ST. LOUIS — Key offensive tackle Rodger Saffold suffered a shoulder injury that will cost him at least one more preseason game. Isaiah Pead fumbled his first carry, top draft pick Tavon Austin missed the only pass thrown his way and new tight end Jared Cook didn’t touch the ball.
All in all, the Rams did little in their 29-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night to justify the rapidly rising expectations about the coming season.
But this was just a preseason game, and the first one at that. Don’t jump off the bandwagon yet.
“If expectations are affected based on the production or lack of production in the first preseason game, my recommendation would be just be patient,” coach Jeff Fisher said at his day-after postmortem with the media Friday afternoon.
While the lackluster performance doesn’t deserve to be over-analyzed, the left shoulder injury suffered by Saffold is a reason for real concern. Saffold is switching from left to right tackle and needs all the reps he can get with the first unit.
Though Saffold still was undergoing tests Friday afternoon, Fisher said he expects the big lineman at least to miss next Saturday’s home exhibition against the Packers. Saffold dislocated his left shoulder when he fell awkwardly on the second play of the game, but the team “got it right in place” on the sideline, Fisher said.
“It’s very sore and in these instances there’s going to be some swelling and some pain,” Fisher said. “You have to work through that and then re-strengthen it. You want to make sure the integrity of the joint is OK and based on all indications, it is. So we’re lucky.”
Saffold’s replacement, Joe Barksdale, earned solid reviews for his work, but the Rams need their offensive line to be at its best to give quarterback Sam Bradford a fair chance. Missing a couple of weeks won’t help Saffold in his transition to a new position.
“It will be a setback, but I don’t think it’s going to hurt him,” Fisher said. “We’ll get him back as soon as we can.”
Fisher also put a positive spin on what he admitted was a mistake-filled effort by the Rams.
“There’s a lot of things to learn from,” Fisher said. “As coaches, you’d rather have it that way than the other way where you play a perfect game and you just move on to the next one.”
That Austin and Cook did not get more involved in the offense wasn’t a mistake, but merely a circumstances that comes with preseason games. When the first-team offense is on the field for barely a quarter, not everyone will see the ball.
“When you play your starters 12 to 15 to 18 plays, it’s hard to get everybody a couple of targets and/or catches and still hand the ball off,” Fisher said. “It’s just wishful thinking.”
Fisher admitted, however, that Austin could have made more of the one ball that went his way, which sailed through his hands.
“(It would have been) a tough catch, but it’s a great throw and he should have made that catch,” Fisher said.
Other takeaways from Fisher:
* Travis Benjamin’s 91-yard punt return TD that gave Cleveland a 17-0 lead was mainly a result of a poor effort from punter Johnny Hekker.
“If you go that long with no hang time, it’s gotta go out of bounds,” Fisher said. “(Johnny) comes back (on another punt) with a 5.0 hang time and a 50-yard punt and you saw what happened. Was a catch and immediate tackle.”
* Fisher said he was satisfied with the performance of the first-team offense, which got a second-quarter TD pass from Bradford to Chris Givens. Bradford and Givens also connected on a 20-yard third-down play that impressed Fisher. “There’s eight guys and gaps overload (from) blitzing and Sam hung in there and made the play,” Fisher said.
* The Browns rushed so many defenders at times that the Rams weren’t able to send out as many receivers as Fisher would have liked. “We’re keeping people in because they’re bringing people from all over,” Fisher said. “(Backup Austin Davis) has only got a couple of options down the field. As a result, there’s an aborted play here and there. At the end of the day, you want to keep your quarterback from getting hit in the preseason.”
* Fisher said he also was pleased with how Pead responded after losing the ball on his first carry. “He shook it off and ran well considering the opportunities he had,” Fisher said. “He found daylight slightly off the point of attack on a trap, which is a very instinctive move for a young runner. That was good to see.”
* The Rams had driven to the Cleveland 44-yard line when the game ended. If they had scored a touchdown, Fisher said he would have gone for a two-point conversion and tried to tie the game.
“Of course,” he said. “You play these games to try to win. Two points at least gets you in overtime and you get to keep playing your young players.”
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.