The Rams were one of the NFL’s biggest surprises when they were 3-1 and sitting atop the NFC West.
Now that they are 3-2 and preparing for the league’s longest extended trip to Detroit and London, will it be a surprise if they return 3-4?
It’s a challenging stretch for any team, especially one with major injury questions on defense and the NFL’s lowest-ranked offense.
The Rams are prepared, logistically, to handle the long trip, Coach Jeff Fisher said Monday.
“We’re set up, we’re ready to go, everything is in place,” he said during a news conference at Cal Lutheran. “It’s just back-to-back road trips, that’s all it is.”
The Rams, however, will not return to Los Angeles between games.
They will play the Lions on Sunday at Ford Field, take a break at the stadium afterward, and then board a plane to London, where they will play the New York Giants on Oct. 23.
How many front-line players will be available is in doubt.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson suffered an ankle injury in the team’s 30-19 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at the Coliseum. He left the stadium on crutches and with a large protective plastic boot encasing his lower right leg and foot.
If Johnson, as expected, is sidelined against the Lions, Troy Hill would probably return to the starting lineup and play opposite E.J. Gaines.
Defensive linemen Robert Quinn, William Hayes and Michael Brockers did not play against the Bills because of injuries, and Fisher said all would be evaluated “day to day” this week.
Offensive guard Cody Wichmann suffered an ankle injury against the Bills and was replaced by Jamon Brown. Wichmann is probably questionable for Sunday’s game, Fisher said.
The Rams offense is averaging 284.2 yards per game, worst in the NFL.
But It generated 340 yards against the Bills, and Fisher noted that the Rams controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes and had 23 first downs.
He also said that the Rams were improving on third down and making more explosive plays.
“You can take the 32nd in the league and write all you want about it,” he said, “but this offense is improving.”
The Rams started the season poorly, losing, 28-0, in their season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. They also struggled in other games.
Victories will be tough to come by if the Rams offense commits costly turnovers as it did against Buffalo.
Case Keenum had two passes intercepted, one returned for a touchdown, and running back Todd Gurley lost a fumble that the Bills converted into a touchdown.
“Every game has one or two plays that decide the game and obviously, turnovers are huge,” Keenum said, adding, “There is a small margin of error.”
Keenum has passed for four touchdowns, with five interceptions. He has played all season with the specter of No. 1-pick Jared Goff looming.
Asked Monday about Goff’s progress, Fisher said the backup was “doing fine.”
“He has a good feel for what we’re doing,” Fisher said. “I think he’s improving. He’s learned a lot and, with each passing week, he’s getting better.”
In a blowout victory or loss, would Fisher play Goff for a series or two to gain experience?
Fisher gave then-rookie Sean Mannion a few series last season during a 31-7 loss at Cincinnati.
The Rams special teams have mostly performed well.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein has made all nine field-goal attempts and punter Johnny Hekker is among the league leaders.
But the Rams failed to execute a trick play in a key situation against the Bills.
Trailing by four points, the Rams had the ball at their 23-yard line with less than four minutes left when Fisher called for a fake punt. Receiver Bradley Marquez took the snap, ran to his right and was tackled short of the first down.
The Bills converted the failed attempt into a touchdown.
Fisher, who is 30-38-1 in four-plus seasons with the Rams, stood by his decision.
“I’d do it all over again,” he said. “We had the opportunity and they made the play. We didn’t. But that’s the way we’re wired. That’s our fabric. And that’s taken us a long way.”
Fisher said he expected that rookie receiver Pharoh Cooper, who made his debut against the Bills, would play more in coming games. Cooper was the intended receiver on the interception that was returned for a touchdown. “It’s a combination of the receiver, the quarterback and the defensive player making a great play,” Fisher said. … Rookie receiver Michael Thomas, a sixth-round pick, returned three kickoffs against the Bills because Benny Cunningham was inactive because of a hamstring injury. Thomas averaged 20.7 yards per return. He also has stood out on coverage teams. “I feel like I’m making an impact week by week,” he said.