ST. LOUIS – Jeff Fisher swatted away the notion that facing the Tennessee Titans for the first time made this week's matchup stand out on the schedule.
Counting a one-year sabbatical between jobs, this is his third season away from Tennessee, and he's deep into the second year rebuilding the St. Louis Rams. He notes the massive roster overhaul in Nashville, much like with the St. Louis Rams, although he did allow it might be different if the Rams were on the road.
"I'm not playing," Fisher said. "And I think there's 16 players on the roster that were there when I was there. So, it's a different team."
Well, it means a lot to the players he used to coach. In 2007, Fisher drafted safety Michael Griffin in the first round out of Texas.
"Oh man, it's going to be a little different just seeing him on the other side of the field, a different coach for a different team," Griffin said. "We all knew this was bound to happen eventually."
He's pretty sure Fisher's a lot more fired up than he's letting on. Fisher is the franchise leader with 147 wins
"He was here for a long time," Griffin said. "He knows the whole city of Nashville will be watching the game. There's no telling what's up his sleeve."
There will be no shortage of familiar faces Sunday.
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan got a big free-agent deal in 2012 and tight end Jared Cook was the prize pickup this season — both of them ex-Titans.
Defensive end William Hayes joined the Rams last year after playing his first four years in Tennessee. Fisher naturally imported a bunch of assistants, including linebackers coach Frank Bush, whose Titans ties date to 1985 when he was a Houston Oilers rookie linebacker.
"Oh yeah, definitely he took a lot of his guys with him," wide receiver Nate Washington said. "At the end of the day it's a job we've got to get done on Sunday."
Titans center Rob Turner went the opposite direction after starting every game last year with the Rams, nine at center and seven at left guard. Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was a Rams seventh-rounder in 2005, and assistants Steve Brown and Sylvester Crooms spent considerable time in St. Louis.
Five things to watch for when the Titans (3-4) play the Rams (3-5):
SHORT REST, LOTS OF REST: In hurry-up mode after their Monday night loss to Seattle, a half-dozen Rams were held out of practice Wednesday. Fisher expects everyone to be ready except for guard Harvey Dahl, who'll be sidelined at least a few weeks with an MCL injury to his left knee. At least they're not traveling. "Oftentimes, when you have so much time off, the timing's off, so we'll see," Fisher said hopefully.
The Titans are coming off their bye.
THE ROAD AHEAD: The Rams have one of the toughest schedules the rest of the way, with opponents' 35-24 record and .593 winning percentage tied for third best, according to STATS. Titans opponents are 29-39, a .426 winning percentage and the seventh-easiest schedule. The first half, the Titans had it a lot tougher against opponents currently 33-20, third toughest.
SLIDING TITANS, RAMS D: Turnovers are largely to blame for Tennessee's three-game losing streak after a 3-1 start. The Titans had no giveaways the first four games, seven the last three. The average score has flipped from a 24.5-17.3 win to a 25.5-15.7 loss and will be facing a defense on the upswing. The Rams held Seattle to 135 total yards, 80 on the lone TD of the game. It's the second-lowest yardage allowed by the franchise since 1937, according to STATS, trailing only 118 by the Saints in 1978. Both came in losses: 14-9 to the Seahawks and 10-3 to New Orleans.
Tennessee cut returner Darius Reynaud during the bye week in favor of Damian Williams, who's never done it in the pros but returned two punts for touchdowns at Southern California. "He was great at doing that at USC," said cornerback Alterraun Verner, who's the backup option. "I've seen it firsthand."
IGNORE FINNEGAN: The Titans know all about the feisty Rams cornerback, known for trash talking wherever he goes. Washington has faced Finnegan several times and plans to ignore the chatter. "If you let him talk and get in your ear, he can throw you off your game," tight end Delanie Walker said. "This year I feel like talking back at him. We'll see what happens."
RUN TO GLORY: The Rams haven't scored a touchdown rushing yet and neither have the Titans. Chris Johnson has 115 carries without a TD, the most in the NFL, and St. Louis rookie Zac Stacy is second with zero in 76 carries. Stacy ran for 134 yards on Monday night, the most by a St. Louis rookie since Steven Jackson had 148 yards against the Eagles in 2004. In his lone career game against the Rams in 2009, Johnson ran for 117 yards and two TDs.
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