As he walked off the field following Saturday’s 19-7 loss to Green Bay, coach Jeff Fisher wasn’t impressed with his team’s performance.
By the time he met with reporters early Sunday afternoon, he had seen some, but not all, of the game film. The verdict?
Still no cartwheels. There were some individual performances that he liked. The punt coverage unit was much improved. Then again ...
“When you look at a game just from a win-loss perspective and what contributes to that, you’re minus in the takeaway-giveaway category, you convert one third down – you’ve got very little chance of being successful,” Fisher said.
You can talk all you want about being vanilla, and the opponent being more complex or doing more scheming. But sooner or later, it comes down to blocking and catching and tackling and avoiding penalties. And for the second week in a row, the Rams were lacking when it came to those basics of football.
As veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan aptly put it, “It’s very vanilla. But at the same time, we’ve gotta execute vanilla stuff. I think we’ve got to get back to basic football; as far as (on defense) it’s just making tackles and doing the right reads – myself included – and not having any miscues.”
The blocking has been pretty good in the 40 plays run by the starting offense over the first two preseason games. But it has broken down considerably once the backups took the field, a potential cause for concern when it comes to depth.
For the most part, Rams receivers did a better job catching the football against Green Bay than was the case a week earlier against Cleveland.
Once again, the tackling was slipshod, particularly in the secondary. Nickel back Trumaine Johnson whiffed on a couple of tackles in the early going Saturday, and he wasn’t the only culprit.
“We had one-on-one situations and you need to finish the play,” Fisher said. “I thought overall last year we were a good tackling defense and we’ve gotta do better than we did (Saturday).”
The Rams were minus-2 in takeaway-giveaway differential against Green Bay and are minus-5 for the preseason. Going one for 14 on third down conversions, as was the case Saturday, isn’t going to win many games.
“We killed ourselves with penalties,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “We were in third-and-18, third-and-15, it seemed like third-and-forever a lot of the night.”
With Bradford and the starting offense in the game, the Rams faced third-and-14, third-and-18, and third-and-23 situations. Once the backups took over, the Rams faced third-and-12 yards or longer five times.
Penalties factored into some of those down-and-distance holes. Included were three illegal formation penalties, an infraction usually called when the offensive tackle is lined up too far off the line of scrimmage. It’s an age-old ploy by tackles to get an extra split-second of time to block pass-rushers, but officiating crews are watching it, according to Fisher.
“There’s an emphasis on it this preseason,” he said. “It’s good that it came up. We’ll get it resolved. The players were frustrated at the process. Normally, if the tackle starts to get back a little bit, he’s warned. And then if you don’t adjust, then they’ll penalize it.”
Apparently, there were no warnings against Green Bay, just flags.
“But we can get those fixed,” Fisher said. “You’d like to see a little bit more consistency from crew to crew.”
“It needs to get better,” Fisher said. “I didn’t have a problem with the starters, that was fine.”
The play of Shelley Smith, who started at left guard?
“He was OK,” Fisher said.
Not much gushing going on here.
So Chris Williams continues to have the edge at left guard in that position battle. And Daryl Richardson lengthened his already considerable lead over Isaiah Pead as the team’s starting running back.
“We wanted to give Isaiah an opportunity to run behind the starting linemen against a good defense,” Fisher said. “We have a good feel for what Daryl can do, obviously.”
Pead was in for 24 snaps and touched the football every other play with 11 carries and one reception. Pead had an 11-yard run on the game’s first play — a play that might have gone for a huge gain had a receiver made a block. Pead made two tacklers miss on his only reception, a 10-yard gain on a swing pass for a first down. But not much happened on his 10 other touches.
Richardson, meanwhile, was in for only four plays. One resulted in a 24-yard reception. An 8-yard run was wiped out by a holding penalty on Tavon Austin, and a 14-yard reception was negated by an illegal formation flag.
“So Daryl’s in good shape as far as camp goes right now,” Fisher said.
And as far as the starting job goes.
In fairness to Pead and later, Benny Cunningham, running room was hard to find because Green Bay frequently stacked the box.
“Yeah, there were a lot of people on the line of scrimmage throughout the game,” Fisher said. “When we wanted to try to get the ball handed off to evaluate the young backs, it was difficult to do.”