Rams need to consider struggling Nick Foles might not be the answer

ST. LOUIS -- Late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 37-13 loss to the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher heard quarterback Nick Foles attempting to rally his teammates to prepare for a come-from-behind victory.

Apparently unshaken by his and the offense's massive struggles after an opening-drive touchdown, Foles' confidence didn't waver.

"He thought with seven minutes left to go in the game that we were going to put two drives together and score," Fisher said. "That's how he is and that's real. [There's] some realness to it. It's not just one of those things that you think how someone is supposed to act. I don't think confidence is an issue with him."

Perhaps, but if it's not confidence, there are certainly plenty of other problems for Foles right now. He was at the forefront of yet another offensive offensive performance. He overthrew open receivers on multiple occasions, was caught staring down wideouts and then trying to force a throw into a small space, and occasionally bailed too soon on mostly clean pockets.

By the time it was all over, Foles was 17-of-36 for 200 yards with no touchdowns and an interception for a passer rating of 53.0. He has now thrown just one touchdown pass in his past four games and though he reached 200 passing yards against Chicago, it was only the second time he has done so this season -- and he needed a garbage time catch-and-run to get there.

With the game out of hand late in the fourth quarter, Fisher finally, mercifully, pulled Foles in favor of backup Case Keenum. After the game, Fisher said he didn't consider going to Keenum earlier. When Fisher was asked whether he would consider a change moving forward, he said no -- the options this late in the season are limited -- but he wasn't exactly forceful about it.

"That's my choice, but no," Fisher said after his team fell to 4-5. "I'm just going to look at it. We have to play better around him. I'll look and see how he played but he was prepared. He had great practice this week and he missed a couple throws and we had a couple of drops. We'll look at it but at this point, no."

It's unlikely that further examination will show Fisher much to like. Even on that opening drive when the Rams moved 80 yards in seven plays in about three minutes, Foles missed an open Brian Quick deep down the middle. He also fired over open receiver Wes Welker's head on a potential third-down conversion.

Those are just two examples of Foles' misfires.

"I was just high on a few throws," Foles said. "I just have got to be more accurate."

A big part of accuracy is in the footwork. While it's understandable that Foles would be quick to leave the pocket, given the state of his offensive line, he has developed a bad habit of running away even when it's clean and then throwing off his back foot. One play before Todd Gurley's 6-yard touchdown run, Foles didn't see an open Lance Kendricks in the end zone until it was too late. By the time he did, he threw it while fading away. The ball sailed over Kendricks' head.

"I feel comfortable dropping and reading," Foles said of being in the pocket. "Sometimes things happen. Sometimes guys get in [the backfield], and that's part of football. That's stuff that we have just got to keep working on."

Foles now ranks 29th in passer rating, 32nd in QBR and has a league-low 1,678 passing yards among players with at least the same number of starts. While the Rams don't need Foles to be Kurt Warner incarnate, they do need him to land somewhere in the vicinity of average.

When Foles has a passer rating of 80 or better, the Rams are 4-0. When he's below that number, they're 0-5. In those five losses, his best passer rating was 76.3. Making matters worse, Foles doesn't seem to be improving as the early season excuses of "new offense, new quarterback, new coordinator" are melting into the later weeks.

With Gurley already emerging as the focal point of the offense, the Rams need a quarterback capable of not turning the ball over and taking advantage when receivers run open. The latter hasn't happened much this year: Foles was 0-of-12 on passes thrown 10-plus yards downfield Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that's the most attempts on such passes without a completion in the past 10 seasons.

The Rams signed Foles to a short-term contract extension in training camp. They are likely committed to him at least through next season but that doesn't mean it's too early to start considering a change in both the short and long term.

For what it's worth, Foles seemingly has the support of the locker room.

"We ain't turning our back on nobody on this team," receiver Tavon Austin said. "I don't care what happened. You don’t turn your back on nobody. You're in a tough situation. You have to stick through it, you have to fight through it, your teammates have to bring each other up and that's how you have to do it."

Big picture, rookie Sean Mannion is a ways away from being ready to contribute and Keenum probably isn't Mr. Right. But he could be Mr. Right Now. Perhaps it's time to see why Foles wasn't the only quarterback the Rams traded for in the offseason.

The Rams sure could use something, anything to lift the offense before it's too late, even if that means providing a temporary spark, the way Austin Davis did last season in his first three starts while filling in for Shaun Hill.

"We're not winning, so I've got to keep working to get better, working to make sure offensively we get rolling," Foles said. "I feel good. Rhythm, I feel good dropping back, throwing, reading defenses, I feel good about it. But I have got to continue to play better. Part of being a quarterback is making the guys around you play better, I understand. We, as an offense, just have to keep improving."

That improvement has to start with the quarterback position, whether it's Foles or someone else.