Perhaps Rams coach Jeff Fisher has a special set of glasses. Because after two tough losses, and with an offense that ranks dead last in the NFL, Fisher says he sees improvement from his 1-2 squad.
“We have room for improvement, but I’m seeing improvement,” Fisher said. “We’ve got a lot of games left. We have a huge challenge the next couple of weeks before the bye ... but I have complete confidence in the young group in this room.”
Next up, the Rams play back-to-back road games against perhaps the NFC’s top two squads so far this season — Arizona and Green Bay. Arizona has won 15 of its last 18 at home. After beating Kansas City on Monday night, Green Bay has won 10 in a row at home.
So how does Fisher avoid thinking: “Geez, we’re going to be 1-4 entering the bye”?
“They’ve got to play us as well,” Fisher said, referring to the Cardinals and Packers. “That’s how we look at it.”
From the outside, it all looks and sounds depressingly familiar. Another slow start, another season where the Rams could be out of playoff contention before the first frost. Call him delusional if you will, but Fisher isn’t thinking that way.
With that in mind, he endorsed the viewpoint of quarterback Nick Foles, who said after the 12-6 loss to Pittsburgh: “We’re 1-2. The world’s not ending. We will figure it out.”
“I think he’s got a real legitimate perspective of where we are as a football team right now,” Fisher said. “We are a few plays away from being 3-0. We make a couple of plays last week, and make a couple plays (Sunday) — 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 know? If you look at it the way we’re looking at it, then there’s optimism. And there’s — I’m not saying hope — but there’s confidence that this team’s going to get better.”
Those aren’t exactly the words Rams Nation wants to hear right now. After Fisher inherited a 2-14 squad and took it to 7-8-1 in his inaugural season here in 2012, a fan base agitated on multiple levels has grown weary of waiting for this team to turn the corner.
With the exception of a bad half against Washington, the Rams’ defense has held up its end of the bargain. The Rams limited Pittsburgh’s top-ranked offense to 259 yards, moving up to a tie for ninth (with San Diego) in total defense.
But the lack of production on offense is dragging the team down. Two weeks ago at Washington, the Rams gained only 213 yards, the sixth-lowest total for a Fisher-coached team in St. Louis.
Things didn’t get much better against Pittsburgh. The offense’s 258-yard output was the 14th-worst in Fisher’s 51 games with the Rams.
As a result, the Rams rank 32nd in the league — or last — in total offense, averaging only 274.3 yards a game. After scoring 34 points in the opening-day victory against Seattle, they have managed only 16 points total in the losses to Washington and Pittsburgh.
A major reason for the offensive free-fall has been third-down conversions. Or lack thereof. The Rams have converted only four of 22 third downs in their last two games, after going six for 11 against the Seahawks. Fisher said there is no common thread in the third-down struggles.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of not getting proper depth on routes, such as the 7-yard completion to tight end Jared Cook on a third-and-10 play late in the third quarter Sunday.
Sometimes it’s a matter of Foles properly identifying whether he’s facing man or zone coverage in his pre-snap reads, which affects where he’s going with the ball.
“We had some opportunities there (against Pittsburgh),” Fisher said. “He’s seen it. We’ve discussed it, and we’ll improve upon it.”
With a new quarterback, a new coordinator, three new starters on the line and a highly touted rookie running back coming off a college knee injury, it figured to be tough sledding offensively early in the season. Even Fisher anticipated that might be the case to a degree. What he didn’t anticipate was the almost total lack of points the past two Sundays.
Even with the 34-point day against Seattle, the Rams have scored more points than only four other teams so far this season, with 50.
“It’s not broken,” Fisher said. “It’s working. I thought this team improved over the Washington effort. It’s not reflected in the win-loss column.”
Fisher said the offensive line continues to show improvement.
“Greg (Robinson) played one of his better games; we really like what we saw out of Greg in the game,” Fisher said. “Rob (Havenstein)’s doing fine out there. We had a couple minor communication issues out there.
“JB (Jamon Brown) is doing fine. Rodger (Saffold)’s fine now with shoulder. And I thought Timmy (Barnes) played well.”
But at the same time, even Fisher conceded: “It’s hard to say a player plays well on offense when you score six points.”
Or your running game continues to be stuck in neutral.
The Rams ranked 27th in rushing offense entering the Pittsburgh game, averaging 71.5 yards a game. After the Pittsburgh game, they ranked 29th after gaining ... 71 yards against the Steelers. That’s not the kind of consistency you’re looking for.
“We were close,” Fisher said after reviewing game film. “Todd (Gurley) was like six carries for nine yards. He could have very well had 50 or 60 yards in those six carries, he was that close.
“A block here, press the hole here, a block there. Or maybe it’s just a slight formation change. And all of a sudden the back’s in the second level or the third level.”
Fisher said Gurley came out of the Pittsburgh game feeling good physically.
“There’s a possibility he’ll get more reps (versus Arizona),” Fisher said.
And what of dry-docked wide receiver Brian Quick, who has been on the game-day inactive list all three games in 2015?
“There’s a chance that he’ll be up this week,” Fisher said. “We’ll see how the week goes.’