Little things, under-appreciated things are kind of a theme this morning. Lost in the shuffle of report cards and the like were a pair of key statistics that played a role in the St. Louis Rams this week, numbers that could portend big things with three important games left on the schedule.
Start with field position. It played a part, a small one, in the game-winning drive. Here's what Fisher had to say at Rams Park on Monday afternoon:
"Fortunately, we had field position to work to our benefit. Then, of course, we forced them to use both the timeouts. Once we got the second timeout called after the sack - which was a huge play for us - then, we felt pretty comfortable about us being able to keep the ball in bounds and let the clock run. The sack was a huge play in the two-minute drive."
That's pretty much an all encompassing list of fundamentals that success teams need to do well, but let's stick with field position.
Buffalo got the ball on its own 43-yard line. The Rams defense forced a three-and-out in which the Bills gained a total of one yard. The Bills punted, and the Rams got the ball when Austin Pettis called for a fair catch at the 16-yard line. That's inside the 20, but it's better than being pinned in at the goal line.
The Rams averaged 11.5 yards per punt return this week. It was the team's best total since Week 5 and a the second-best all year long. Credit better special teams play along with the work of the defense to win the field position game. Fisher did:
"First off, special teams played probably their best game against the top-rated punt return team and kickoff return team. We kicked the ball... with the one exception, I thought we played well there.
In the Rams' win last week, players drew a total of eight flags. It was a minor miracle after the Rams racked up double digit penalties in four of the previous six games.
Sunday in Buffalo the Rams were penalized twice. Two times. A third was declined.
That's a season-best for the Rams, by a long shot. The Rams had 113 penalties total prior to this game. The next lowest total for penalties in a single-game was a four-flag effort against the Bears.
Fisher discussed the difference on Monday:
We didn't have any line of scrimmage issues at all, which was good. That was just something that we've been talking about, have to improve and worked on it very hard. We used the silent count last week in anticipation of the crowd noise. It wasn't prohibitive. We were able to communicate on the line of scrimmage. We had the one - ‘Jenks' (CB Janoris Jenkins) had one and then we had the other one. What was good was we didn't have any penalties in the return game, per se, other than ‘Jenks,' which I still kind of disagree with that one. To win a game like this in a hard place to play against a team like that, we had to play that way. We had to play good in all three phases or good enough in three, but good in the special teams and good on defense."
Referees have definitely throw a few WTF? calls against the Rams this year, but a team doesn't get to 113 penalties in a dozen games just because of blind zebras.
The line play thing is huge. St. Louis has drawn 60 of its 115 total flags on the season for infractions in the trenches, on both sides of the ball.
Field position and penalties. Just like making the right blocks or shooting the right gap, the fundamental things make the difference.