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Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Rams sweet on vanilla preseason approach

By Nick Wagoner

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Although it’s common practice for fans and even media to push the panic button after a disappointing preseason performance, it’s just as common for teams to remain measured and even keeled.

That’s why the Rams don’t plan to change much of anything heading toward Saturday night’s second preseason game against Green Bay.

If regular-season games are like Baskin Robbins, offering 31 different flavors, then most teams in the preseason are homemade, hand-churned vanilla. And that’s how the Rams intend to stay against Green Bay and throughout the rest of the preseason slate.

This week, the Rams may add a few sprinkles but don’t expect them to start mixing in other flavors.

Jeff Fisher
Jeff Fisher said he isn't fretting over the high amount of penalties that his Rams committed during the preseason.
“Yeah, I’d imagine we’re going to keep it pretty simple, though,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “Last week we were extremely vanilla. I’d imagine that we might throw in a few more plays, but I doubt we’re going to show a whole lot of new wrinkles.”

As is custom around the league, teams are reluctant to tip their hand on things they plan to unveil when the regular season begins. The logic is simple: if you don’t put something on tape, opponents can’t study it and prepare for it before playing in the games that really count.

“We’ll do a few more things, I think, and add a few things,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “But, still again, our focus is on the opener and the early-season opponents. So, the less we show in preseason, sometimes the more productive you are.”

The Rams kept it about as simple as possible against Cleveland in the preseason opener. They sent an extra rusher only a handful of times and most of those were simple linebacker blitzes.

Offensively, the up-tempo approach many are projecting for them this year was nowhere to be found. That didn’t keep them from having some success as the first-team offense put together two solid drives (one of which was halted by back Isaiah Pead’s fumble).

The focus against Green Bay won’t change much schematically, though. Instead, the Rams will focus more on fundamentals and improving in areas such as simple communication and being more assignment-sound.

Those areas proved detrimental in the loss to the Browns as a few of the team’s younger players, notably linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald, found themselves out of position for some of the Browns’ bigger plays.

Offensively, it means handling basic tasks such as blitz pickups, hot routes, protection calls and sight adjustments more efficiently. As Bradford continues to build rapport with some new faces at receiver (namely Tavon Austin and Jared Cook) and on the offensive line (tackle Jake Long), it’s expected that some hiccups will occur.

“I think the biggest thing for us is just going out there and executing whatever our game plan is,” Bradford said. “Whatever we put in, whatever we talk about on Friday night before the game, we need to go out and execute and be clean. They’re small details but they make a difference in winning or losing a game in the regular season. Those are the things that we need to make sure that we take care of out there on Saturday.”

When asked if expectations about his team had or should change based on the loss to Cleveland, Fisher suggested that a big dose of patience would be best for anyone attempting to make sweeping generalizations.

Fisher’s point is valid given the relative lack of correlation between preseason and regular-season performance. The Rams were 4-0 in the 2011 preseason and went on to a miserable 2-14 regular season.

A year ago, the Rams went 2-2 in the preseason, including an opening week 38-3 thumping at the hands of Indianapolis, and went on to improve their record to 7-8-1.

The exhibition slate really allows for two common goals: to keep your starters healthy and to work on ways to get better.

“It’s improvement,” Fisher said. “We really can’t go any other direction other than that. But, going back to the game, again we made a lot of corrections. I feel like young guys have a better understanding of what we’re doing right now. So, we want to see improvement. Now, you may not be able to see it at first glance, but we expect it to happen and we’re confident it will.”