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Rams’ 2014 Analysis: Fisher says Rams on the right track

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EARTH CITY, Mo. — It was 20 years ago that St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher had taken over as coach of the Houston Oilers prior to the franchise’s move to Tennessee, where they became the Titans.

As Fisher reflected on the team’s 6-10 record that dropped his three-year mark with the team to 20-27-1, he saw some similarities to the way he built that franchise.

In 1994, he was named interim coach of the Oilers when they were 2-14. He retained the job and led the team to a 7-9 record the next season. Coincidentally, the Rams were 2-14 in 2011 with Steve Spagnuolo as head coach, and Fisher was hired after that season. The next year, the Rams improved to 7-8-1.

From 1996-98, the Oilers/Titans were 8-8 each year, and there were those that wondered if they would ever take the next step. They did in 1999 with a 13-3 record and advanced to the Super Bowl where they lost to … the Rams. The Titans and Rams tied for the best accumulated regular-season record from 1999-2003 at 56-24 and each had one sub-.500 record in that stretch at 7-9.

“We see a lot of similarities with it,” Fisher said. “At that time, we committed to a quarterback (Steve McNair) and he had, not plenty, but he had experience. We had a running game and things just turned around real quick. This roster has got a chance to be real good. You look at the age and the years of experience in our secondary, for example, right now. This group’s going to be together for quite some time. This is a situation where anything can happen.”

After meeting with his players the day after the season finale, Fisher said, “I sensed a great deal of enthusiasm and energy. The guys left on a positive note, despite the record. They all put forth a tremendous effort this past year and I know they’re looking forward to coming back and changing things significantly. I mentioned to them that there’s nothing better than being out on the practice field on Wednesday after the regular season is over. So, that’s our focus and that’s our goal.”

To do that, the Rams have to figure out how to finish games, something they have not done consistently.

As quarterback Shaun Hill said, “The difference between 10-6 and 6-10 is a couple plays in four ballgames out of 16. And that’s a fact. That’s every year in the NFL.”

The Rams beat good teams when they won the turnover battle and didn’t allow return touchdowns. When they did, to a league-leading total of 10, they lost. In eight of their 10 losses, there was at least one return touchdown and most came in the second half and fourth quarter.

The Rams outscored their opponents 193-135 in the first half (95-42 in the first quarter), while being outscored in the second half, 219-131. That latter figure included 106-48 in the third quarter and 113-83 in the fourth.

Of the 10 touchdowns, eight were by the opposing defense. Most notably, nine of the 10 return touchdowns came in the second half with six (all by the defense) in the final quarter. Breaking it down further, 28.8 percent of their opponent’s second-half points came on return touchdowns and 31.9 percent of the fourth-quarter points allowed were on defensive returns.

The 10 return scores were the most in the league, and the teams with more than five were Jacksonville with six and Washington with seven.

As head coach Jeff Fisher understated, “It’s hard to overcome returns for touchdowns in close games.”

Overall, the Rams were tied for 19th in the NFL with a turnover ratio of minus-2 and their 27 turnovers were ninth worst. The Rams were 4-1 in games where they had a return touchdown.

Said Fisher, “It’s not new news; it’s just reality of the National Football League. It’s hard to overcome those kinds of things. There’s one team in the playoffs right now that is minus in takeaway/giveaway and that would be the Colts. Everybody else that’s minus is watching this weekend.”

As for an overview of a team that some view as having regressed after winning fewer games than the previous two seasons, Fisher concluded, “I think we’re better than a 6-10 team, I personally do. I think we’re moving in the right direction. I think that all the work we put in this offseason is going to contribute to the success we’re going to have in the future. You don’t like 6-10 seasons. I think we’re building, I know we’re building. We’re going to learn from a lot of the things that happened. We’re developing some young players that can make plays.

“I believe we made progress. I believe the record doesn’t reflect the way this team played.”


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