NFL Preview - Jacksonville (0-4) at St. Louis (1-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - He's too smart and too respectful to ever say it near a microphone, but somewhere in his heart of hearts, you've got to think Jeff Fisher is feeling good this week.
The St. Louis Rams coach has seen his team drop three in a row since winning its opener, and would like nothing better than a victory to get everyone back with the program.
Enter the Jacksonville Jaguars, who visit the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday.
"We found out where our team is and what we need to do and where we need improve on," Fisher said, referring to losses against Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco -- during which the Rams were outscored, 97-42. "We've got a lot of work to do as a staff."
The Jaguars, whose high watermark through four weeks was losing to Oakland by only 10 points -- the other three losses came by a combined 101-29 count -- could be the perfect laboratory for Fisher and his staff to tweak the Rams back to competitive health.
St. Louis QB Sam Bradford was scintillating in his initial two 2013 starts with 651 yards and five TDs, but is barely above 50 percent accuracy while being picked off once and throwing just two scoring passes in Week 3 and 4 losses to the Cowboys and 49ers.
He was sacked 11 times in those two defeats, and the running game averaged less than a yard per carry (18 yards on 19 attempts) against San Francisco. The anemic output was enough to drop the Rams to last in the league in rushing, with 47.3 yards per game.
Only the Jaguars' 2.3-yard per carry average is less than St. Louis' 2.6.
Daryl Richardson leads the Rams with 114 yards in his first season as a replacement for free-agency departee Steven Jackson. Also expected to get an opportunity, if not the actual start, are Isaiah Pead (seven carries, 21 yards) and Zac Stacy (one carry, four yards).
Numbers aside, Bradford insists the effort will endure.
"The biggest thing is we've got to keep trying to rush the ball," he said. "Just getting those guys comfortable running the ball."
Jacksonville can do the St. Louis numbers one better, across the board.
The Jaguars are last in the league in rushing defense (164.3 yards per game) and third from worst in scoring defense, which has yielded 32.3 points per week.
Week No. 4 resulted in a 37-3 loss to Indianapolis, their 16th in 17 games.
Transition followed just a couple days later, when they dispatched starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to Baltimore for some draft picks. The trade opens up a spot for Luke Joeckel, who was drafted second overall in April and started the first four weeks on the other end of the line at right tackle.
Monroe was chosen eighth overall in 2009.
"It came out of nowhere for me," he said. "I'm just preparing to make the move. It's a fresh start."
Jacksonville is last in the league in points scored (31) and total offense (224 yards per game).
Third-year passer Blaine Gabbert returned from two weeks on the shelf to meet the Colts and promptly threw three interceptions -- each came on deflections. His No. 1 receiver, Cecil Shorts, has three drops in the last two weeks, though he's caught 26 passes for 337 yards.
Returning to the fold after a four-game suspension for a substance-abuse violation is Justin Blackmon, who was splendid as a rookie when he caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five scores.
In the backfield is veteran Maurice Jones-Drew, who's faced a series of defenses designed to stop him because they've been little worried about Gabbert or backup Chad Henne, who started in his absence.
Jones-Drew has carried the ball 57 times for 138 yards, one score and a long gain of 10 yards. He ran for 133 yards and scored three times in a 23-20 OT win over St. Louis in 2009.
"It's been the same every year," he said. "People load the box when they play us. We just have to go back to what we do best and that's all of us getting back on the same page and running the ball with a mindset of let's get it going."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
His season thus far has been miserable, but Jones-Drew could poke some additional holes in an already injury-ravaged Rams defense. Safety T.J. McDonald broke his right leg and is out six weeks, while the statuses of cornerback Cortland Finnegan (hamstring) and linebacker Will Weatherspoon (linebacker) are in doubt for the weekend.
On the other side, fifth-year tight end Jared Cook makes his fifth appearance since coming over from Tennessee and could present a matchup problem for the Jaguars, who've shown a vulnerability to versatile tight ends. Cook has caught 17 passes for 240 yards and pair of scores for the Rams in four games, on the heels of 49- and 44-catch seasons the last two years.
Fisher may say all the right things and mandate that his players do the same, but human nature indicates the Rams may walk into this one thinking it's a foregone conclusion.
That provides a challenge for the coach, but after three straight big losses it makes sense that his players will find a way to take it seriously. The winning margin will be determined by how quickly that occurs.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Rams 25, Jaguars 18
10/03 12:15:05 ET