Column: Even with the offense stuck in neutral, Rams resist a change at quarterback
The Rams made a bold move to relocate to Los Angeles. They had the guts to leapfrog 14 teams to get to the top of the draft. Now, they’re gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles and hazards flashing, refusing to get out of the slow lane.
If you’re waiting for Coach Jeff Fisher to call a quarterback audible, you’d better get comfortable.
Fisher is as immovable as a 400-pound defensive tackle, saying again Sunday he won’t bench Case Keenum for No. 1 pick Jared Goff, despite the fact the Rams have scored 10, 10 and nine points in their last three games.
Is a change even under consideration?
“No,” Fisher said after a 9-6 victory by the Rams over the New York Jets. “I’m not going to go into a quarterback situation.”
Too late. The Rams have had a quarterback situation for a while, as evidenced by the boos and “We want Goff” chants at the Coliseum a week ago. Fans are beyond restless for the team to see what it has in the kid from Berkeley who turned around a moribund California program.
The Rams stopped their losing slide at four games , but they have yet to jump-start their offense. They failed to reach the end zone with a first and goal at the one, doing nothing to dislodge themselves from the No. 32 spot in scoring.
The franchise has gotten strong play from its defense and special teams — if there’s a most valuable player so far, it’s between defensive tackle Aaron Donald and punter Johnny Hekker — but has yet to find an offensive rhythm. Bizarrely, the Rams are 2-1 when they haven’t scored a touchdown, and 2-4 when they have.
There’s a valid argument for Fisher playing it safe. Nobody is running away with the NFC West, and the Rams have beaten the two teams ahead of them, Seattle and Arizona. Maybe they can survive by doing enough to hang around in the fourth quarter, as has been the case in the last eight games.
But this team aspired to more than mediocrity when it came into the season, and Fisher famously said on “Hard Knocks” that he wasn’t going to put up with that 7-9 … well, you know the rest.
Making a quarterback change will require a leap of faith. It would be easier if Keenum were a glaring weakness, but he isn’t. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 165 yards with no turnovers Sunday. He was solid but unspectacular.
Keenum was happy to walk away with a victory, of course, but also sounded exasperated when he said: “We’ve got to score touchdowns. There are a couple of decisions on my part I’d like to take back. … It’s the same story, different ballgame.”
Fisher said the rookie is making strides, but what kind of strides can he be making if he’s not getting the reps with the No. 1 offense in practice?
“I keep saying and I’m going to keep saying this until his first game, that he’s improving,” Fisher said. “He’s got a feel for it. He’s really into the game.”
While Goff might be into the game, other rookies are actually in the game. Seven first-year quarterbacks around the NFL have played this season, and five of them have started. The longer the Rams go without playing Goff, the more it fuels the question: What’s wrong with him?
Goff didn’t call plays in the huddle at Cal. Is that a problem? If so, couldn’t he read plays off a wristband? Plenty of young quarterbacks have done that.
There’s also another theory. Fisher is in his fifth season with the Rams and his teams have finished 7-8-1, 7-9, 6-10 and 7-9. Until he plays Goff, the coach will always have that ace up his sleeve. But as soon as he plays the rookie, the clock starts ticking, and the put-up-or-shut-up expectations begin to mount.
There’s no place to go but up after scoring six points in Bryce Petty’s first start.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree waves to fans as he heads to the locker room with the game ball in his helmet after helping seal a 9-6 victory over the Jets with an interception.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Jets running back Bilal Powell is tackled by Rams safety Maruice Alexander late in the fourth quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree wrestles the ball from Jets receiver Quincy Enunwa to seal a 9-6 win.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams defense flips Jets running back Bilal Powell during a second quarter run.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein kicks a go-ahead field goal to cap a fourth quarter drive, giving LA a 9-6 lead.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Case Keenum is sacked by Jets lineman Steve McLendon during third quarter action.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams running back Todd Gurley breaks through for a long fourth quarter gain.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Case Keenum scrambles out of the pocket and away from Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams during a third quarter drive.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams running back Todd Gurley breaks an attempted tackle by Jets safety Marcus Gilchrest during a fourth quarter drive.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams running back Benny Cunningham is pushed out of bounds just short of the goal line by Jets safety Marcus Gilchrest during first half action.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams running back Todd Gurley is upended by Jets cornerback Darryl Roberts during the second half action.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Jets receiver Brandon Marshall (15) flips the ball to running back Bilal Powell, who runs it in for a second-quarter touchdown.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams receiver Tavon Austin breaks the tackle of Jets linebacker Julian Stanford during a second half drive.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Linebacker Cory Littleton, 58, runs on to the field with Rams defensive players to play the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Kenny Britt, 18, leads and the rest of the Rams receivers huddle before taking the field to play the New York Jets.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
There was an opportunity to start Goff after the loss to the New York Giants at London, when the Rams had a week off to get him ready. They stuck with Keenum.
Now, the Rams have a home game against Miami, then play at New Orleans — neither has a great defense — before playing at New England. It would be nuts to have Goff make his career debut on the road against Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that making a quarterback change would have a positive effect on the Rams. Playing it safe could keep them in the hunt. But for the moment it’s same story, different ballgame, ever closer to the familiar place Fisher did not want to be.
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