St. Louis Rams

Rams’ run of mediocrity continues, but is there hope in sight?

St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and his team endured another frustrating season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and his team endured another frustrating season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) AP

The Rams are 27-36-1 in four seasons under head coach Jeff Fisher, who is still looking for his first winning season in St. Louis.

His teams have gone 7-8-1, 7-9, 6-10 and 7-9 and have yet to win more than three games in succession. A 19-16 overtime loss to the 5-11 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday — the only team to finish lower than the Rams in the NFC West standings — brought an end to the regular season and guaranteed a 12th straight non-winning season.

The Rams won only seven games this season, yet somehow managed to go 3-1 against NFC playoff qualifiers and division rivals Arizona (13-3) and Seattle (10-6). Along with everything else, there’s still a chance the franchise could move to Los Angeles if owner Stan Kroenke’s plan comes to fruition.

Fisher hinted Monday about possible coaching staff changes that could come later this week, but hasn’t worried much about whether the team would be moving or staying in St. Louis.

“I’ve been through this experience before,” said Fisher, who was coaching in Houston when the Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997. “We have to take the approach and with the assumption that everything’s taking place here in St. Louis until we’re told otherwise. I don’t have any more information than you guys do.

“I’ve chosen not to ask questions, so I can tell the truth when I’m asked questions.”

Why has it been so hard for Fisher and the front office to get this team over the hump?

I’m certainly disappointed. We had high expectations this year coming into this thing. We felt like we were built and equipped to compete in the division and make a run.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher

“It’s taken time. It was not a good situation when we got here,” Fisher said. “We’ve had inconsistent quarterback play, we’ve started a number of quarterbacks. Our focus has been in the division and to compete with the division, we’ve shown that we can do that.

We just have to be more consistent outside the division.”

Raising the bar

Fisher admitted he expected more out of this team.

“I’m certainly disappointed,” Fisher said. “We had high expectations this year coming into this thing. We felt like we were built and equipped to compete in the division and make a run.”

The trade of former first overall pick Sam Bradford to Philadelphia for Nick Foles didn’t help since Foles ended the season on the bench, replaced by former backup Case Keenum.

Two old reliables for the Rams — injuries and inconsistency — combined to keep the Rams out of the playoffs for the 11th straight year.

“As every coach will tell you, injuries are not excuses but we played most of the year without(defensive end) Robert Quinn and (linebacker) Alec Ogletree and (safety) T.J. McDonald and then lost the corner(backs),” Fisher said. “Then we had some issues up front with the offensive line and then we had to make a change at the quarterback position.

“I think we’re in position to go now. I know no one looks forward to playing us. I know that.”

We’ve got our work cut out for us this offseason.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher

Looking ahead to next season, Fisher said the Rams enter the offseason with Keenum as the starting quarterback.

“Looking back, two or three games a couple missed field goals, a couple overtime games and things are different,” Fisher said. “But I believe in this team and believe in the direction that we’re going. I believe we’re building it right and have confidence in Case ... Case is an incomplete pass and a field goal away from potentially being 5-0 as a starter.

“He worked really well with Rob (interim offensive coordinator Rob Boras) and (quarterbacks coach Chris) Weinke over the last few weeks. (We) feel really good about his development and I think he’s got a chance to be a real good quarterback.”

Fisher said he hasn’t ruled out Foles, either, and has yet to make a decision on whether Boras’ promotion is permanent.

“We’re going to give Nick a chance to compete,” he said. “There will be competition when we come back and I think we have a promising young talent in Sean (Mannion) that will be in the mix as well.”

Lack of offense a problem all season

One area that must be improved is offense — and the Rams ranked 32nd (dead last) among all teams in total offense at 297.6 yards per game. In their nine losses, the Rams scored fewer than 18 points.

The Rams were also last in the NFL in first downs (241), passing yards per game (175.3 yards per game), TD passes (11), quarterback rating (74.1) and third-down conversion rate (52-of-201, 25.9 percent).

They were 29th in scoring (17.5 points per game) and offensive touchdowns (27). With a struggling offense, the 20-of-30 performance on field goals (3-for-9 on tries of 50 yards or longer) by kicker Greg Zuerlein is magnified.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us this offseason,” Fisher said. “That’s where we’ve got to go, score points. You’re going to have games where you’re going to win 17-10, you’re going to play some really good defensive teams -but then your defense has to step up as well.

“In all those (losses) our defense gave up way too many plays as well. Points, third-down efficiency and red-zone (offense) are very, very important to us.”

The Rams are facing free-agency decisions on 10 starters and more players overall.

“We have a lot of decisions to make and we’ve got some key free agents that we have to get back and that’s going to be our focus, especially in the secondary,” Fisher said, knowing starting cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are both unrestricted free agents while safety Rodney McLeod is a restricted free agent.

“We’ve drafted well there, they’ve produced we’ve developed them and we don’t want to develop them for anyone else. We want to be sure that we’re able to get them back and we’re confident we can do that.”

Rams injury update

Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley hopes to play in the Pro Bowl despite a nagging turf toe injury that kept him out of the 49ers game. He finished the season with 1,106 yards.

Fisher didn’t seem as keen on the idea.

“It’ll be close but we’ll see. He’ll make the trip, I’m sure,” Fisher said, “and then we’ll make that decision. But we’re not going to put him at risk there.”

Fisher said he expects an even better Gurley next season with a full offseason to prepare.

“You come off this injury and that first year back, you can see the light and things,” Fisher said. “But, with an offseason program and strength and conditioning, he should be a different running back next year.”

Quinn is coming off back surgery, Ogletree off ankle surgery and McDonald had shoulder surgery. Linebacker James Laurinaitis played much of the second half of the season with a torn elbow ligament.

Team awards

Rams players voted defensive tackle Aaron Donald as their Most Valuable Player. Gurley was Rookie of the Year and tight end Cory Harkey won the Carl Ekern Spririt of the Game Award. The Ed Block Courage award went to receiver Brian Quick, who returned from a career-threatening shoulder injury.

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

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