It’s only preseason. For some, this article can stop at that statement.
Steve Spagnuolo’s Rams had a preseason record of 10-2 from 2009-2011 and everyone knows how his tenure went in St. Louis.
Preseason doesn’t count, and it’s foolish to draw conclusions from four meaningless contests.
That said, Jeff Fisher’s Rams haven’t earned the benefit of doubt.
It’s not as if this team is a perennial contender that just needs to clean things up in preseason before flipping the switch in the regular season. Considering the Rams have a new quarterback, a new playbook, and a re-built offensive line, preseason is a measure of progress for the Rams.
There was a play in St. Louis’ 27-14 loss to Tennessee on Sunday night that was a microcosm of the Rams’ struggles through two preseason games. It occurred just five plays into the team’s opening offensive possession and resulted in points, just not for the Rams.
Nick Foles looked left and fired a pass field-side into the waiting arms of Titans cornerback Perrish Cox, who returned the gift 24 yards for a Tennessee touchdown. Catch that play at the 2:10 mark in the video below.
The passing concept the Rams used on the play was double slant, which is great versus Cover 2 because it allows the quarterback to make a quick read and gain an easy 5-7 yards. Usually the QB reads his receivers from inside out, meaning on this play Tavon Austin would be the primary receiver and Kenny Britt would be Foles’ second read.
At the snap, Tennessee linebacker Brian Orakpo faked a blitz before dropping into his zone. He initially turned his hips to trail tight end Lance Kendricks up the seam but instead double-teamed Austin in the slot. With Austin now bracketed by a defensive back and linebacker, Foles looked to his second read, which was Britt.
But Britt didn’t run a good route, never flashed in front of the cornerback and thus wasn’t in position to fight for the ball when Foles fired it his way. The result was a fairly easy pick-six for Cox as Tennessee took an early first quarter lead.
Some have scolded the Rams for not game planning more ahead of their first two preseason games, but the Rams aren’t even executing plays installed Day 1 of OTAs.
That’s the bigger problem.
Scripting the first 10 plays versus the Colts on Saturday may allow Foles and the offense to establish a rhythm early and build confidence. Putting Foles in the two or four-minute offense out of the gates may help too (the best I’ve seen Foles in training camp is when he’s executed the four-minute offense), so in that sense having more of a game plan could be beneficial.
But, the Rams still need to execute the basics.
For a team that wants to rely on its running game, it’s troubling that the Rams ran for less than 3.0 yards per carry on Sunday night. Pass protection has also been an issue for the first-team offensive line and Foles doesn’t look in sync with his receivers. Additionally, Foles shares the blame for Cox’s pick-six, as he didn’t show functional athleticism to re-set his feet and find another target.
The defense has had its fair share of issues as well.
Those issues include missed tackles and defenders taking themselves out of position when defending the run. But I’m less concerned about Gregg Williams’ ability to scheme and for his talented group of players to execute than I am with all the new faces to come together quickly on offense.
And that’s the thing: They have to come together quickly. This is Year 4 for Fisher in St. Louis. He and Les Snead deserve praise for rebuilding one of the worst rosters in football and turning it into a collection of talent that can compete.
But this is now Fisher’s group of players. It’s his guys. If we’re being fair, the new pieces on offense should be afforded the proper time to gel and develop cohesion. But with the defense presumably ready to take the next step and the fan base long overdue for a winner, nobody is going to show patience for Foles and Co. to come together as a unit.
The good news is that it’s only preseason. The games matter to some degree, but they don’t count.
If the Rams come out in their regular season dress rehearsal on Saturday and look sharp against the Colts, the Tennessee game won’t seem to matter.
In hindsight, maybe the Rams were just fatigued after traveling from Oakland to Oxnard, then back to St. Louis for one practice before heading to Nashville. Perhaps we witnessed a team running on fumes.
That said, it’s time for the Rams to have some form of tangible success. While the preseason doesn’t count, the regular season will be here before everyone knows it.
It’s time for the Rams to put to rest their most basic concerns.