Gordon: Rams have much to prove this week
• BY JEFF GORDON
Tuesday August 20th
Jeff Fisher and his assistant coaches have considerable work to do this week out at Rams Park.
NFL coaches typically use Week 3 to do some heavy preseason lifting. They give many starters their most extensive exhibition duty before covering them with bubble wrap.
They see this week as their last chance to play their veterans as a group to prepare them for the real games. The final preseason game is dedicated to seasoning the back-ups some and evaluating the candidates for the last few roster slots plus the practice squad.
Since the Rams got very little done against Green Bay on Saturday night at Denver, their “to do” list is quite extensive. Here goes:
• Start blocking and tackling. Let’s start with the most basic elements of football. Fisher inherited a team that played soft on both sides of the ball. The Rams didn’t block or tackle well in the latter days of the tragi-comic Steve Spagnuolo Era. They made strides in both fundamental areas last season, but they have lost plenty of battles during this preseason. The folks at Pro Football Focus documented eight missed tackles by Rams starters against the Packers. That is beyond unacceptable.
• Improve their offensive line play. The Rams are still alternating Chris Williams and Shelley Smith at right guard. Smith didn’t advance his case Saturday night against the Packers, so this position remains questionable. The Rams seldom moved the pile against Green Bay while rushing for just 52 yards on 22 carries. They moved blockers around with the second and third units, looking to assess the versatility of job candidates. That was a factor in their play. Also, Packers loaded up their defensive box. They were more dedicated to stopping the run and they did. But it would be nice to see the line open a few more holes before the real action begins.
• Improve their secondary play. Fisher stresses run support and strong one-on-one tackling with his defensive backs. So he was disappointed to see Darian Stewart and Trumaine Johnson lead the whiff parade against the Packers. Yes, the Rams ran vanilla defensive schemes against Green Bay. But that is no excuse for failing to finish off tackles.
• Clean up their offensive execution. Illegal formation penalties, a muffed snap by Bradford, poor red zone execution, utter incompetence on third and fourth downs . . . it was as if the Rams decided to stage a tribute to Spagnuolo on Saturday. In the old days, coaches addressed such sloppiness with corporal punishment. Fisher looked eager to whack somebody with a 2 by 4 Saturday night. But in today’s NFL, all coaches can do is express their disappointment and get back to work on the practice field.
• Salvage Isaiah Pead. Green Bay youngster Eddie Lacy pounded away at the Rams defense for 40 yards on eight carries, showing great promise as a power runner. Pead was not as impressive, rushing for just 19 yards on 11 carries. Other than his one 11-yard gain – which nearly broke for a huge gain -- Pead basically ran into the wall. Poor blocking and defensive congestion played a role in that failure, but let’s not forget that Steven Jackson remained productive playing behind assorted drifters and draft busts for much of his career here.
• Upgrade the back-up quarterback play. The drop-off from Bradford to Austin Davis and Kellen Clemens is staggering. Thank goodness acerbic Cleveland Browns analyst Bernie Kosar wasn’t on hand to see Clemens complete as many passes to the Packers (two) Saturday night as he completed to his own team. His passer rater was, to quote Dean Wormer, "zero point zero." The Packers blitzed him to death, but that is what happens in real games. Davis managed a garbage TD pass to Nick Johnson in the final minute of play, but that hardly left fans less fretful. What fate would befall the Rams should Bradford go down? This week Davis gets another crack at earning the No. 2 role ahead of the more seasoned Clemens. Let's see if he does something with it.
Overall, the Rams have done little to alleviate concerns about their perceived shortcomings. Their running backs remain unproven. They are still learning how to execute the re-imagined offensive scheme.
Offensive line depth remains a sore subject. Their quarterback depth remains suspect.
All of that puts more focus on the game at Denver. Once again the Rams will face another quality team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Will they check off everything on their list? Or will they remain a sketchy work in progress as the second season of the Fisher Era nears?