Rams still last in offense, but Jeff Fisher sees improvement
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin reaches with the ball as he is brought down during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) The Los Angeles Rams are moving the ball better. Now they need to turn that production into touchdowns.
The Rams had a season-high 345 yards of total offense Sunday, but scored only one touchdown from four trips into the red zone in their 30-19 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Coach Jeff Fisher was left alternating between defending his offense and being dismayed with a unit still ranked last overall in the NFL – the same spot it occupied last season.
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''You can take the 32nd in the league and write all you want about it,'' Fisher said. ''But this offense is improving.''
Fisher started his Monday press conference highlighting statistics including rushing attempts and time of possession, calling it a ''formula for winning.'' But when asked about the offense's inability to score touchdowns inside its opponents' 20-yard line, Fisher pointed to how far the Rams had to go on third down against the Bills.
A false start penalty against guard Roger Saffold resulted in a third-and-13 on the game's opening drive, while the Rams faced third-and-goal from the 13 in the fourth quarter. Both drives ended in field goals by Greg Zuerlein.
Zuerlein has converted all nine of his attempts so far, showing terrific improvement after only making 20 of 30 field goals last season. Still, Fisher would like to redistribute Zuerlein's work load.
''If we need him at the end, we have confidence in him to make that kick, but I'd much rather see him kick extra points,'' Fisher said.
That could happen Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
The Lions have allowed at least 324 yards in each of their first five games. Opponents have scored touchdowns on 81.25 percent of red-zone possessions, the worst mark in the NFL. That is the kind of defensive generosity the Rams will need to exploit to remove themselves from the bottom of rankings in yards and points per game.
''We're going to have to have a 500-, 600-yard game to jump into the middle of the pack, so it's going to take some time, but to me the wins are going to offset that,'' Fisher said. ''We're getting better on third down. We made some plays on third down. We had nine explosive plays against a really good defense, 23 first downs.''
If the offense does not improve, the calls to play No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff will increase. Fisher said the former California quarterback is seeing reps in practice during the week and also running the scout team. A three-game winning streak had pushed questions about Goff's development into the background.
''He picks up what we are doing,'' Fisher said. ''He is improving and has learned a lot. With each passing week he is getting better.''
If the Rams find themselves with a substantial lead in the fourth quarter or on the wrong end of a blowout, Fisher said he would give Goff playing time. Sean Mannion, now the third-string quarterback behind Goff, completed 6 of 7 passes in a 31-7 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie last season.
NOTES: CB Trumaine Johnson is still undergoing tests after injuring his ankle in the fourth quarter against the Bills, Fisher said. … G Cody Wichmann did not suffer a high ankle sprain against the Bills, but will likely to be questionable to play against the Lions, Fisher said. … Defensive linemen Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers and William Hayes are ''day-to-day,'' Fisher said. Quinn (shoulder), Brockers (hip) and Hayes (ankle) were not active against the Bills.
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