Friday, October 28, 2016

Los Angeles Weekly (Bye Week)

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Time for L.A. Rams to turn to Jared Goff. Drained by another last-minute defeat, another unsuccessful "home" game in London, another season headed to the same "7-9 bull----," Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher refused to change course.

"The quarterback is not the reason, by the way, that we lost three games. I'm staying with Case (Keenum)," Fisher said before he was even asked Sunday afternoon at Twickenham Stadium, anticipating the long two weeks ahead.

Keenum was picked off four times in a 17-10 defeat to New York, which included roughly as many effective forward passes as a typical game at the Cathedral of Rugby. His final errant lob, the result of a miscommunicated hand signal with Rams receiver Brian Quick, could have been fair caught by Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

The Rams' caravan has taken them from St. Louis to Oxnard to Irvine to Thousand Oaks to Los Angeles and now to London over the last 10 months, carrying the same burdens that have plagued Fisher's entire five-year tenure with the team. There are the persistent penalties, the good-but-not-good-enough defense and a passing attack that ranks among the league's worst.

It's past time to see what No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff has to offer. Yet Fisher cut down that storyline before it could grow legs, playing better offense than any other Ram on Sunday.

"Take a look at the tape. See who's responsible for the interceptions. ... I'll make changes at receiver before I make a change at the quarterback position," Fisher said.

Fisher's stance is neither surprising nor sensible. Receivers were part of the problem on three of Keenum's picks, but that doesn't account for the other 52 passing plays that mostly led nowhere. The Rams failed to score on their final 11 drives. Keenum knew that his final throw was hardly his team's only failure.

"I've got to give our guys a chance," a dejected Keenum said after the loss. "A few plays before that, we had some chances, too. A little bit better balls. I think Mike Thomas scores if I throw a better ball on that, and I think Bradley (Marquez) scores if I throw a little better ball on that, too."

That sort of leadership is one reason why Fisher continues to stand by Keenum. Loyalty is a laudable trait in a head coach and one of the reasons why players love playing for Fisher. But players love to win above all, and it became increasingly clear in the second half that this was not Keenum's day.

Offensive coordinator Rob Boras has been resourceful the last few weeks manufacturing yards, and his team had its chances for more Sunday. Keenum missed Kenny Britt streaking wide open for a potential score on the first play of the second half. Three punts and one interception later, Keenum threw a pop fly to Quick, who had broken open in the end zone. By the time the ball fluttered back down to Earth, Quick was playing defense in an effort to prevent an interception. Keenum went deep again on the very next play and was picked off.

That was Fisher's moment to make a dramatic change. To rouse a sellout crowd that watched eleven straight punts and give his No. 1 overall pick a chance to do something special. For a team that has such an aggressive mindset defensively, the Rams are consistently cautious on offense.

Three times on Sunday, Fisher passed on a chance to go for fourth-and-short in Giants territory. Those decisions lay bare the enigma of these Rams: They have the confidence to stick with Keenum after the game but not enough confidence to convert first downs. Keenum is hardly the only reason why the Rams have lost three straight, but he wasn't the reason they started the season 3-1, either.

This is a team squarely in the middle of the NFL, with six straight games that have come down to the final series. Considering the team's minus-34 point differential, the Rams are lucky to be 3-4.

This wandering Rams season, so full of disruption, begs for understanding, if not excuse-making. Even halfway across the world in a supposed home game, they were relative afterthoughts to the Odell Beckham show. Giants fans turned out in numbers, creating perhaps the loudest atmosphere in the history of the International Series. The crowd noise had a direct impact on a Rams false-start penalty late in the fourth quarter and contributed to the Rams needing to burn timeouts.

It felt like New Jersey in Europe as "Let's go Giants!" chants rang through the packed Twickenham concourses after the game. Mobs of Big Blue supporters shrieked when they got a quick glimpse of Jason Pierre-Paul, a "Beatles landing in New York" story in reverse.

Yet, no matter which obstacles the Rams have faced this year, the lack of faith in Goff's readiness to play stands as a disappointment. He was drafted as a presumptive starter, with the billing that he was more "pro ready" than Carson Wentz. The Rams gave up two first-round picks, two second-round picks and two third-round picks for Goff because they believed he could snap Fisher's seven-quarterback losing streak, but they don't believe in him enough yet to start him over Keenum, who has eight passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season.

"Jared is going to play when we feel Jared is ready," Fisher said.

NFL Network's Steve Wyche reported during the week that Goff has taken significant strides in practice since Week 1, and the team is ready to increase his practice reps starting with the Rams' upcoming bye. That's a sign the Rams are feeling optimistic about Goff behind the scenes, and they recognize developing their quarterback is a crucial component to their season. They just refuse to commit to that development like the Giants did back when they elevated Eli Manning as a rookie in 2004.

The Giants wound up falling from 5-4 to 6-10 after making that change, but Manning credits his massive second-year leap to what he learned from that experience. The Rams might need to take a step back to some 5-11 bull---- to ever move forward.

Instead, the Rams continue to stay the course, deflecting issues like the Giants did to 12 Keenum passes on Sunday. Fisher noted that left tackle Greg Robinson "needs to learn" to avoid penalties, yet it's Robinson's third season since being taken No. 2 overall. Fisher was quick to point out this is not a veteran Rams team, but they have been the youngest team in the NFL for seasons running.

At some point soon, Fisher needs to show he is capable of change.

Goff Gets Bye Week Reps. For every team in the NFL, a normal game week is strenuous and provides only limited on-field opportunities to get work done. There’s no real limit to how much study is done off the field in preparation for an opponent, but practice reps are reserved for those who will play.

Given those parameters, rookie quarterback Jared Goff has gotten fairly limited reps with the first-team offense since the calendar flipped from the preseason to regular season. But with no team to prepare for this week, the Rams’ No. 1 overall pick took the majority of snaps in Wednesday’s practice.

“Jared got a lot of reps, as we talked about,” head coach Jeff Fisher said. “I thought he did well.”

“I thought it went well,” Goff said. “I feel tremendously more comfortable than I’ve ever felt. I feel confident that if my number’s called, I’ll be ready to go. Just waiting for that time.”

Fisher said the session consisted of the young quarterback manning numerous different situations.

“He participated in seven-on-seven, then we had a red-zone-move [period], we had a 1st-and-10 run-play-pass period, then we had a pressure period. He handled everything really well — huddle presence and understanding, snap count, Mike-ID’s,” Fisher said. “He was going against our defense — he hadn’t gone against our defense [in our offense] in a while. So I thought he did a nice job.”

As Goff pointed out, however, he has been going against the L.A. defense practically every practice on the scout team.

“It’s the same,” Goff said, downplaying the significance.

What has changed from training camp to Oct. 26 is Goff’s familiarity and confidence with the Rams’ offense. There’s no question he has a higher knowledge base than he did at the end of August.

“I just think with knowledge and reps you get confidence. And that’s with anybody at any sport, any position,” Goff said. “It’s just reps and doing things the right way, you feel better.”

On the whole, Goff described the first half-season of his NFL career as a learning experience.

“I’ve learned a lot and I hope to learn a lot for the rest of my career,” Goff said. “I don’t think this is going to be any different than the rest of my career as far as progressing and always trying to get better. Every day I treat the same, and kind of like it was at Cal — every day I try to go out there, no matter if I was a junior or freshman, and try to get better every day. That’s kind of how I’ll treat the rest of my career.”

As for the question of when Goff may be inserted into the starting lineup, Fisher has made it clear this week he plans to stick with quarterback Case Keenum for now. While as a competitor, Goff would undoubtedly like to be playing, he said he realizes staying on the sideline is part of the process.

“I’m not going to sit here and complain or gripe,” Goff said. “I’m going to support Case and continue to get ready, and be ready, and continue to be confident in myself, and be ready when the time comes.”

But with Goff consistently dressing as the backup signal-caller, it’s clear the No. 1 overall pick is steadily improving.

“He is, he’s a play away — and he knows that,” Fisher said. “If he wasn’t making progress, he’d be a No. 3.”

And should a situation arrive where Goff were to play, Fisher said the club would not have to pare a gameplan down offensively.

“We would not change a thing,” Fisher said. “We wouldn’t scale anything back, we wouldn’t change a thing. He’s got that good of a feel for what we’re doing.”

"I’m confident in myself and confident in what I can do,” Goff said. “I feel like if my number gets called, I’ll be ready. But it’s not up to me to decide when that time is. That’s what coach Fisher and all those other coaches get paid for — is to make those decisions.”

“But, yeah, I’m confident in what I can do,” Goff continued. “I’m confident I’ll be ready when the time comes.”

Los Angeles Rams' Case Keenum: 'We're just not doing enough'.

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum sets up to throw a pass in the first quarter of the Rams-Arizona Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, October 2, 2016. A frustrated group of Los Angeles Rams wrapped up their final practice Wednesday before taking the next four days off for the bye week.

A season that began with a decade-best 3-1 start had deteriorated into a 3-4 record at the break. With hopes and aspirations high one month into the season, the goal was simply to get back on track.

Or, at the very least, figure out a way to play a complete game in which the offense and defense are playing at a high level together. In addition, the team looks to avoid silly mistakes, costly turnovers and back-breaking penalties.

Save for an opening-night blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams have been competitive in their six other games this year. Their four losses have come down to a missed play, an ill-timed penalty or a crushing turnover.

They aren't miles away, they are inches away - but making up that inch has been a major issue.

"You know, it's tough to say," Los Angeles quarterback Case Keenum. "We're just not doing enough. Whatever it is, we need to go back, look at film, correct it, and keep going."

They've been saying that for the last few years - and it's getting old.

The key is, are they closing in on answers?

"I'm trying to figure that out myself," running back Todd Gurley said. "I don't know. I don't know, man. We've just got to get it together."

So the Rams will take the rest of the week off, the hope being they return with some solutions.

They aren't out of the playoff race by any means, but they can't keep playing uneven football and expect to remain it in much longer.

Figuring things out will be a topic Rams coaches will focus on during the week off.

"That's where the staff has spent a lot of time. You say 'Bye week - oh, you'll be home for dinner at 6 (p.m.)' No, we push it pretty hard over the last few days, just to do the self-scout and those kind of things - what's good and what's not," Los Angeles head coach Jeff Fisher said.

"Where do we need to improve, what are teams doing against us and what are we not doing - those kind of things. We barely scratched the surface on our next opponent. Right now, our biggest opponent is ourselves, so spend time with yourselves."

The Rams return action on Nov. 6 against the Carolina Panthers. Fisher has said it will be Keenum, not first round pick Jared Goff, at quarterback. The defense is playing solid football, now it's on Keenum, Gurley and the offensive line to produce as well.

Time hasn't run out, but it's running out.

"These games have been close, we've been competitive," Fisher said. "You look at some of the outstanding effort plays on defense, and their contact, and just everything. You just kind of wonder at some point, this thing is going to get turned around. That's where we are right now, is holding on to hope that the health of this football team, and the experience is going to get it turned around."

-- Goff got the bulk of the first-team reps when the Rams practiced Wednesday, and his reps with the first unit are expected to increase next week when the team returns.

The extra work seems to be paying off.

"I feel tremendously more comfortable than I've ever felt," Goff said. "I feel confident that if my number's called, I'll be ready to go. Just waiting for that time."

When that happens is anyone's guess. For now, Goff will just bide his time.

"It's part of the process part of what's going on," Goff said. "I'm not going to sit here and complain or gripe. I'm going to support Case and continue to get ready and be ready and continue to be confident in myself and be ready when the time comes."

Fisher indicated he is confident Goff will excel if his number is called.

"We would not change a thing. We wouldn't scale anything back, we wouldn't change a thing," Fisher said. "He's got that good of a feel for what we're doing."

--OT Greg Robinson is struggling again. The second pick overall in the 2013 draft, Robinson has not developed the way the Rams hoped and is currently grading out among the worst starting linemen in the league.

His 10 penalties are the most among offensive linemen.

"I feel like I've made a lot of strides," he said. "It's not perfect. I don't expect it to be. I can't be too hard on myself because there are a lot of good things that I see, but the main thing is fixing mistakes and trying my best to really be strict on myself."

Fisher continues to have hope Robinson will develop into a productive left tackle.

"You have to look at each individual play, and the technique, and why. Like I said, Greg is going to be a really good player," Fisher said. "He's highly athletic. I thought, for the most part, he played an outstanding rusher in (New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul) 'JPP and he held his own in this game. There's no harder position to play besides the quarterback position, like I said, than the left tackle position, especially when you're going to throw the ball."

A satirical look at more than 75 years of Football's Rams history, combined with discussions of American Exceptionalism and almost 50 years of personal experience in the life of a Rams Fan. The history parallels and intertwines life to form a humorous, yet serious look at American HistoryWorld History, an American Footballteam, and Political Science.