The tone of Sunday night and Monday’s discussions seemed to be a shotgun approach, as they usually are – hit a number of topics in anger regarding why the Rams didn’t come up with a victory. But one target that was really in the crosshairs this week, much more than in any previous weeks, was Sam Bradford.
The criticism of the Rams’ young franchise quarterback has reached an all-time high, this only weeks after most concluded that Mel Kiper was out of his mind for claiming the Rams should trade Sam and draft Andrew Luck if they had the opportunity. Public opinion is starting to shift; even if the criticism of Bradford is still only originating from a minority of the fanbase, it’s a minority that’s larger than it was at this time two weeks ago.
In the wake of this post-game fervor, I find myself reassessing where I stand. Four weeks ago, I said this...
Having said that, Sam is not playing perfect football out there and he'd be the first to tell you that. Yes, he isn't well protected. Yes, his receivers are dropping balls. But he's also failing to see the entire field at times, holding onto the ball too long, and not being as accurate as we all know he can be, especially in the red zone. When you play poorly, then yes, you become part of the problem. In Sam's case, he represents a very small part and one that will likely correct itself once Sam finds himself in better circumstances.
I think, though, that we run the risk of arguing against straw-man positions if we continue to refer to “the problem,” as if there is only one. I think if you straight up asked Rams fans what “the problem” is, maybe they’d be able to boil it down to what they think is the biggest issue, but I bet 99 out of 100 would tell you there is more than just one “problem” on this team. There are plenty of them.
The injuries are a problem, the installation of an offensive system in a shortened offseason is a problem, the poor offensive line play is a problem, the lack of progress at receiver is a problem, the regression of Fred Robbins and James Hall are problems, the failure of the recently acquired outside linebackers to play consistent effective football is a problem, the team’s inability to carry seven starting-caliber cornerbacks is a (tongue-in-cheek) problem, etc.
And yes, the play of the quarterback is a problem.
Yesterday against the Seahawks, Sam again had a ball tipped and intercepted, and again, he was staring down one side of the field and telegraphing his throw. Bradford was sacked five times on the day, and at least three if not four of them were partially his fault for holding onto the ball too long. On one occasion, he bobbled a shotgun snap and just ate the sack.
But the concerning play did not just start yesterday. This season, Bradford has accounted for five touchdowns and eleven turnovers. That total becomes seven touchdowns to eighteen turnovers if you extend the window to the final five games of 2010. Or, if you'd rather, thirteen touchdowns and nineteen turnovers if you start from the bye week of last year. His red zone quarterback rating is 62.5, which ranks 14th in the NFC. His fourth-quarter quarterback rating is 68.9, which ranks 16th in the NFC. Not the NFL, the NFC. These aren’t good numbers, folks, and this is just a small portion of the points some could make about Bradford’s play.
So, I think the biggest question one has to ask in the context of this discussion is, why is Sam Bradford struggling?
Now again, we could list the variety of outside factors – injuries, protection, lack of weapons, lack of offseason, etc. Those certainly apply here and make it very difficult to achieve success. But anyone who has watched a game this season knows that those things aren’t happening on every single play. Yes, the protection has been poor overall this season. But it’s not as if Bradford is under immediate duress on every drop back. While the protection hasn’t been great over the course of the season, it becomes so much more important to take advantage of the times when it is adequate. Yes, the receivers are not consistently getting open and have dropped balls. While the receivers haven’t been great over the course of the season, it becomes so much more important to take advantage of the times when they are doing their jobs. And again, if we’re being honest, there have been a number of times this season when the protection was adequate, when a receiver was open, and Sam did not execute well enough to achieve a successful result.
You have to remember that Bradford comes from a college program where he was rarely pressured or sacked. He was surrounded by NFL-quality talent along the offensive line and at receiver. That makes for a big adjustment coming to the pros, an adjustment that Steve Spagnuolo and Pat Shurmur tried to soften by using a dink-and-dunk, high percentage, check-down heavy, “get the ball out of your hands quickly” offense. That saved Sam from some of the tough growing pains other first round quarterbacks have had to experience in the past, but I think due to what we’re seeing now, it’s fair to wonder if that offensive scheme and gameplan was really growing Sam as a professional quarterback or adequately preparing him for life in the NFL.
Whereas quarterbacks like Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger spent years sustaining beatings in the Martz offenses before displaying the symptoms of Battered Quarterback Syndrome, some would argue Sam Bradford is beginning to show the signs merely a year and a half into his pro career. Simply put, I don’t think Sam is used to taking this kind of punishment. It’s new to him.
I’m beginning to fear that we’re dividing into two camps Camp A believes the quarterback is primarily a victim of his circumstances, and Camp B who believes that the quarterback is a contributor to those circumstances. By drawing a line in the sand, each camp exaggerates the other’s position. Camp B will falsely claim that those in Camp A aren’t holding Sam responsible for his play or think he’s blameless. Camp A will falsely claim that those in Camp B are ignoring the woeful circumstances around Bradford by labeling him as “the problem.”
I’m really not interested in any of that. We most recently went through it with Marc Bulger, and it birthed more snipes and attacks than it did meaningful discussions and debates. I’m merely interested in being honest, and when you take an honest look at the Rams and Sam Bradford this year, you’ll find a quarterback playing bad football on a bad team.
Does that necessarily make him a bad quarterback? No, but he’s beginning to display some bad habits that are going to have to be corrected. That not only means the Rams doing a better job protecting him and improving the talent around him, but it also means Sam taking it upon himself to identify those areas and improve upon them.
Sam Bradford is an exceptionally talented quarterback with incredible potential as an NFL signal-caller. But he now finds himself in less than ideal circumstances, and he’s not responding well to them. Which direction will the story of Sam Bradford take?
Will he refocus his efforts and become the leader who brings this team out of shadow? Or will he allow the circumstances around him to erode his physical and mental talents to the point of no return?
Only time will tell.