Bradford is having a bumpy sophomore season ..
BY JIM THOMAS
Thursday, November 17, 2011 12:10 am
Sam Bradford isn't used to losing. He's used to lighting up defenses and scoreboards.
But here in his second season as Rams quarterback, Bradford enters Game 10 with just four touchdown passes and a 55.3 percent completion percentage. The Rams are last in the NFL in points scored (113), and 38 of those points came in two games that backup A.J. Feeley started in place of the injured Bradford.
Bradford has never been an excuse-maker, and when quizzed about his play Wednesday, once again he offered none.
"I think my performance so far has been a little disappointing, especially from my perspective," he said. "I expect a lot out of myself. I expected to come in and have a great year, and obviously I've struggled at times. But we're continuing to get better, I'm continuing to get better. And I feel more comfortable in this offense each week."
Obviously, a lot of factors have conspired against Bradford and the offense taking off, beginning with the lockout. Each week, there's a certain expectation from fans, media — and even Rams players and coaches — that the offense will click.
But it hasn't happened yet, with the exception of the 31-21 victory over New Orleans, a game in which Feeley was at quarterback and the offense was aided by a blocked punt and a couple of interceptions by the St. Louis defense. The Rams haven't scored more than 16 points in any of their other eight games.
So has Bradford's transition to the new offense of coordinator Josh McDaniels been tougher than expected?
"I don't know that," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "I mean, I think what threw things off a little bit was the injury. I really felt coming out of that Green Bay game, even though we didn't score a lot of points, that something was clicking. We were hitting a groove, and the last play — the ankle."
Bradford suffered a high ankle sprain on the Rams' last offensive play against Green Bay on Oct. 16. Even though the Rams once again had trouble in the red zone against Green Bay and scored only three points, they did pile up 424 yards, including 321 yards passing by Bradford, on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions.
Wide receivers Greg Salas and Danario Alexander and tight end Lance Kendricks each enjoyed one of the most productive days of their young careers. The Rams ran the no-huddle almost exclusively, and it looked like Bradford and the offense might have found their identity, found their rhythm, and were on the verge of that long-anticipated breakout.
"And now we're kind of reloading two or three weeks later," Spagnuolo said. "So there's been a little bit of that, some things we couldn't control."
The receiving corps has been a revolving door all season. Sometimes for reasons that couldn't be controlled, such as injuries to Danny Amendola, Greg Salas, and more recently, Alexander and Brandon Gibson. Or Mark Clayton parachuting in off the PUP list to the active roster..
Sometimes the lineup fluctuations have been by choice, such as not dressing Alexander for the season opener (Philadelphia) or Gibson in Game 6 (Dallas); cutting Mike Sims-Walker after four games; and trading for Brandon Lloyd five games into the season.
The Rams have dressed five wide receivers in each of their nine games this season, and they've had different wideout combinations in seven of those nine games. Nine wide receivers have seen action for the Rams so far this season, and only one — Dominique Curry — has played in all nine games. And Curry is much more special teams core player than wide receiver.
"Any offensive system, not just ours, it's a timing issue between quarterback and wideouts," Spagnuolo said. "Hopefully step-by-step, we get better and better. But there's no question you need rep after rep after rep after rep in the pass game, and for various reasons going all the way back to March (and the lockout), we haven't had a lot of that."
At this point in the season, the best combination of available wide receivers would include Lloyd, Alexander and Clayton. But with Clayton just coming back and Alexander fighting a hamstring injury, they haven't been on the field yet for a single play.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Bradford said. "I think when all of those guys are healthy, if they're all on the field at the same time, we've got a very solid corps of receiver out there.
"Ideally, I would probably like to have the same four or five guys out there every week. But it's the National Football League. People get hurt. People get banged up. Other guys have to come in and play for us."
But Bradford feels like his timing is there with everyone, with the possible exception of Lloyd.
"He's just different," Bradford said. "His stride's maybe a little bit longer than anyone on our team except for Danario's, so his routes are a little bit different than what I'm used to. But I feel like the timing's definitely starting to come around with him."
Even though the results haven't been there this season for Bradford, his teammates , even those not on offense, have an appreciation for what he's going through and how he's handling it.
"If anything, you've got to give him credit for his resiliency," place-kicker Josh Brown said. "Fighting an injury and being able to step back in the pocket and come back after such a short stint off, and be able to play well. It's hard to have timing when you're consistently changing your receivers, and you're consistently putting new guys in new situations all the time. So I'm sure it's very frustrating, but I guess I congratulate him on holding his poker face because you can hardly tell.