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To a man, Rams see progress where others don’t on offense

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The Sports Xchange

EARTH CITY, Mo. — St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has coached a lot of games in the National Football League (335 including playoffs to be exact) and he has been through it all. So, very little fazes him.

When his team struggles, as the 1-2 Rams are, especially on offense, fans want Fisher to rant and rave and not engage in coach-speak. However, he is no different than most coaches who believe an even keel is the best way to get through to players.

So it was that when Fisher was asked the day after Sunday’s 12-6 loss to the Steelers how he stays so calm, he said, “I’m seeing improvement. We have room for improvement, but I’m seeing improvement. We’ve got a lot of games left. We have huge challenges the next couple of weeks before the bye, with Arizona playing as good as anybody in the league right now. So we’re going to go out there and see if we can find a way to win it. But I have complete confidence in the young group in this room. They’re practicing well. They’re getting better.”

Fans see the same ‘ol Rams, while Fisher sees progress, even if the offense is ranked last in the league in total yards, and 29th rushing and passing. The Rams have scored a total of 16 points in the last two games, but still had opportunities to tie the game against Washington in the fourth quarter and several chances to go ahead of Pittsburgh.

While outsiders question the wisdom of entering games with such a young offensive line, Fisher sees the group growing together. Left tackle Greg Robinson entered the season with 12 career starts, center Tim Barnes had four, while left guard Jamon Brown and right tackle Rob Havenstein are rookies. The veteran in the group is right guard Rodger Saffold, who played four snaps in the preseason at left guard before flipping sides with Brown.

Said Fisher, “Greg played one of his better games (against Pittsburgh). Really like what we saw out of Greg in the game. The offensive linemen, in my opinion from a pass-protection standpoint and a run-game standpoint, they’ve improved. Rob is doing fine out there. We had a couple minor communication issues out there. JB (Brown) is doing fine. They’re just getting better. Sometimes this takes time. Rodger is fine now with his shoulder. I thought Timmy played well. It’s hard to say a player plays well on offense when you score six points, but when you look at the individual efforts, I thought Timmy got his job done.”

First-year offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti said, “I tell you what, the linemen, you’re seeing tremendous progress. What you’re seeing is every week, they’re gaining experience, which is invaluable for young players. When we put the tape on, you can just see the progress. We talk to our guys about, ‘Hey, we’re close.’ Let’s do the little things out here, in the meeting room and on the practice field, that we’re not saying we’re close again. That we’re closing that gap and we’re scoring points and we’re winning football games.”

In addition to Cignetti and the young line, running back Todd Gurley is a rookie coming off a torn ACL, running back Tre Mason missed time with a hamstring injury, and quarterback Nick Foles is with a new team.

Said Foles, “Sometimes there’s growing pains. I’ve gone through this before.”

Of Gurley just missing some big runs, Foles said, “That comes. That’s a rookie’s first game. You get all of the anxiety out. He’s not a real rookie because I’m with him every day – he’s a mature kid. He doesn’t run like a rookie. He runs like a guy who is sure of himself and knows who he is as a player. He’s coming off of an injury as well and he’s playing his first game in the NFL, so I know there’s a lot of nerves, but each and every day he comes out to practice and works his butt off. He looks great in practice and I know he’s going to show it on the field.”

While a certain amount of the offense was carried over from the last few seasons, Cignetti has also made some significant adjustments, while using different approaches.

Cignetti said, “We have a zone scheme. We have a man scheme. We have misdirection scheme. When you have a young group of guys, the accumulation of repetitions; you can see it starting to come. You can see the zone blocks on our front side getting better. You can see the cuts on the back side getting better. You can see that, wow, there’s progress. If we continue to make progress, we’ll get the production out of it.

“We talk about doing the little things better. The details are the difference between champions and near champions and we want to be champions. The details that we talk about are fundamentals, are techniques, maximizing scoring opportunities and minimizing things that either stop drives or keep you from scoring points.”

Concluded Fisher, when asked if he anticipated some early-season struggles, “Nick is new in the system. The system is new. I didn’t anticipate the issue with the lack of points in the last two weeks, but the potential was certainly there. I think he’s got a real legitimate perspective of where we are as a football team right now. We are a few plays away from being 3-0. We make a couple of plays last week and make a couple plays this past week; you have to approach it that way.

“You can’t go and say, ‘Hey, we’re a few plays away from being 0-3.’ You have to look at it that way. If you look at it the way we’re looking at it, then there’s optimism. There’s, I’m not saying hope, but there’s confidence that this team’s going to get better.”

SERIES HISTORY: 73rd regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead series, 36-34-2. Arizona has won three straight games in the series following a stretch where the Rams won three straight. In Arizona last season, the Cardinals won, 31-14.

GAME PLAN

–The Cardinals lead the NFL with 17 touchdowns, four on returns, so the Rams have to make them work for their points. Arizona has scored 126 points in three games and outscored their opponents by a combined total of 77 points. In their last two games, the count is 95-30. Somehow, the offense has to find a way to control the ball and keep it out of quarterback Carson Palmer’s hands. The Rams are last in the NFL with just 823 yards, while Arizona is ranked fifth in yards allowed with 899. On third down, the Rams are fourth-worst with a 30.3-percent conversion, while the Cardinals’ defense on third down ranks fourth at 31.0 percent. It will be a tall order trying to reverse those trends on the road.

Defensively, the Rams will be facing a quarterback that has been sacked once in three games, but they are tied for the league lead with New England with 13 sacks. The goal will be to limit the passing yards, which the Rams have been able to do despite an 81.6-percent completion rate against them. Palmer’s completions have averaged 14.3 yards, while the average against the Rams is a mere 8.6. Mostly, that’s because the feared Rams’ pass rush results in opposing quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly for short passes.


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