Remember the first week of 2013, when it looked like the Rams would be an elite fantasy offense, and we all thought Jared Cook was the next coming of Jimmy Graham? Cook had 7 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns; while Sam Bradford completed over 70% of his passes, threw for 299 yards, and had two passing touchdowns.
We all know that the season didn’t quite end up following that same trajectory, and Sam Bradford only played seven games before tearing his ACL against the Panthers. So with a truncated series of stats, what can we take away from last season? What should we think of Sam Bradford in 2014? Will he be a worthy QB2?
In my own attempt to answer that question, I went back and watched the first half of the Rams’ season, the part when Sam Bradford was playing.
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This article starts with my overall thoughts and predictions for 2014. If you want the detailed game-by-game analysis, keep reading to the end.
Bradford’s Seven Weeks
The Rams had the most offensive success when they used Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks to create mismatches on the outside. I’d like to see the Rams make better use of that strategy, rather than forcing their small, inexperienced wide receivers into the spread formation on such a large majority of their offensive snaps.
Over his seven games in 2013, Bradford had a completion percentage better than 60%, and he had a 14:4 TD:INT ratio. Impressively, he went 9-for-11 with a touchdown in fourth quarter situations where the opponent was within seven points, one way or the other. There is a lot to like about the numbers Sam Bradford put up with incredibly weak receiving options and only half a season.
I also love that Bradford didn’t turn the ball over in the Red Zone. He had 13 of his 14 touchdowns when he’d gotten his team within the opponents’ twenty, but none of his interceptions came in that part of the field. Elite quarterbacks don’t turn the ball over inside the 20 — they make sure they give their team the chance to put points on the board, and Bradford did that in 2013.
Bradford’s accuracy was over 67% when the opposing team blitzed, and he only threw one interception in the face of pressure. However, after watching game tape from 2013, I’m concerned that Bradford looks anxious in the face of pressure, but that tendency seems to fade as games progress.
Late in games, Bradford has a good instinct for when to climb the pocket and avoid pressure. Bradford threw no interceptions in the fourth quarter last year and completed almost 64% of his passes in that quarter. He just needs to warm up quicker, so that the team doesn’t get into a hole in so many games in 2014.
Sam Bradford’s 2014
2013 Season Scoring, Extrapolated Over 16 Games (if he had not been injured):
599 attempts. 3856 yards. 32 TDs. 9 INTs.
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Taking the last five years as an average, that would likely have made Sam Bradford a top-10 quarterback, or right on the edge of it. Shocked? I was.
I am not willing to project Sam Bradford anywhere near the top 10 for the 2014 season, but his numbers give me reason for optimism.
Bradford has two primary weaknesses: (1) his mercurial fantasy scoring, up one week and down the next; and (2) his wide receivers, who lack size and largely lack talent.
Combining his performance in 2013 with his weaknesses, Sam Bradford should be drafted, in my opinion, in the 17-23 range at Quarterback.
Breaking Down Sam Bradford’s 2013
In Week 1 against the Cardinals, Sam Bradford looked early and often to Daryl Richardson as a check-down option. The Rams’ offensive line struggled to keep the Cardinals out of the backfield, so Bradford often threw short to his safe options.
This game reminds me that I like how well Bradford thinks and throws under pressure, finding open players and avoiding sacks.
Even when Bradford wasn’t under intense pressure, his wide receivers struggled to create separation. When they caught passes, the gains were typically from yards after the catch, not great down-field routes.
Austin Pettis, Tavon Austin, and Brian Quick are all nimble and quick enough to turn a missed tackle into ten or twenty more yards; but they lack route-running skills to generate separation and create opportunity.
Week 1 Final Line: 27/38, 299 yards. 2 TDs. 1 INT. QB10 for the week.
At Atlanta: Bradford’s doing a good job of avoiding pressure and keeping plays alive. His running game is ineffective, yet he’s finding ways to keep the offense moving. Daryl Richardson looks lost in the backfield. It’s no surprise that the Rams turned to Zac Stacy and never looked back.
The game plan seems to be lots of deep routes from WRs only to open up the underneath routes. Bradford is almost never looking deep in the first quarter, but by the 2nd quarter he’s taking shots to his WRs deep.
I dislike the lack of creativity I see in the Rams’ early game plans in 2013. The vast majority of their pass plays involve spreading four or five receivers wide, running two curls, one crossing route, and one or two fly routes.
Some of that may be the youth they have at WR, as Tavon Austin seems particularly unable to run complex routes. Or catch the ball reliably.
Beyond the lack of formation creativity, plays like this concern me, where Sam Bradford misses good opportunities, because he gets too static in his reads, sticking to his training on first and second looks. For instance, this play had a great opportunity for a Lance Kendricks touchdown, or at least a positive gain to Brian Quick.
Instead, Bradford locks in on his first option (Jared Cook) and throws an incomplete pass over the triple coverage.
Throws like that concern me because they point to Bradford’s obsessive tendency to look for a short, sure pass, rather than opportunities for larger gains. It also concerns me to see Bradford frequently lock eyes with his favorite target, a tell that will lead him to many more interceptions against NFL defenses.
That said, I loved what I saw in Week 2 with Bradford’s knack for finding the open receiver when the Falcons threw a blitz his way. (Even if Tavon Austin usually dropped those passes.)
The WRs are showing nothing. Lots of running the route they’re assigned, with no creativity. No one is showing an ability to read a defense and find space. None are showing an ability to create separation.
Week 2 Final Line: 32/55, 352 yards. 3 TDs. 1 INT. QB4 for the week.
At Dallas: There wasn’t much to say about the game when Bradford traveled to Dallas.
Week 3 Final Line: 29/48, 240 yards. 1 TD. 0 INTs. QB22 for the week.
Vs. San Francisco: The 49ers DLine is making the Rams’ OLine look terrible. Lots of pressure off 4-man fronts.
This is down 18 points in the fourth quarter, Bradford throws to his short route rather than take a chance to push the ball up field. It’s an 6-yard gain on first and 15; the drive ends with a punt.
I want to see Bradford take more smart chances, particularly when his team is down by more than one possession. He needs to show some aggression, but I suppose it would also help for his receivers to give him a reason to trust.
Week 4 Final Line: 19/41, 202 yards. 1 TD. 1 INT. QB26 for the week.
Vs. Jacksonville: Geez, could Tavon Austin drop more passes?
Here is another instance where Bradford locks in on a WR, missing the open option. Incomplete pass. When he could have had a long gain.
The Rams love their crossing routes and slants. They seem to emphasize getting the ball out of Bradford’s hands quick. I think he handles pressure well, so I’d like to see the coaching staff trust him with a few more 5- and 7-step drops.
“Ugh, another Austin drop.” Yes, these are my actual notes from watching game film.
Week 5 Final Line: 19/34, 222 yards. 3 TDs. 0 INTs. QB6 for the week.
At Houston: I don’t typically watch individual offensive linemen, but Jake Long has been playing out of his mind for six weeks. I had to make note.
This St. Louis team could have potential if they got Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks more involved and stopped this spread nonsense. You need real WRs to run the spread this often. Brian Quick just got hit in the back with a pass because he didn’t know his assignment.
The front office seems to have an aversion to typical WR1 types, but a big receiver would help make their spread scheme more threatening to opposing defenses. Spreading five small guys wide doesn’t intimidate a defense into keeping their safeties deep.
Tavon Austin fumble. Shortly thereafter, Quick drops a TD in the end zone. Bradford needs better options on offense.
Week 6 Final Line: 12/16, 117 yards. 3 TDs. 0 INTs. QB9 for the week.
At Carolina: Even in the losing effort here, Sam Bradford appeared to be on top of his game. With a bad cast of characters around him, I thought I saw Bradford learn how to maximize his opportunities in this offense. Then he tore his ACL.
Week 7 Final Line: 21/30, 255 yards. 1 TD. 1 INT. QB23 for the week.
There’s A Lot to Like About This Sam Bradford Kid
There’s a lot to like in Sam Bradford’s half of a 2013 season. I recommend you don’t sleep on him in 2014, and I would count yourself lucky if you can draft him as your third quarterback. You could do far worse.