Jeff Fisher-coached teams have always had the reputation of playing with an edge, and the result has often been a lot of penalty flags. That is certainly the case now with the St. Louis Rams.
As most coaches will usually point out, a certain number of penalties are unavoidable. With the Rams, not only is the team near the top of the league in penalties assessed and yardage lost, but the Rams are also the second-most penalized team in "major" penalties: unnecessary roughness, personal fouls, roughing the passer, taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct.
With three games to play, overall the Rams have the third-most penalties assessed in the league with 100 (they have also had 12 declined). Only Tampa Bay with 106 and Seattle with 104 have more. They have lost 807 yards, which is sixth most behind Tampa Bay, 1,000; Seattle, 966; Houston, 912; Denver, 834 and Cincinnati, 819.
After the Rams lost 90 yards on 11 penalties Sunday against Arizona, one week after they had 11 penalties for 105 yards against San Francisco, Fisher said, "They're high; they have been the last two weeks (and) they're an issue. There's a number of them that we've looked at, we've discussed, that shouldn't have been called. But still, nonetheless, they're up. We had our first penalty in seven games in the return game, and that was disappointing."
There were also major penalties, as there have been throughout the season, several of which fall in the category of questionable calls. But that is the case throughout the league.
Against the Cardinals, defensive end Robert Quinn was flagged for a personal foul as a buildup of frustration from being held without penalties being called.
Said Fisher, "He's got to keep his poise; he can't take his helmet off with the frustration."
The Rams have been flagged 23 times for those major penalties with three being declined: unnecessary roughness (9), personal fouls (7), roughing the passer (4), taunting (2) and unsportsmanlike conduct (1).
Those penalties have cost the Rams 244 yards, which is 30.2 percent of their total lost yardage on penalties.
Tampa Bay, the Rams' opponent on Dec. 22, has 24 penalties called with one declined. Of that total, 15 are for unnecessary roughness, seven for roughing the passer and two for unsportsmanlike conduct. The next highest team is Seattle with 17.
By contrast, this week's opponent, the New Orleans Saints, have just eight major penalties despite being tied for second in the league with 43 sacks and first in sacks per pass play. Overall, only eight teams have fewer penalties than the Saints' 74 and only seven have fewer assessed yards than the Saints' 606.
SERIES HISTORY: 71st regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 39-31. These teams played twice a year when they were in the same division from 1970-2001. Since divisional realignment in 2002, they have played six times with each team winning three. Four have been played in St. Louis with each team winning four. In those games, the teams have alternated victories with the Saints winning in 2004, the Rams in 2005, the Saints in 2009 and the Rams in 2011.
--When Rams coach Jeff Fisher was searching for a defensive coordinator at the beginning of the offseason, he eventually decided to hire Rob Ryan, who had been fired by the Dallas Cowboys.
However, after spending a few days with the Rams, Ryan decided it wasn't a good fit and decided not to take the job. He hadn't signed a contract. Not long afterward, he was hired by the Saints after former Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo was fired as the team's defensive coordinator.
When asked about the departure by New Orleans media in a conference call, Fisher said, "People sometimes in life change their mind and I was fine with that. I had no problem. If he wanted to go there, that's fine. If he wanted to stay here, that's great. We were obviously talking and had a couple of things together and he had a change of heart. That is fine and (I) have respect for that."
--Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins (10) and Trumaine Johnson (nine) are the most penalized Rams this season, with one of Johnson's penalties being declined.
Jenkins' penalties have cost the team 86 yards and eight first downs, while Johnson's have lost 54 yards and resulted in seven first downs.
--It remains to be seen whether Harvey Dahl shares snaps at right guard this week, after playing half the snaps in his first action after missing four games because of a knee injury.
Asked about Dahl's play against Arizona, coach Jeff Fisher said, "It looked like it was his first week back. He did OK. I expect him to be better this week, but he played hard like he does. He was down field, was correct in everything that he did."
As for center Tim Barnes, it was baptism under fire against Arizona, the first start of his career with Scott Wells out because of a fractured fibula.
"Tim was good," Fisher said. "Again, it's a good front. He was challenged, but he knew what to do and how to do it. He was overmatched at times, but everybody is when you play that front. But, I thought by and large, he did a good job in protections. He didn't have any protection issues, those came outside."
--The pass defense will be challenged against New Orleans, one week after Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer completed 27 of 32 passes.
Asked about the play of the secondary, Fisher said, "We've got to get better. We've got to do better up front. It's a total defensive effort. If you look at one area in particular, it's third down. That's where I'm not impressed or pleased right now, to say the least, in our third-down efficiency defense. We've got to get better there. That gets the ball back for our offense and with the offense struggling on third down as well, at least if you get it back you get them more drives. That's got to be a big area of emphasis here as we finish up the year."
--Rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree led the team in tackles against Arizona with 12, including nine unassisted, one for a loss, plus a forced fumble and sack. He also added a pressure and a quarterback hit.
For the season, Ogletree now leads middle linebacker James Laurinaitis in overall tackles, 121-120, and solo tackles 97-87. He also has five forced fumbles, one behind team leader, defensive end Robert Quinn. The numbers are compiled by coaches after evaluating game tape.
"Each week he does something that surprises you," Fisher said. "You say, 'Wow' on a positive side. He's tackled very well, got off blocks, ran much better this week in his pass coverage and things than he was last week. Didn't have any issues with the footing, and he's making a lot of plays for us."
BY THE NUMBERS: 9.13 - Number of sacks pr pass play the Rams' defense has registered this season. That ranks third in the NFL, while their 38 sacks is tied for seventh.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've felt it. Mondays are a little tougher than they were for the first seven weeks of the season, but it's part of the job. I think one thing that I'm learning as I've had more and more of an opportunity to start on a consistent basis is how to take care of my body earlier in the week because you don't have to do it when you're not playing. It's a lot easier." - QB Kellen Clemens on the hits he's taken the last two weeks against San Francisco and Arizona.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--C Barrett Jones was believed to have not played Sunday in his first NFL game active. However, the tape revealed Jones played one snap on special teams.
--P Johnny Hekker had two touchbacks on punts Sunday and his season net average dropped to 43.9, but it is still good enough to lead the NFL in that category.
--G Harvey Dahl, who missed four games because of a knee injury before playing 27 snaps against Arizona, was added to the injury report Thursday and did not practice because of a knee injury.
--WR Tavon Austin, who was considered day-to-day because of an ankle injury suffered Sunday against Arizona, did not practice Wednesday and Thursday.
--CB Janoris Jenkins did not practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a back injury, and his status for Sunday's game is unknown.
--CB Brandon McGee, who was inactive for Sunday's game against Arizona, did not practice Wednesday, but participated fully Thursday.
--RB Daryl Richardson, who has been inactive for the last five games, did not practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a thigh injury.
Somehow keep the New Orleans offense off the field by controlling the game on the ground, reaching third down in manageable situations and then converting.
Conversely, get pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees (he has been sacked 26 times this season), and make plays defensively on third down. The Saints have converted 45.7 percent of their third-down plays, which is tied for third best in the NFL.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Rams DRE Robert Quinn vs. Saints LT Charles Brown - Quinn has 13.0 sacks this season, and is only kept away from quarterbacks on a lot of occasions when he is held. Brees gets rid of the ball quickly, and has completed 68 percent of his passes.
--Rams secondary vs. Saints pass-catchers - This appears to be a mismatch unless Brees is thrown off rhythm by the pass rush. Saints TE Jimmy Graham has played with injury a good part of the season, but still has 74 receptions for 1,046 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Rams' young secondary - cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins (if healthy) and Trumaine Johnson, and safeties T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod - will be challenged. The depth is questionable behind the starters.
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- Jeff Fisher
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