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The Most Perilous Game on the Schedule

In a 16-game season, every game is important. Since this is the NFL, every game is dangerous for the men playing it. The heightened danger of this week's game had one of our writers nervous even back in April when the schedule was announced. Why?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you were a fan of the Bolts in 2007, you recall the two games against the Tennessee Titans from that year. The first game injured Shawne Merriman, which effectively ended his career. There were allegations at the time that the Titans "targeted" Merriman.

Next was the wild card playoff game, where Antonio Gates was the casualty thanks to Keith Bulluck jumping on him, compressing Gates’ foot, instead of just touching him while his knee was on the ground. Foot issues have plagued Gates in the years since that injury. Tennessee lost both games. And what does that have to do with the Rams game this Sunday? The coach of the Rams team that visits San Diego on Sunday is the same one that coached of the Tennessee Titans in 2007 – Jeff Fisher. And, if one word seems to be used by many (God knows not anyone on the BFTB Staff, but many others) to describe Jeff Fisher coached teams, that word is dirty.

Jeff Fisher had some interesting formative years in his playing and coaching career. Playing college under legendary coach John Robinson at USC, he then moved into the pro ranks as a defensive back under Buddy Ryan in Chicago. This was the early 1980’s, and Ryan would end up coaching what was believed to be the best defense ever, the 1985 Bears.

Fisher got a Super Bowl Ring for that season, despite being on IR with a broken ankle from which he never fully recovered, forcing an early end of his playing career. (Interesting note: The previous season, Fisher had gotten a broken leg returning a punt in a game against the Steelers. The linebacker that tackled and injured him was Steeler Special Team ace Bill Cowher. Yes, they both ended up as head coaches and coached against each other often.)

Buddy Ryan brought in Fisher as his DB coach when Ryan the Elder got the head coaching job in Philly. He later became Ryan's defensive coordinator at the age of 30. While only alleged at the time, it was later confirmed that the Eagles had a "bounty" system in place, rewarding players that "took out" (a clinical and sanitized way of saying PURPOSELY INJURED) opposing team’s players.

With that backdrop, it is perhaps a little more understandable that Fisher prized players like Cortland Finnegan. After all, it takes real skill to punch a ball carrier in a pile without getting flagged for it.    It is believed by many, some quoted in the linked articles, that playing like that falls a lot on coaches; if that sort of conduct is tolerated, it will happen. Sometimes it even crosses the line from tolerance to encouragement, which is what cost Greg Williams (a Fisher protégé in Houston and Tennessee) an entire season after the Bounty-gate scandal in New Orleans.

For those of you wondering about whether Fisher has evolved with the game to care more about having a safer game, I am not certain that has happened. I will offer as Exhibit A, his reaction to the Greg Williams suspension. I will also offer as Exhibit B, the hit by Rodney McLeod on Emmanuel Sanders last Sunday. The Rams have been flagged for Unnecessary Roughness 8 times in 2014 and Roughing the Passer 3 times, both good for a 2nd place tie in the league so far.

In light of what the Bolts have had inflicted upon them in other games against Fisher coached teams, Antonio Gates' remarks last Sunday about his QB’s ribs were particularly ill-timed. One can only hope that the Ram defensive players and coaching staff were too busy sharpening their cleats to notice the even larger bulls-eye Gates painted on Philip Rivers' chest. Even without that disclosure, this game and the way Jeff Fisher's teams like to play had me worried when the schedule was posted last April. I am no less worried now.