ST. LOUIS – Rams fans hoped the arrival of new coach Jeff Fisher, a nice draft class, the return of several injured players and a few key free agent signings would mean a more competitive group and improvement on their 2-14 season a year ago.
But a day after losing 38-3 in their preseason opener to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, Fisher may have brought back some ugly flashbacks to the Steve Spagnuolo era when he singled out rookie punter Johnny Hekker as the most impressive player.
In a game that looked far too similar to several last year, the Rams had just 215 yards of total offense and allowed a 63-yard touchdown pass on their first defensive play of the game. The defense allowed a touchdown in each of the four quarters and only stopped the Colts on four of 15 third down conversion attempts.
“I don’t think there were many tears on the airplane coming home yesterday,” Fisher said Monday. “What you want to see is you want to see them play hard and they did. We’ve got to play better. Believe me, we’re not ready for Detroit yet, and we will get better.
“You want to win the games, but yeah, the preseason is to get ready for the regular season. It’s to fine tune and prepare and get them to a level where you’re ready to compete when the season starts. When we look at it from that perspective, yeah, we saw some good things.”
The average fan likely had trouble finding positives from a 35-point loss that left the Rams as one of only five teams yet to score an offensive touchdown in the preseason. But after re-watching the game Sunday night when the team returned to St. Louis, Fisher and the coaching staff were able to locate some positives.
Among the things Fisher liked was the play of quarterback Sam Bradford, who completed 7-of-9 passed for 57 yards, and running back Steven Jackson, who had four rushes for 17 yards.
Rookie wide receiver Brian Quick, the Rams’ first pick of the second round at No. 33 overall, had just one catch for nine yards – but Fisher pointed out that it was a tough catch on third down to move the chains and keep a drive alive.
And then there was Hekker, the undrafted rookie punter out of Oregon State who had two punts that went for 110 yards, including an impressive 67-yard boomer.
“Our punter hit the ball in the first half about as good as you can hit it,” Fisher said. “Both of those punts were try to put it on the boundary and he did. That ball was about 67 yards or something, net and gross. That’s a huge change in field position. From that stand point he probably gets the game ball.”
But with the good also came plenty of bad. Fisher and the Rams coaches had plenty to be disappointed about from Sunday’s effort against the Colts, including the defense for giving up 430 yards of offense and allowing them to convert 11 of 15 third-down conversions.
The Rams converted just 5-of-13 chances on third down and committed a false start on third down that halted their opening drive of the game. They had just 68 rushing yards and 147 passing yards.
Rookie running back Isaiah Pead showed flashes while rushing for 33 yards on 10 carries but lost a fumble while in open space and fumbled a handoff from Bradford before the Rams eventually recovered it back.
“We didn’t finish,” Fisher said. “We didn’t finish drives. I didn’t like the third down efficiency and our inability to finish drives and get points. Out of fairness to the players, we might have handcuffed them a little bit because we didn’t have an awful lot of stuff in.”
Asked about the vanilla game plan for the preseason opener, Fisher said, “Yeah, you go in (basic) the first week. Now we build, we typically will build, we will have significantly more things to do on both sides of the ball this coming weekend than what we did yesterday.”
Fisher confirmed Monday that the starting right tackle has yet to be decided with both Barry Richardson and Jason Smith in the mix. Richardson played three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs before being released while Smith, the Rams’ No. 2 overall pick in 2009, struggled at left tackle and was moved to the right side.
“We’ve opened it to competition,” Fisher said. “We’re going to alternate them back and forth, see how they do. I think they’ve both played pretty well. I thought they both played physical and both (were) active.”
One of the few positives from Sunday’s game was that nobody got injured, which Fisher said, “was a huge plus for us, and we’ll get some guys back this week.”
The Rams will host the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at the Edward Jones Dome in their home preseason debut. And they hope to show improvement from Sunday’s lackluster performance.
“We’re going to learn from this,” Fisher said. “We’re going to correct the mistakes and we’re going to move on. Even in a losing effort yesterday afternoon in a preseason game, we got a little bit better because we got a chance to go out and compete against somebody else. And we did some good things and that’s the big picture, ‘Are you getting better?’ And we did. And we have to continue to do so.”