A history of Jeff Fisher and slow starts

Stephen Dunn

This isn't the first team Jeff Fisher's coached that got off to rough beginning. What does his history with slow starters portend for the 2013 Rams?

Jeff Fisher has been here before. This isn't the first time one of his teams got off to a slow start to the season. The question now, is whether or not he can turn around the 2013 St. Louis Rams before a seventh losing season. Let's go back and look at some of the other slow starts throughout Fisher's 19-year career as a head coach in the NFL.

Fisher's actually had eight seasons where his teams started 1-3 or worse, not counting the current Rams team (1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009). Of  those eight seasons, all with the Titans, only one team finished with a winning record (2002). Three finished below .500 (2001, 2004, 2005), and four teams finished at .500.

To define "slow start" we'll just use the current criteria established by this Rams team, one win. Let's peg it at one win in five games though, to dig a little deeper.

1997 Titans

Through five: 1-4
Final record: 8-8

This was Steve McNair's third season in the NFL, and the first season he started 16 games. The Titans won their opener, in overtime, against the Raiders, before losing their next four games. McNair broke out as a runner that season, carrying the ball 101 times for 674 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. They won three games in a row starting in Week 7, finishing the season on a 7-4 run.

2002 Titans

Through five: 1-4
Final record: 11-5

Those Titans won the first game of the season before hitting a four game skid. The biggest improvement after that stretch came on defense. Through the first five games, the Titans defense had just one, the Week 1 win, where it posted a negative DVOA rating (remember that negative DVOA is good for a defense since it reflects that unit stopping opposing offenses from being successful). After Week 5, the defense had just three games with a positive DVOA and just one game with a DVOA greater than 10.

Specifically, it was the pass defense that hamstrung the 2002 Titans. They allowed an average of 276 passing yards per game. That dropped to 196 passing yards per game after Week 5. Fisher's Titans finished first in the AFC South and lost to the Raiders in the conference championship.

2006 Titans

Through five: 0-5
Final record: 8-8

Vince Young didn't start the season as Tennessee's starting quarterback. Kerry Collins had that honor, and he played a big part in Tennessee losing its first three games that year. Young was only able to do so much as a passer, but like the '97 Titans with McNair, he contributed on the ground with 552 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 83 carries.

2009 Titans

Through five: 0-5
Final record: 8-8

This is where the Vince Young-Jeff Fisher saga really got out of control. Young was hurt the season before, and Fisher stuck with Collins after he took over for Young in Week 1. The 2008 Titans won 13 games, and Fisher made Collins his starter for the 2009 season. After an 0-6 start, Fisher switched to Young at QB, reportedly at the behest of Bud Adams. The Titans went 8-2 to finish the year.

The defense was decidedly below average, vulnerable to opposing quarterbacks in particular. The pass rush was only able to muster 31 sacks that season too. Changing quarterbacks made all the difference. Ironically enough, that same quarterback situation proved to be Fisher's undoing in Tennessee.

2013 Rams

Through four: 1-3
Final record: ???

Unlike Fisher's 2009 and 2006 teams, there's no quarterback switch to save the team. The best hope for this year's Rams team is for the defense to play up to its ability, while the offense can sort of game-manage it's way through four quarters every week.

St. Louis now has an overall DVOAof -35.5 percent, ranked 30th. That's on pace to be the worst team Fisher has ever coached, using Football Outsiders' efficiency metric. The 2005 Titans, which finished 4-12, are currently the worst team of Fisher's career with a -21.9 DVOA.

The 2013 version of the Rams defense has a DVOA of 19.7 percent, ranked 29th. Those same 2005 Titans had a DVOA of 15.9 percent, which stands as the worst defensive DVOA of any Fisher team.

On offense, the Rams have a -20.9 percent DVOA, ranked 28th. The 1995 Oilers, Fisher's first year as a head coach, recorded the worst offensive DVOA of any of Fisher's teams at -12.9 percent.

At this point, 8-8 looks like a miracle for the way the Rams are playing.

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