CINCINNATI -- As St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher not-so-subtly made it clear to the world that his team is not lacking for effort after its latest embarrassing loss Sunday, he offered perhaps the most revealing response in his more than 3½ years as the team's head coach.
"It's not an effort issue right now," Fisher said. "It's execution. It's 70 percent offense and 30 percent defense."
Fisher excused his special teams from the mix, but no matter how he chooses to slice up the pie, the truth is that the word "execution" is nothing but coachspeak for "not good enough." And though we won't get into assigning percentages, the vast majority of the blame for that falls at the feet of Fisher.
For it's Fisher who picked the players who don't execute on a weekly basis. It's Fisher who hired the staff that coaches the players who don't execute. It's Fisher who puts together the game plans that have yielded a 24-34-1 record since he took over. It's Fisher who has overseen a team that has posted a record that has gotten progressively worse each season of his tenure and might bottom out this year unless there are wins left on the schedule that aren't apparent to the naked eye.
To his credit, Fisher elevated the Rams from NFL laughingstock to something closer to the middle. But as his two-decade career as a head coach would indicate, that's where the improvement train stops. Sunday's 31-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals offered more evidence that the wheels have stopped moving forward, and as they begin to roll backward downhill, it brings us back to the current reality of the Rams under Fisher: At the end of this season, it's time for a change.
Not just minor tweaks to the offensive staff or a couple of personnel changes on the depth chart, but the type of wholesale staff and front-office changes that can give the Rams a chance to take the next step.
Asked if he feels like he's doing a good enough job coaching the team, Fisher didn't deny that he isn't.
"I've lost four in a row, so no," Fisher said. "That's not acceptable, but we're going to keep working at it."
But the Rams under Fisher have been "working at it" for nearly four full seasons without much in the way of results. While the Rams continue to languish in NFL and quarterback purgatory, other teams have realized sudden and profound change. The Rams, meanwhile, seem to be regressing.
"I wouldn't say that it's been regression," cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. "Things are just not going our way. I mean, as an organization, we can't worry about what people say. It's about us. We have a lot to fix and we're going to do that."
Therein lies the problem. Sure, every team in the league has things to work on, but in the fourth year of any regime, should that team still have "a lot to fix"? Each week this season, Fisher has been asked about his offense, which rates as one of the worst in the league and is playing like the worst in the NFL right now. He continuously makes reference to fixing it, but nothing has changed.
In the first seven games, the Rams averaged 19.3 points per game, which was not good enough and below the league average, but enough to help them to a 4-3 start. Over the past four weeks, the Rams have scored a total of 51 points, an average of 12.8 per game. They've lost all four.
The weight of that offensive ineptitude has caught up to a defense that seemed playoff-caliber early in the year but hasn't fared so well over the past month. After allowing just eight touchdowns in the first seven games, the Rams' defense has yielded 11 in the past four weeks.
Without the results, wouldn't you think it's hard to keep buying in to what Fisher is selling?
"No, it's not hard at all," defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. "When you have got a coach like Jeff Fisher who takes great care of you and does a great job with the players and loves his team, you never stop fighting. It's frustrating to see you work every day, you work hard every week to come out and try to get a victory and it doesn't happen, so yeah it's frustrating. Yeah, right now it's a bad time to be a Ram, but we go back to work, we work hard, nobody is slacking, nobody is giving up, everybody is fighting."
Before the season, it seemed unlikely that the Rams would make a coaching change after the season unless it went so far off the rails that even owner Stan Kroenke would have to turn his focus from moving his team to Los Angeles to what it hasn't done on the field. With five games left and little sign of a turnaround, this season is trending toward that place.
Maybe Kroenke wanted Fisher to oversee a move out west since Fisher went through the NFL's Houston-to-Tennessee relocation. But they have televisions in Los Angeles, too, and it's hard to imagine that more of the same on the field will appeal to Rams fans there any more than it would in St. Louis or anywhere in between.
"We do what we do," linebacker Akeem Ayers said. "We come out here and play every game, no matter what. It doesn't matter the situation. It doesn't matter who we play, where we play -- we just play the type of football we play."
Like his head coach, Ayers is right: This isn't an effort problem. It's a Fisher problem.