Rams looking for fundamental improvement

EARTH CITY, Mo. – Following the St. Louis Rams' 19-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night, coach Jeff Fisher said that at first it did not seem like the team had improved from the first week of the preseason.

After reviewing the game the film Sunday morning and afternoon, Fisher saw a few more bright spots than he first recognized. But that does not mean he will take focus off the areas that need improvement.

"There's some good things in there," Fisher said. "There's some things that need correcting."

In keeping with their plan to be vanilla schematically in all phases, the Rams didn't tip their hand much against the Packers.That left Fisher and his staff looking to see gains made in more fundamental areas.

Fisher pointed to missed tackles, penalties, turnovers and third downs as specific areas of interest with his team now halfway through the exhibition slate.

Perhaps most glaring was the missed tackles, an area that is only correlated to scheme in terms of player positioning.

According to Pro Football Focus' evaluation, the Rams missed 12 tackles against the Packers, with eight of those coming from presumed starters. This was a week after they had the Rams down for seven missed tackles in Cleveland with two coming from likely starters.

"We've had enough opportunities and we are football players, we should have that ingrained in our heads to know how to tackle," Chris Long said. "We've got to shoulder the football and just tackle."

The Rams had some similar early tackling issues a year ago, namely in the 2012 season opener against Indianapolis. That game caused some panic amongst fans but the Rams did iron it out and tackling wasn't much of a problem for them throughout last season save for the safeties.

Fisher remains confident that the defense will make the necessary strides in the next couple of weeks.

"We had one-on-one situations and you need to finish the play," Fisher said. "So we'll look at it. Those things get corrected. I thought overall last year we were a good tackling defense and we've got to do better than we did today."

Another area where the Rams struggled against Green Bay was penalties. Officials flagged the Rams nine times for 52 yards and there were a few more calls on the Rams that the Packers did not accept. More maddening is that the bulk of those penalties were of the five-yard, pre-snap variety.

Some Rams fans might have had nightmares as the offense was called for illegal formation three times, dredging up memories of the same penalty on receiver Brandon Gibson that nullified a huge gain by Danny Amendola that might have set up the winning score in San Francisco in 2012.

Green Bay accepted just one of those three penalties but Fisher pointed out that it's a call that may become more commonplace this year.

"There's an emphasis on it this preseason and it's good that it came up," Fisher said. "We'll get it resolved. The players were frustrated at the process. Normally if the tackle starts to get back a little bit, he's warned and then the next series they usually, if you don't adjust, then they'll penalize it. But those things, we can get those fixed. Now you'd like to see a little bit of consistency from crew to crew, but this crew is going to go right down the line with calling them."

The penalties also had a direct impact on another area where the Rams struggled: third down. The offense was just 1-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts and failed to convert any of their three fourth down tries.

Granted, the starting offense was responsible for just four of those missed conversions but it's still something Fisher said the team plans to address this week.

"That's something we'll work on and actually emphasize this week and hope to improve upon it," Fisher said.

The upshot of all the penalties, though, was that the Rams found themselves in multiple third and long situations.

Of the four third down opportunities the starting offense had, they faced distances of 14, 2, 3, 18 and 23 (the final one the result of another penalty).

"I think we killed ourselves with penalties," Bradford said. "We were in third and 18, third and 15, and it seemed like third and forever a lot of the night."

Unlike the tackling, penalties were an issue for the Rams throughout last season. They were the most penalized team in the league, drawing 130 flags, nine more than Baltimore.

On the turnover front, the Rams were minus-2 as Sam Bradford coughed up a fumble and backup quarterback Kellen Clemens threw a pair of interceptions. Bradford's fumble and Clemens' interceptions were particularly damaging since both came near Green Bay's goal line.

"When you look at the game just from a win loss perspective and what contributes to that, you're minus in the takeaway/giveaway category and you convert one third down, you don't have much chance of being successful there," Fisher said.