Rams Rewind Game 1: Sam Bradford’s Learning Curve

Sam Bradford stands under center in his first game as a pro, a few yards north of midfield, trying to lead his team out of an early 3-0 hole. His eyes scan the Cardinals’ defense from right to left, a typical pattern for him, as he barks out the play and the protection scheme. He sees Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson lined up deep right before his eyes move to the left side of the field.

The next time Bradford sees Wilson, just two seconds after the ball is snapped, he’s barreling into the pocket like a freight train, the red number 24 completely filling the young quarterback’s field of vision. An instant later, Bradford is picking himself off the turf, and kicking himself for blowing the play.

For the canny veteran Wilson, this was just a part of a monster day. He also grabbed two interceptions and blocked a field goal, but this play might have been his stealthiest, and his luckiest. After duping the young play-caller with his deep set and seeing Bradford’s eyes shift away, Wilson blasted toward the line of scrimmage expecting to create havoc on the line somehow … his sudden presence would force a missed block somewhere, allowing somebody to get in and blow up the play. Darnell Dockett (#90) helped clear a path by shifting to his left, to telegraphing a speed rush to the outside shoulder of the right tackle, Jason Smith, who would be forced to turn and engage.

But even Wilson had to be surprised by just how easy his path would be, as right guard Adam Goldberg pulled left, completely vacating the spot Wilson was charging toward at full speed. You could blame Goldberg, but the veteran offensive lineman was only executing the play as called by his young quarterback

The Rams’ front office did their part to rebuild and reinforce their offensive line before making the franchise-defining pick of a new QB, and the overall numbers show that the big uglies up front did a decent job of keeping the kid upright. But as the guys at Football Outsiders will happily point out, the quarterback — his play-calling, his reaction time, and his athleticism — will have just as much a bearing on his own protection as his line does.

Interestingly enough, the fellows at Pro Football Focus analyze the same game tape that we’re watching and rewatching, and assign responsibility for each sack given up. You might be surprised to learn that Sam Bradford led the team with 7 sacks that were deemed to be “his fault.” No offensive lineman gave up more than 5.

There’s no question that the blame for this one belonged to Bradford. But he put the mistake behind him and set about unburying the team from a 3rd and 13 hole that took them out of scoring position… and fired an absolutely perfect pass down the seam to Mark Clayton on the very next throw. (Watch, via NFL.com)

It would have been a first down, could have been a touchdown, if Clayton had caught it. But the message was sent — this kid is here to compete, and he won’t throw anyone under the bus for making mistakes.