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Rams' Focus Unchanged

Posted Aug 19, 2012

In the moments following a disappointing result in the preseason opener last week against Indianapolis, Rams coach Jeff Fisher was quick to insist that he’d be able to find plenty of good things on the tape despite a 35-point final deficit.

The next day, Fisher emphasized the importance of staying even keeled for his team so that it doesn’t begin to ride the emotional rollercoaster that can come with wins and losses in the NFL.

So while Saturday night’s convincing 31-17 win against Kansas City was a step in the right direction, Fisher and his team are making sure that they all remain focused on the fact that a step is all it was.

“There were some really good things and some things we need to improve upon,” Fisher said. “Overall, I thought it was improvement because of last week. We’d like to see the same type of improvement (this week).”

Just like the Rams refused to get too down on themselves following a loss, they won’t get too high on themselves following a win, especially in the preseason where the main goals are to stay healthy, evaluate talent and prepare for the regular season opener, in no particular order.

“One game, even today, this isn’t going to slow us down,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “Nobody is going to get complacent in this locker room over this game. Preseason games, they don’t count but they matter. This is something that was good for us. It will be great for us to really learn from it going forward.”

Now at the halfway point of the preseason schedule and only three weeks from the regular season opener in Detroit, the method behind Fisher’s approach to the preseason is becoming increasingly evident.

On Saturday night, Fisher played the starters about one full quarter with the top offense not working beyond the opening quarter and the top defense only carrying into the second quarter for a brief spell.

Likewise, while the Rams did not game plan at all for the opener against a Colts team with a much different approach, the Rams brought more to the table against the Chiefs.

That’s not to say the Rams showed their entire hand but they did a little more game planning and it was evident in the team’s performance and results.

“I think last week was such a different animal,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “They scripted, they showcased, they wanted to do so many things to get their fans involved and we were just going as vanilla as possible. Tonight we put in a little more game plan; we had a great week of practice, second preseason game you play a little longer as starters. It’s one of those things it all worked out and we came out on top.”

The victory against the Chiefs will quickly be put behind the Rams as they head toward next week’s game at Dallas. Instead of using the win as some sort of badge of validation, the Rams are viewing at as something to build on.

Even in his initial reaction to the game, Fisher was most pleased with how his team fared in the fundamentals of the game such as penalties, blocking and tackling. He said late last week he wanted to see across the board improvement and he seemed to get it from week one to week two.

“We tackled well on defense,” Fisher said. “We tackled well on special teams. We were just tackling, contact tackling, which is important and when that happens the ball comes out, as you saw. But I just think overall, I think it’s just the step we took this week.”

Following the game against the Colts, Fisher cited pass protection, finishing drives and turnovers as areas he most wanted to see improvement.

Against the Chiefs, the Rams allowed just two sacks – with none on starter Sam Bradford - who was only hit once. The defense created four turnovers, including an interception and three fumbles and the offense was a perfect three-for-three in the red zone at putting the ball in the end zone.

But one area that the Rams struggled in against the Colts that they did against the Chiefs was getting off the field on third down defensively and staying on it offensively. Through two games, the Rams are allowing a 61 percent conversion rate on third down.

Whether the scheme is simple or not, that’s not good enough.

“If I was to look at one area that we really need to improve upon, it’s third down efficiency,” Fisher said. “We have got to get better on offense and we have got to get significantly better on defense…That will be an emphasis this week.”

Traditionally, the third preseason game serves as the closest thing to a regular season barometer as there is in the exhibition schedule but that’s not necessarily how the Rams will approach it.

Fisher has said that he likes to use the preseason as a gradual build for his team leading into the regular season. This week against Dallas, Fisher said the playing time will be about the same for the starters, something in the range of 25 snaps.

That could mean a larger workload for the starters in the preseason’s final game to prevent from having more than two full weeks since extended game time.

“Our philosophy is that – everybody is clearly entitled to do what they want – but if you do nothing or very little then you’ve done nothing or very little in a two week span,” Fisher said. “To me, that’s too much time off. We are just going to continue to build. You lose momentum and you lose that if you don’t play a significant amount in the fourth preseason game.”

Fisher said that has been his approach to the preseason for a long time and again emphasized that it’s not about what other teams are doing in the preseason. While it could lead to extended periods of his starters playing someone else’s backups, it’s more about getting ready for the regular season than anything else.

“What you’re doing is you’re playing and you are trying to get quality reps,” Fisher said. “You want to get the halftime experience; you need to go through it before the regular season starts. We’ll do it in week four.”

In the meantime, much like the positive film Fisher first identified following the Indianapolis game, he found plenty of negative film from the win against the Chiefs to ensure his team doesn’t get ahead of itself based on a meaningless preseason contest.

“There were enough mistakes in that game to correct keep their attention and keep them focused.” Fisher said.