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Rams Follow Fisher's Lead

Posted Sep 17, 2012

 
As he stood on the sidelines wishing he could be on the field with his teammates but slowed by a groin injury, running back Steven Jackson had something of a revelation.

For the first time in a long time – maybe the first time ever in his accomplished nine-year career – Jackson didn’t have the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“I did realize that I don’t have to do everything and it’s such a relief,” Jackson said. “This team is special and I’m enjoying it. I’m going home with a smile and I’m going to work just as hard to get back for Chicago.”
 
For fans watching at home and in the Edward Jones Dome, Sunday’s 31-28 win against Washington was one of the more entertaining Rams games in years. But for as much fun as it can be to witness a scintillating game such as Sunday’s, make no mistake about it, the Rams – players, coaches, staff, everyone – are having fun again.

“We are having a lot of fun,” end Chris Long said. “Fun is being in competitive games and having a chance to win games and showing up and knowing that you have a chance to win the game and showing up and saying no matter what happens – like we had the fumble on the first play or we got hit for a deep ball, some penalties – we just kept fighting. In the past, who knows what would have happened but this team is a little bit more resilient and we play with a little chip on our shoulder and I like that.”

Indeed, that rather elementary idea has been at the top of the list of Jeff Fisher nearly since the moment he was announced as the team’s new coach in January. While there is no doubt that the Rams take their work serious when they are on the practice field, there is also a time and a place for a more relaxed atmosphere that fosters groups of individuals into groups of friends and ultimately a team.

It’s something Fisher emphasizes to all of his players.

“You should have fun and look forward to coming to work even when you’re in the parking lot and have fun doing it,” Fisher said. “And when you’re here, you expect to win. That’s kind of the attitude that they have. That goes back to our first little scuffle on the first play of our OTA. They were ready to move forward and they’ve done so.

Not to say anything of any previous regime but to a man, the change in attitude and atmosphere around the team has started with Fisher himself.

It’s not just a momentary change, either, it’s a personality, a chemistry, an amalgamation of unrelenting belief that no matter what the situation, the guy next to you will continue to battle and fight.

“It’s resilience, especially for a team that has a lot of young guys,” tight end Matthew Mulligan said. “We haven’t been in that position a lot but that speaks to team chemistry and it also starts at the top. When you have a coach who is confident, who is intelligent and who also knows how to win, I think it trickles down to the rest of the guys. We have to find a way to win. Coach was saying all week he doesn’t know who is going to make that play but we are going to find some way to win.”

In some sense, Sunday’s victory against the Redskins was a self-fulfilling prophecy from what Fisher told his players during the week. A familiar refrain of finding a way to win emerged from last week’s losing locker room in Detroit.

After coming up just short against the Lions, every coach and player lamented the missed opportunity rather than celebrating the fact that the opportunity existed in the first place.

It was a valuable lesson for the league’s youngest team but nobody wanted to even use that factoid as an excuse. Instead, the Rams put in a hard-edged week of practice and focused on finishing.

“We were in the same scenario - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - and we were able to come out on top this time,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “We kept saying that in the huddle, ‘This is our chance right here to stand up and make a play when we need it.’  As a defense, we’re building confidence.  If we can continue to be in the fire like that and make plays at the end, we give ourselves a chance to win.”

Finnegan himself serves as a primary example of someone who understands what Fisher wants when looking for someone to walk the fine line between playing with an edge and crossing the line.

In Sunday’s win, Finnegan made a terrific interception to set up a late second-quarter field goal. That play was no more important than the penalty he drew from Washington receiver Josh Morgan who, by his own admission, knew better than to engage the Rams’ feisty corner.

Fisher has been integral in changing the Rams’ world view but he is quick to dish some of that credit to his Pro Bowl cornerback.

“Well, we are going to credit Cort with an awful lot from an attitude standpoint but these guys all had it deep down inside of them, we just had to bring it out of them,” Fisher said. “They are enjoying playing this way but we have to continue, we have to get better. The 24-hour rule is in effect. This game is over.”

Sitting at 1-1 and knowing they could just as easily be 2-0 or even 0-2 is a quick and easy reminder to the Rams that they haven’t even come close to arriving.

Fisher is quick to let his group know that there is a lot of improvement still to be made. The Rams need to eliminate some of the silly penalties, especially the pre-snap ones and the ones that seem to kill drives.

Likewise, Fisher wants his defense to be better at getting off the field on third down, an area where improvement was made against the Redskins but not to the degree Fisher prefers. In short, the Rams need to make strides across the board in order to continue to be competitive week in and week out.

“We are just a resilient team,” linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “We will battle, we will keep fighting. We want to win; we have a burning desire to win. We have a bunch of good young guys in here who strive to win. We practice every day like we want to win a game so that’s what happened this week. Now we have to build off that and get better.”

The seeds of change were sown way back in the spring in the offseason workout program, the minicamps and yes, the aforementioned Organized Team Activities. Fisher is laid back and confident but he also expects nothing less than everyone’s best on a daily basis.

Some will call it a culture change or point to some dramatic turnaround in the way things are done now compared to past years. None of that bears any weight with Fisher and he demands that his players spend their time looking ahead at how to improve rather than wallow on the past, be it last year or last week.

It’s not a demand of perfection, it’s a request that even when the ball doesn’t bounce the Rams’ way, they continue to pursue it no matter the situation.

 “I always go home with a smile, but today just showed that we don’t have to play a perfect game,” Jackson said Sunday. “We can make mistakes and still find the resolve to come back and win a game.”

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