Oct 20, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (8) is taken from the field on the cart in the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Bradford's 2013 Season: The Near Breakout Year

Sam Bradford

Oct 13, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (8) congratulates wide receiver Brian Quick (83) after Quick scores a touchdown during the third quarter against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. The Rams defeated the Texans 38-13. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Bradford is a polarizing figure among St. Louis Rams fans.  As the final #1 overall pick of the old collective bargaining agreement he comes with a hefty price tag, which I believe is the primary motivator for his detractors.  When Bradford was taken first overall by the Rams in the 2010 NFL Draft he was brought into a franchise in absolute shambles.  The Rams had set a record for futility under inexperienced head coaches such as Scott Linehan and Steve Spagnuolo, while missing on draft pick after draft pick with Billy Devaney.  Stan Kroenke became full owner of the St. Louis Rams a few short months after Bradford was drafted, which finally created a sense of stability at the top of the organization.  Sam Bradford’s Rookie of the Year campaign in 2010 included bringing the Rams from a 1-15 record in 2009 to 7-9 and a game away from the NFC West title despite a notable lack of talent around him.  Bradford’s 2011 campaign was riddled with injuries and brought about the end to the Spagnuolo/Devaney era in St. Louis.  Stan Kroenke wasted no time in bringing in a veteran head coach, Jeff Fisher, and an up and coming General Manager Les Snead.  In their first year together Snead and Fisher swung a blockbuster trade that gave the Washington Redskins the opportunity to draft RGIII and gave the Rams a bounty of draft picks, including their 2014 first round pick.  Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have nearly turned over the entire roster since arriving in St. Louis and it has resulted in the youngest team in the NFL for both the 2012 and 2013 seasons.  When Steven Jackson departed for the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, suddenly Bradford was no longer the developing young signal caller but the experienced veteran expected to be the primary leader in 2013.

The Rams entered 2013 with high hopes that young players would reach their potential quickly and turn the long downtrodden Rams into a legitimate playoff contender.  The Rams were Sam Bradford’s team and Brian Schottenheimer was clearly putting the entire offense on his shoulders early in the season.  Having Bradford throw the ball an average of 45.5 times per game through the seasons first four, the Rams lack of a consistent running game was putting an awful lot of pressure on Bradford to carry the young offense.  Bradford did manage to lead a stirring come from behind victory in the season opener, however the lack of a running game and the slow starts caught up with them over the next few games as they finished the first quarter of the season 1-3.  It wasn’t until the insertion of Zac Stacy into the lineup in week 5 that the Rams offense really began to click, and the newfound running game certainly helped improved Bradford’s numbers.  In weeks 5 & 6 Sam threw a total of 6 touchdowns and zero interceptions on only 50 pass attempts, while leading the team to double-digit victories over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans.  The Rams had scored 72 points in those two contests (with help from the defense and special teams) and appeared to be hitting a stride with their new run first identity.  Through the first 6 weeks of the season Bradford was near the top of nearly every major statistical passing category with an impressive 13 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions.  Bradford entered the week 7 matchup in Carolina on quite a hot streak, looking to prove he could do it against a top flight defense.  The Rams came out firing early with Bradford looking for the deep strike to Brian Quick on the first play from scrimmage.  Unfortunately Zac Stacy didn’t quite do a good enough job with the blitz pickup and the blitzing safety hit Bradford’s arm as he was releasing the ball, changing the trajectory and leading to a pick 6 instead of an easy 80 yard TD.  Bradford managed to recover pretty well following the costly turnover and was on his way to a decent statistical performance and a chance at a Rams comeback victory.  Unfortunately Bradford went down awkwardly on the sidelines as he was attempting to scramble away from pressure and the rest as they say is history.

I decided to put together a chart comparing Bradford’s first 7 games of the season to the current (through week 15) league leaders in QB Rating. These are numbers comparing each of these players first 7 games started, not necessarily the first 7 games of the season for everyone.  Bradford was actually currently the 11th ranked QB in terms of QB Rating through week 15 with a 90.9 rating.  Sam’s numbers compare quite favorably in nearly every category to the league leaders, the most notable exception being the yards per attempt.  A large part of this is likely due to the playcalling of Brian Schottenheimer, and the fact that “big play” receivers Chris Givens and Tavon Austin hadn’t made their impact felt prior to Bradford’s injury.  The Rams lack of a running game was allowing teams to rush the passer on nearly every down with little fear of being burned by a big play, which seriously limited the teams ability to pull of the play action passes that are a staple of any deep ball offense.  Even with a limited running game and less than creative play calling Bradford was doing an admirable job of leading the young Rams to a .500 record after 6 weeks.  With the sustained dominance of the Rams running game, as well as the emergence of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey as legitimate playmakers in the Rams offense it isn’t out of the question to assume Bradford’s week 5-7 pace would have continued through the rest of the season.

Sam Bradford still has plenty to prove to NFL experts and St. Louis Rams fans, but those who suggest the Rams should move on from Bradford by drafting a QB with one of their two first round selections in 2014 are failing to see the big picture.  They are blaming Bradford for being the beneficiary of a flawed system (the old CBA), and ignoring the fact that he inherited possibly the worst situation of any rookie starting QB in NFL history.  Jeff Fisher and Les Snead seem to be all in on Bradford, and while Bradford still has work to prove them right it is my opinion that he is more than capable of leading the Rams back to the promised land.  Sam Bradford is currently 3rd among active quarterbacks in INT rate behind only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.  Of course one of Bradford’s flaws is his unwillingness to take risks on making a big play, but his knack for protecting the football combined with his impressive accuracy make for a dangerous combination.  The Rams and their fans should feel lucky to have such a talented young signal caller, as the shortage of quality quarterbacks has never been more evident in the NFL.  After the end of the regular season I will put together an article comparing Sam Bradford’s 2013 pace to the league leaders so stay tuned!  Thanks for reading and as always, Go Rams!!!

Player (QB Rating Rank Thru Week 15) Completions Attempts Yards Comp. % Yards Per Attempt TD INT
Alex Smith (10) 145 250 1570 58.0 6.28 7 4
Ben Roethlisberger (9) 172 260 1980 66.2 7.62 8 7
Tony Romo (8) 181 265 2010 68.3 7.58 15 5
Drew Brees (7) 183 271 2290 67.5 8.45 19 5
Russell Wilson (6) 115 187 1489 61.5 7.96 11 4
Philip Rivers (5) 184 249 2132 73.9 8.56 15 5
Aaron Rodgers (4) 167 249 2191 67.1 8.80 15 4
Josh McCown (3) 147 220 1809 66.8 8.22 13 1
Peyton Manning (2) 207 289 2565 71.6 8.88 25 3
Nick Foles (1) 121 191 1742 63.4 9.12 18 0
Sam Bradford (11) 159 262 1687 60.7 6.44 14 4

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