Less than a year ago, the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 in early 2000’s fashion. Their approach was based around the running game, a low-wave style of offense that protected the ball, and excellent defense.
Since then, Denver parted with both quarterbacks that helped them lift the Lombardi Trophy, yet they have had no issue recreating their success this season jumping out to a 4-0 start before dropping the last two games.
The Minnesota Vikings are the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL. No Adrian Peterson, no Teddy Bridgewater...no losses. There’s no telling for certain what the team would be if both of those players were healthy, but the team has established a true identity in their absence. They have become similar to what the Broncos were a year ago and still are this season: control the ball and don’t allow points.
Sam Bradford, ironic as it is, has spearheaded one of the more efficient passing attacks in the league this year. He has completed 70% of his passes and has not yet thrown an interception. Due in large part to Bradford’s efforts, the Vikings have a +11 turnover differential through their first five games. Minnesota’s defense, a turnover machine, trails only Seattle’s and Philadelphia’s defenses as the best in the league. Simply put, Minnesota is winning the turnover battle.
The Struggles Of Fisherball
The Struggles Of Fisherball
Look around the rest of the league.
The Dallas Cowboys are winning games by controlling the ball and winning the war of attrition. New head coach Doug Pederson has lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a 3-1 by constructing an offense that protects the ball and relying on an elite defense to keep points off the board. Even the Buffalo Bills have subscribed to a subtle, ball control offense that allows their defense to not stress so much, just as Dallas has done. Minus the Pittsburgh Steelers, most of the teams near the top of the league have shifted to conservative offensive approaches that help their defenses stay off the field, so that those defenses can perform when they do take to the field.
All of this sounds like Fisherball. Ball control, focus on the running game and/or short passing, and top notch defense. That is Jeff Fisher’s philosophy, yet he has found himself a clear step behind the rest of the league, despite being on his fifth year as the Rams head coach. Mike Zimmer has only been in Minnesota for three years now, yet he has already built up a juggernaut that dwarfs any Rams team Fisher has ever created.
Somehow, Fisher is losing at his own game.
Much of Fisher’s downfall has been miserable drafting. Aside from the defensive line, Fisher has largely failed to hit on any major picks. Todd Gurley is far and away the best non-defensive linemen Fisher has ever drafted - a player whose style catered perfectly to Fisherball - yet the once-starlet running back is now one of the least efficient running backs in the league. In one short year, Gurley looks like damaged goods, at least to some extent.
The biggest draft blunders have been on the offensive line. The newly relocated franchise avoided drafting an offensive lineman in the 2016 NFL Draft, but the Rams selected three offensive linemen in the top 100 of the 2014 and 2015 drafts. Those three are Greg Robinson, Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown. Of that group, Havenstein is the best, but even he is league average, at best.
Four other offensive linemen were drafted in the later rounds during that span, but none of them proved to be more than journeyman level talents either. Fisher’s philosophy of ball control and extended possession time is often dependent on the big men up front. Over the course of his Rams tenure, Fisher has completely botched all of his opportunities to build a functional offensive line. He’s not just built an offensive line that is underwhelming relative to the investment — the offensive line is unquestionably bad.
On the defensive side of the ball, the team has also done a miserable job of team building. The defensive line is clearly a strong point, but the starting level talent at the next two levels of the defense are subpar and the depth is equally as concerning. Five years after the hiring of Fisher, who worked a number of defensive staff jobs before becoming a head coach, the Rams still have a defense that is largely replaceable. That is unacceptable.
Jeff Fisher has had time to build the Fisherball team that he needs to succeed. During the earlier part of his tenure, the league felt like a more open, Wild West type of atmosphere. The league has turned on its head and become a more conservative league, a league that theoretically caters to Fisher.
As much as the league shifts toward a league for Fisher, he remains to be himself: underwhelming in performance, unwavering in his approach and impossible to trust when a coach’s instincts are needed most.
Jeff Fisher is losing in a Jeff Fisher league.