Rams' special teams plan to stay aggressive

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams special teams coach John Fassel met with the local media Wednesday for the first time since his group's game-changing performance in the Rams' 28-26 win against the Seattle Seahawks this past Sunday.

As you'd expect from the blue collar Fassel, he didn't spend much time gloating over what his team accomplished against Seattle. The results -- a 75-yard kick return to setup a touchdown, a creative punt return that went 90 yards for a score and a fake punt deep in Rams territory to seal the win -- speak for themselves.

But now that the Rams have used some of their biggest tricks to beat the Seahawks, you shouldn't expect them to let up on the gas pedal. If anything, it only bolsters their confidence that they can continue to take some chances on special teams.

"If the opportunity’s there, that’s how we are, that’s what we do,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’ve been doing it pretty much since we got here. So, it would make sense that we would continue with it if we were given the right opportunity.”

The Rams under Fisher and Fassel certainly have showed no fear to take some risks on special teams but those risks wouldn't pay off without proper preparation.

The element of surprise plus Fassel's tireless film study drastically reduces the margin for error on plays where so much has to go right for it to work.

Before Bailey's punt return against the Seahawks, the Rams had charted 14 punts by Seattle's Jon Ryan that had all landed in approximately the same area when attempted near midfield. When Seattle took a sack to drop back to its 49, the call was automatically on. Had Eugene Sims not come up with that sack for a 9-yard loss, the play wouldn't have been called.

"We study punt charts and tendencies on other teams in all phases," Fassel said. "Of course it takes a little bit of a perfect storm, the ball at the right spot on the field and the right kick and everybody executing exactly what they’re supposed to do. It takes a lot for something like that to happen and all the stars aligned on that. It was fun to see it work.”

The history of special-teams trickery extends to Fisher's arrival in 2012. Punter Johnny Hekker has thrown five passes in 38 games and those attempts have come from all over the field.

And Sunday's performance against Seattle wasn't even the first time the Rams have been able to catch the Seahawks off guard. Hekker's first career pass went for a 2-yard touchdown in the Rams' 19-13 win in 2012. That touchdown pass came from Hekker's role as the holder for kicker Greg Zuerlein on a fake field goal. After taking the snap, Hekker stood up and delivered an easy pass to a wide open Danny Amendola, who had gone unnoticed by Seattle's defense.

In a 24-24 tie against San Francisco in 2012, Hekker completed two passes on fake punts, including one from near his own end zone at the end of the first half with the Rams leading 14-7. That play call had Hekker throwing to safety Rodney McLeod for a gain of 21 yards, proving that the Rams will not only take chances but they trust just about anyone to make something work.

"The guys especially, on the last fake punt when coach dialed it up, the confidence that they have from a coach making a call in that situation, knowing that they trust them to get it done," Fassel said. "It’s a game-winning play really and they felt good about being trusted to accomplish that. It was pretty fun.”

That isn't to say the Rams have been perfect with their misdirection. In last year's game at San Francisco, the Rams attempted a fake punt from their 22 while trailing 16-6 early in the fourth quarter. On the play, safety Matt Giordano took a direct snap and was supposed to pitch to Stedman Bailey but it was blown up before it ever got going. Hekker threw incomplete on a fake punt in a loss to Dallas last year as well.

But those misses often come in situations where the Rams need to make something happen in a game that looks like it might be lost. It's no coincidence that when the plays work, the Rams are often making it happen in games they are leading or have a chance to put away.

As the man who once helped engineer the "Music City Miracle" to beat Buffalo in a playoff game, Fisher has no plans to back down from using special teams as a means to make something happen in any situation.

"If you have the reputation that you’re fearless from the standpoint of making those calls then you’re going to be able to dictate some things," Fisher said. "That’s what we try to do, dictate with respect to special teams, particularly your punt team.”