Bernie: Protecting Bradford is Rams' top priority
1 hour ago • BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
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Protect Sam Bradford by any means necessary. Do whatever it takes to keep Sam upright, safe from harm and out of the hospital.
It's the No. 1 theme of Rams training camp. Head coach Jeff Fisher talks about it so much, you expect to see agents from the U.S. Secret Service standing in the Rams' offensive huddle.
If the Rams had their way, blitzers and defensive ends would sack Bradford about as often as reporters get to trap team owner Stan Kroenke.
In his first two NFL seasons, Bradford has been hit more times than a hanging curveball. Sam has spent so much time on the ground, he can explain the difference between bluegrass and zoysia.
Bradford has started 26 regular-season NFL games and can live to tell about it despite being sacked 70 times, knocked down 151 times and having 27 passes batted down at the line. He's been "hurried" 73 times and hit 30 times while in the act of throwing. If this continues, the Rams will have Leon Spinks for a quarterback.
According to the numbers crew at Pro Football Focus, Bradford has been under pressure on 34 percent of his career passing attempts, and that's an alarmingly high rate.
During his rookie season (2010), the Rams did an adequate job of keeping invaders out of Bradford's grill. But he absorbed too much punishment. And in the opening weeks of 2011, Bradford felt Marc Bulger's pain.
In the first four games Bradford was knocked down 40 times and buried under 17 sacks by Philadelphia, the New York Giants, Baltimore and Washington. Bradford never really was the same after that.
Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, Bradford suffered a severe high ankle sprain that left him with as much mobility as Betty White in the Snickers commercial.
For reasons that mystified everyone but the team's former coaches, the Rams continued to play the limping, increasingly vulnerable Bradford. It was like turning a wild pack of paparazzi loose on a cornered Justin Bieber.
The ankle still hasn't healed entirely. Earlier this summer, ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski expressed concern over Bradford's mental state.
"In 2011, Bradford, with very few exceptions, did not look like the same, confident pocket quarterback that I saw as a rookie," Jaworski said during his daily series of QB evaluations that aired on ESPN. "He was tentative in the pocket, a function of both erratic offensive line play and receivers that could not win on the outside. I was troubled by Bradford's increasing tendency to anticipate the rush. I call that 'cabin fever.' And Bradford struggled with that."
Cabin fever is another way of saying happy feet. It's the first sign of Battered Quarterback Syndrome, also known as David Carr Disorder.
Fisher studied the same video as Jaworski. And the coach is adamant: There will be no sequel to the 2011 Bradford film.
"We're not going to let that happen," Fisher said.
Fisher says the Rams will take a sound plan for pass protection into games and quickly make adjustments to put more bodyguards around the QB. An extra tight end to help the offensive tackle, a fullback patrolling the perimeter of the pocket, etc.
More than anything, the Rams believe their scheme will provide a stronger shield for Bradford. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will go with a heavy influence of concepts pulled from the West Coast offense.
That includes quick three-step drops, with the ball coming out of Bradford's right hand before defenders can close in. It's moving the pocket around, or having Bradford roll to the side. Don't make Bradford a stationary target. Keep the defense guessing.
Given his football DNA, Fisher will insist on running the football, pounding away with Steven Jackson and rookie Isaiah Pead. This heavy assault of primordial football can neutralize a defense's aggressiveness, limit the exposure of offensive tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith and set up play-action passes for Bradford.
Fisher also hired a good offensive line coach in Paul Boudreau. He'll toughen up this O-line, which which is something the previous regime failed to accomplish.
This sounds swell, but would you bet the cost of Bradford's medical insurance on it? Skepticism is understandable, but Fisher's history makes his words credible and believable. This isn't just talk.
Consider these two facts:
• During Fisher's 16 full seasons (1995-2010) coaching the Tennessee Titans, only two teams had more rushing attempts. Fisher's offense averaged 30 a game.
• Over the 16 seasons, the Titans had the NFL's fourth-lowest sack rate, giving up a sack on 5.5 percent of their passing attempts.
Yes, Fisher had a mobile quarterback in Steve McNair, the Titans' primary starter for nearly a decade. But McNair's scrambling ability is only part of the low sack total.
Quarterback Kerry Collins was 34 when he joined the Titans in 2006. Collins set up in the pocket and stayed there, confusing tourists who visited Nashville in search of the famous Andrew Jackson statue.
From 2008 through 2010, Collins played in 33 games, starting 28. The aging QB attempted 909 passes over the three seasons but got sacked only 27 times.
Collins' busiest season was 2008. He played in all 16 games, starting 15, and attempted 415 passes. Collins was sacked eight times. Wow. Only eight times? Defenses usually have that many sacks of Bradford by the end of pregame warm-up.
Here's the second part of the history: At Tennessee Fisher had five offensive linemen and a tight end make the Pro Bowl a combined total of 17 times.
When Fisher says he'll do whatever is necessary to protect this third-year quarterback, he can back it up with the impressive sacks-allowed totals in Tennessee.
I just don't know if Fisher can back it up with the current offensive line in place in St. Louis. Dan Dierdorf and Orlando Pace plan on staying retired, so Fisher will have to find another cure for the cabin fever.
Re: Bernie: Protecting Bradford is Rams' top priority
As said so many times on this board, the scheme alone will help Sam. Three step drops and short passes not sexy but safe. Having DA back in the lineup will make the sack total drop. Establishing the run is a must, with bad intentions, tough and physical. SJ will have a great year, with Pead in the mix the Rams backfield will come at you hard all day.
Josh McDaniels was like having a poor mans Mike Martz, with out the reward. He put Sam in too many situations where he was holding the ball waiting for routes to develop and getting hit to often. I for one am prepared for a very conservative approach and a lot of close games. Sam can dink and dunk it all day as long as he is not getting pounded. Over the next two years we can use all those high draft picks to complete the rebuild and then take the training wheels off.