- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. – Looking ahead before Saturday night’s game in Denver, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher told local reporters on the pregame show that he expected to play his starters well into the first half and potentially into the third quarter in the fourth and final preseason game Thursday against Baltimore.
That would represent a departure from the approach most teams take, in which the third preseason game is where starters get the most work and the fourth game is where they mostly rest.
It wouldn’t be a departure for Fisher, though, who is a believer in a more gradual build as the exhibition season goes on. A heavy workload combined with a short week could have the Rams taking a more typical approach this week.
Sunday afternoon, Fisher was asked about preliminary plans for Thursday’s preseason finale against the Ravens, and he seemed to hedge a bit on how the Rams would approach it.
“We are evaluating it right now,” Fisher said. “We are going to play the guys that need to play. We’re going to let them play, and then if we feel guys have had adequate snaps throughout the preseason, we may back down a little bit.”
In many ways, the Rams got in a full workload Saturday night against Denver, particularly on defense. Most of the starting unit played in excess of 50 snaps, with the defensive line taking less as part of a rotation.
The Broncos' fast-paced approach combined with the elevation in Denver made for a thorough conditioning test for the Rams defense.
“I thought it was great work for our front, especially from a conditioning standpoint, preparing us for the opener with the elevation and then having to play over 50 snaps if you take out the penalty snaps, so there were some positives there,” Fisher said.
The Broncos ran an astounding 30 plays in the first quarter and 49 in the first half. Denver played at a tempo that would make Chip Kelly proud, and the Rams did what they could to keep up.
Taking that into account, though, the Rams may now rethink the approach to the preseason finale in a short week. Essentially, Monday will be the equivalent of a Thursday in a normal practice week leading to a Sunday game.
The Rams have plenty to work on, so Fisher said they’d have to put on the pads to get some work done early in the week before playing Baltimore. That could lead to a scaled-back approach for the starters in the game.
In last year’s preseason finale, the Rams played the Ravens as well and had planned to play the starters through the first half and potentially into the third. That plan was foiled only by their success as they dominated a team full of Baltimore backups.
Midway through the second quarter, the Rams already had a 21-0 lead and Fisher pulled the starting offense. Quarterback Sam Bradford played 32 snaps along with a handful of his teammates.
The idea of building gradually to the regular season makes sense in that it keeps a team from going more than two weeks without playing in live game action. It also has its share of drawbacks.
Putting starters in against backups can be a dangerous proposition when it pits starters looking for reps against backups desperate to earn a job. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers suffered his high ankle sprain in that game against Baltimore last year, after just 12 snaps for the then rookie.
It’s almost certain that Baltimore will again have a team of backups on the field against the Rams, as the Ravens start the regular season a week from Thursday.
“It’s a challenge,” Fisher said. “Obviously our opponents look at it a little different than we do because they play a week from Thursday. So I think it’s reasonable to assume they are probably going to rest some key players because they play seven days from then. Our challenge is that tomorrow when the players come back it’s actually a Thursday of a normal preparation week.”
That challenge should give the Rams pause as they debate how much playing time to give their starters in the exhibition finale.