Jeff Fisher did this once before. He took over a down and out Houston Oilers team in the middle of the 1994 season and had them in the Super Bowl five years later.
What Fisher didn’t have then is what he does have now, in his attempt to reverse the fortunes of the St. Louis Rams.
“Both teams had the same record, but the Houston Oilers were a run and shoot offense. They weren’t built for conventional football, so that took time. We didn’t have a quarterback in Houston; we do have a quarterback here. They’re two completely different challenges,” Fisher told Packers media on Wednesday, during a conference call to preview this Sunday’s game in St. Louis.
Fisher drafted Steve McNair with the third pick of the 1995 draft, and the slow, painful development of a young quarterback began. In taking over the Rams, Fisher inherited the first pick of the 2010 draft, quarterback Sam Bradford.
“We’ve got a new offensive system, which is his third in three years, but this is the one, hopefully, he’ll flourish in for the rest of his career,” Fisher said of Bradford.
Bradford slumped last season. He pitched only six touchdown passes and finished near the bottom of the league with a 70.5 passer rating. Fisher is intent on reclaiming the franchise quarterback tag Bradford had worn.
“Ever since he took over, he’s brought a sense of confidence,” Bradford said of his coach.
Through six games this year, Bradford is trending toward the middle of the passer ratings. He currently has an 81.3 rating, which includes six touchdown passes and five interceptions. He’s already equaled last year’s touchdown passes total.
With wide receiver Danny Amendola out of action with a shoulder injury, veteran running back Steven Jackson is still the Rams’ best weapon on an offense that is ranked 28th in the league.
“He takes good care of himself. He knows how to prepare. When you’re talking about a running back with years under his belt, typically you’re talking about two things: Is he getting hit or is he getting tackled? Steven is still getting tackled; he’s not getting hit. He still has the potential to take over a game,” Fisher said of Jackson, who’s rushed for 323 yards.
The Rams’ strong suit is their defense, ranked seventh overall and sixth against the pass, but Fisher didn’t want to brag on those rankings.
“You have to be realistic. We’ve only played six games and in three of those games we played against rookie quarterbacks. We’ve been effective so far against the run and forced passing situations,” Fisher said.
“Our defense has kept us in every game. We’re not going to have to score 45 points a game to win,” Bradford said.
The Rams scored only three points in a loss at Lambeau Field last season.
“It seemed like it was similar to the game we had last week,” Bradford said, comparing last year’s 24-3 loss to the Packers to the Rams’ 17-14 loss in Miami this past Sunday. “We just weren’t able to put points on the board. We killed ourselves when we got down inside the 30. That’s been a big emphasis around here, finishing drives.”
Fisher is famous for finishing rebuilding projects. He rebuilt the depleted Oilers into the AFC-champion Titans, then rebuilt the Titans a few years later when the salary cap ravaged their roster.
“There was a lot of work that needed to be done and there’s still a lot of work in progress and in the future,” Fisher said of his undertaking with the Rams. “You look at the roster and look at what happened last year; there were a lot of injuries and changes that needed to be made. You don’t call it rebuilding; we like to use the word reenergize. We’ve done it with youth so far and we’re having fun. It’s a work in progress.” Additional coverage - Oct. 17