giving up way too many hits on the quarterback, so those are things that we’re working on now.”

–The Rams are practicing three days during the bye week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before having the mandated three days off from Friday through Sunday.

Head coach Jeff Fisher said, “What you try to accomplish here is to get young guys some valuable reps during the bye week that haven’t really gotten the reps. The backups need the reps. A lot of the starters need some reps here the first couple of days, so we take advantage of that. We even include the practice-squad players with offense and defense, just to make sure that they’re ready at a moment’s notice. So, coaches got together and like I said, yesterday we looked at some things that we need to improve and we got a head start on it today. So, it was a modified practice, particularly because it’s Tuesday. But we’ll have two good sessions Wednesday and Thursday.”

–Fisher said the plan is to get the ball more to running back Tre Mason in the weeks ahead. In the last two games, running back Todd Gurley has played 81 of 124 snaps, while Mason was on the field for just seven. Gurley had 49 rushing attempts, including 30 against Green Bay, while Mason had just two in each game.

“We wanted to get Tre in more, it just didn’t happen,” Fisher said of the game against the Packers. “He will play more. I think 30 carries a game down the stretch is probably a little much for (Todd).”

However, in a back-handed way, Fisher acknowledged it’s hard to take Gurley out when he’s so productive. When asked if there is a “sweet spot” for how many attempts is optimal for Gurley, Fisher smiled and said, “No. 150 yards over the last two weeks is the sweet spot for me.”

In those last two games, of Gurley’s 49 runs for 305 yards, he has 239 yards on 28 attempts (8.5-yard average) combined in the second half.

Said Fisher, “In rushing offense, often times it takes a little (time) to adjust to what the defense is doing based on formations and motions and things like that. I thought our offensive staff did a really good job the last couple of weeks adjusting and then identifying the runs that had a chance.”

Notes: Offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds played right guard in the game against Green Bay when Rodger Saffold injured his shoulder. Reynolds played 52 of the 73 snaps. Head coach Jeff Fisher said of Reynolds, “Garrett did fine; (he) plugged right in. So, I was fine with the way he played. He was a settling factor and was cutting people downfield and finishing plays.” … Saffold is having a second opinion on the left shoulder and there has been no confirmation of reports that Saffold will miss extensive time, with the possibility he might not play again this season.

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