"There are lessons to be learned to be learned here," Jeff Fisher said following the Rams lopsided showing to start the preseason. But it was just that, a starting point.
Fisher inherited a team with considerable weaknesses up and down the roster, and that was abundantly clear on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium where the St. Louis Rams lost 38-3 to the Indianapolis Colts. Fisher and his coaching staff have a big task ahead of them, with less than a month until the regular season, sewing a group of disparate parts into a competitive football team.
Some thoughts on the game after the jump.
In case you missed it over the last four months, the Rams are going to lean heavily on the running game, especially Steven Jackson. They have to. Right now, that looks like the only reliable part of the offense. Fortunately for the Rams, Jackson did look very good, moving much quicker than he did last season, with three carries to start the game.
The Rams' first offensive drive was actually a pretty good one ... until Sam Bradford drew a delay of game penalty on third-and-4. Jackson ran well, and Bradford made the dink and dunk passing work for 23 yards on his first three completions. They were scripted plays that took the thinking out of it for the quarterback, the kind of stuff you saw during his rookie season.
On his next throw he was off-target to Danny Amendola who dove to make the catch for six yards. Going for it on fourth down, Bradford was way off on a deep throw to Steve Smith in the end zone.
Deep throws have been a problem for Bradford throughout camp. In fact, he has lacked the same consistency on his deep ball that he had at Oklahoma since coming to the NFL. It wasn't just Pat Shurmur's milquetoast offense. Part of the issue is protection. He had pass rushers in his face on the botched throw to Steve Smith.
There no need to hit the panic button on Bradford just yet. Sure, he did not show the decisiveness and poise the team will require from him, but there is still time to work on those things. I was not impressed with what I saw from Bradford. He has to and can do better.
Fisher wanted his team to emphasize the fundamentals, so let's break it down that way.
Both sides of the ball clearly need more work, more time to gel as a unit. The pass blocking suffered more than once because of a blown assignment, a missed defender charging into the pocket. The starting five were a different configuration than the one that spent the most time together on the practice field.
Quinn Ojinnaka, Barry Richardson and Bryan Mattison were all replacement players from the starting five. Free agent addition Scott Wells is still sitting out, recovering from a knee injury that may or may not have been a knee scope. In the running game, they did a better job, with much credit going to fullback Ovie Mughelli.
I already mentioned Jackson. If he stays healthy, he should have no problem getting his eighth season of 1,000 yards rushing.
Isaiah Pead had a rough start to his pro career. You could almost feel the nerves on this side of the television screen. You could see the jitters in his ball handling, fumbling one and botching a handoff. He still showed the lateral quickness and explosion that will make him a key part of the Rams offense.
It was not a terrible game for the receivers. Steve Smith really does look like he could be a useful part of the offense, moving well on the field. He had the defensive back beat on the throw to the end zone on the first drive of the game.
Austin Pettis might have been the most impressive player on the field Sunday, among the receivers at any rate. He caught three passes for 25 yards and looked like a pro on the slant from Bradford. The former third-round pick is definitely someone to keep your eye on as the work continues.
Givens had his speed in full effect, but no one to get him the ball. He really needs more accurate passes coming his way to be effective. I do want to see more from him on short and intermediate routes, seeing what he does after the catch.
Schottenheimer did nothing to dispel the notion that Lance Kendricks will be important in this offense. His head looked like it was on better than it was last season, which is the first step toward getting him to reach his potential.
The pass rush had its moments. Robert Quinn had a couple plays where he did exactly what you expected. Michael Brockers was held too many times not to get a flag. They clearly need more work together, but this group is the least of my concerns.
Recognition & Coverage
It looked to me like the Rams struggled to pick up plays, especially on runs when they were expecting a pass. That kind of stuff will get ironed out in practice.
Zone coverage was awful. The corners were giving receivers way too much space to operate, getting burned as a result. Jenkins looked solid, but the guys further down the depth chart need work. Watch for this group to tighten things up next week, leaving much less room to work with and getting better at recognizing what the offense is doing. Craig Dahl blew it on Luck's second touchdown pass, getting caught on the wrong side of the end zone and lacking the speed to make a play. Darian Stewart was out.
Gone were the questionable coaching moves so common under Spagnuolo. So was the positive spin on a bad day at Black Rock, though Fisher was hardly yelling and screaming. He doesn't really need to be. No coach does, but he did offer some accountability for the whole thing.
I'll be especially interested to see how Fisher responds in practice this week. The players aren't the only ones being tested this week.