We probably should have seen this coming. Another week, another first-half hole for the St. Louis Rams. But this time there was no prevent defense take advantage of or waffling right tackle to exploit. Week 1's dramatic comeback is now just a precursor to a Rams team perplexed by its own ability.
"It just comes down to execution," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said on Thursday. "I think we've kind of tightened things down a little bit this week in the plan, and we know what we're good at ... try to get back just to a real simple plan rule, core group of plays that we want to try to feature and hopefully that helps."
That's the thing about throwaway lines offered up to eager reporters, they have a way of coming back to haunt a person.
No facet of the Rams' effort this week was well executed. The offense, defense and special teams played hurt and confused. Worse yet, they doubled down on a losing game plan, if you can call it that, and refused to budge even an inch.
Sam Bradford averaged five yards per passing attempt this week. FIVE. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and the check-down loving quarterback stuck with an infuriating dink and dunk game plan that would have made Pat Shurmur proud.
How confused is the offense? Just try and make sense of what Schottenheimer said Thursday, when talking about short passes to replace the running game.
"Can a quick slant or something make me six or seven yards, where a great run makes me four or five yards? Again, I know the thing we want to do is be balanced. That's a big part of it. Games come down to the fourth quarter and sometimes you're going to have to try to throw it like we did last week and try to come from behind. Other times, you're going to have to run the football in four-minute and try to put people away. If you have a quarterback like Sam (Bradford) with the ability to throw the ball as accurately as he does, certainly you should hit a high percentage of those short routes. But, nothing replaces the ability to run the football when the opponent knows you're going to have to run it."
I've read that quote dozens of times since Thursday. I still can't make sense of it. Probably because there's nothing to make sense of here. Gibberish. It's a lot of words mashed up into nothing, like the Rams throwing the ball an average of 47 times per game for nominal yardage and a 1-2 record.
Remember when we said, over and over again, that the benefit of having a player like Tavon Austin came down to how the offensive used his remarkable skill set? The Rams have no clue. Austin is averaging a dismal 6.6 yards per reception, not exactly Rookie of the Year stuff from a guy who should be able to stretch plays with his feet and quickness. Then again, it's not really his fault. Schottenheimer and his quarterback are intent to send Austin out to the flat to catch dump offs. Rarely, have the Rams made an effort to get Austin into space in the middle of the field.
Jared Cook was bottled up again this week. Dallas followed a painfully simple game plan to keep the playmaking tight end contained: they just pressed him at the line. Cook's inability and/or unwillingness to fight through physical coverage is a big problem for a guy signed to a five-year, $35 million deal with $19 million guaranteed.
Then again, like Austin, the play callers seem to be just as lost when it comes to getting favorable matchups for Cook. Rarely, if ever, did the Rams make an attempt to hide Cook in a bunch formation at the line or call for any kind of play to take away the defense's ability to contain Cook.
More surprising was the steadfast refusal to use the no-huddle and the hurry-up offense. Maybe Fisher banned it, probably via text message from his flip phone. That might have saved the Rams some headache by pushing the Cowboys' pass rush back a little, opening the field and getting some favorable matchups for a change.
The vaunted defense didn't come out looking much better.
"I don't know what to expect," Jeff Fisher said Thursday about stopping Dallas' offense. "We're going to go in there and we're going to have to defend the run and we're going to have to defend play action pass on third down and Tony Romo."
The Rams did not defend the run, did not pressure Tony Romo and continued a trend from last year of being eaten alive on play action passes.
Surprisingly enough, Dez Bryant did not top 100 yards receiving, but the secondary was the same hot mess it's been since the start of the season. Bryant found himself in single coverage exactly at the right moments. Fans decried an obvious OPI call on his touchdown, but a flag would've only delayed the inevitable.
Dallas converted five of 11 third downs, often using the short routes to make Schottenheimer jealous. Except their short routes seemed to always gain seven or eight yards against the Rams unwavering soft zones, and it was well set up by a running game that gained 5.7 yards per carry.
The pass rush was nowhere to be seen either. After being celebrated in the media all week, Dallas held Robert Quinn to just one pressure, one of two TOTAL pressures the Rams had on Romo all day. The Cowboys, unlike the Rams, learned a valuable lesson last week about running the ball the stave off the pass rush.
Amazing what a team can do when they think rationally about game planning.
For the sake of being comprehensive, let's throw special teams into the mix here too. We have to since it we're talking about the Rams repeating the same dumb mistakes over and over again.
"The worst thing that can happen is turn the ball over, but the second worst thing is you get a penalty and you lose any return yards you might get and you back yourself up," special teams coach John Fassel said that on Thursday.
Three of the Rams' five penalties came on special teams. That included a Tavon Austin punt return touchdown getting called back in the second quarter.
Jeff Fisher's coaching a young team, one of the youngest and most inexperienced squads in the NFL. While that bodes well for the future, it means some additional ups and down in the present. There will be inconsistent play. First- and second-year players are going to make mistakes, whether its running the wrong route or playing the ball and not the man. But that excuse only goes so far.
Inexperience is not to blame for what the Rams have put on the field for the last three weeks. Fisher is in his 19th season as an NFL head coach. This is Schottenheimer's eighth season as an offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Tim Walton is the newbie of the bunch, in his first year as a defensive coordinator. Assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, Fisher's right hand man, is a former head coach and defensive coordinator. There's plenty of experience on the coaching side, exactly what a young team needs ... or you'd think.
Then again, maybe that experience is the problem. Have this coaching cadre been around so long that they're set in their ways, too stubborn to embrace the evolving nature of the game? It's fair to wonder, especially when you have the head coach talking about things like the no-huddle offense the same way your aunt criticizes television shows that aren't on CBS.
Fisher and the Rams have four days, less than that really, to get ready for a visit from an equally desperate 1-2 49ers team. Make no mistake, Dallas was waiver too when the Rams came to town. The 49ers have struggled, but this is still a team capable of shutting down whatever gets thrown at it.
The Rams' lip service to preparation stands in stark contrast to the reality. Fisher et al had a week to figure out what went wrong in Atlanta, but they didn't change a thing. They have three days of practice to change the formula for a game with the 49ers.
Can they do it?