For three years now, Rams fans have been told to have patience with Sam Bradford. We have all heard the excuses, new offensive coordinator (each year), no quarterback coach (last year), terrible quarterback coach (first year), wide receivers that can’t get separation (all three years), wide receivers that can’t get deep, and, of course, inconsistent or bad offensive line play. However, I have not seen an article yet get into detail on these excuses so we can determine if they are explanations or excuses. I will attempt to address that now, so you can form your own conclusions.
We all know that a quarterback, whether or running QB or pocket QB, cannot excel without an offensive line which is at least adequate. We can all agree that Sam Bradford had a good to great rookie year. Why? I propose to you that the consistency on the offensive line was the major reason. Certainly, it was not the amazing talent that he had to throw to (addressed later).
The Offensive Line
In 2010, the same person started at left tackle, center, right guard and left guard all year. The right tackle was Jason Smith, and he only missed one game. No one on that line was an all-star, but Sam Bradford knew their strengths and weaknesses. He knew or should have known when he was going to have protection problems because he knew who was protecting him.
In 2011, the line was in amazing disarray. The only person to start every game was Harvey Dahl, yet Dahl did not start every game at the same position. Rodger Saffold started 9 games. Jason Smith started 6 games. Jacob Bell started 12 games, and Jason Brown started 14 games. In got interesting thereafter. Adam Goldberg started 8 games at multiple positions. Tony Wragge started 8 games, and Mark LeVoir started three games. The incredibly famous Kevin Hughes and Thomas Welch each played in multiple games. It should surprise no one that Sam Bradford got hurt in 2011 and only played in 10 games.
So far in 2012, Sam Bradford has been inconsistent, but so has his line. Barry Richardson, who was ranked as one of the worst offensive lineman in the league last year by Pro Football Focus, has started all 11 games for the Rams. Harvey Dahl has started 11 games and so has Robert Turner. Otherwise, Rodger Saffold has started 5 games, Chris Wells 2 games, Quinn Ojinnaka 5 games, Shelley Smith 6 games and Wayne Hunter started 4 games.
We now have our regulars back. If my theory is correct, we should see improvement in Bradford’s play over the remaining five games. This is borne out by the chart above, which shows that – aside from Barry RIchardson – the vast majority of QB hits and sacks have come from backups on this year's line. Last week was one of Bradford’s best. While his completion percentage was not up to par, many of his incompletions were throw aways. His quarterback rating was his second best of the season and fifth best of his career.
The Receiving Corps
The other major issue for Sam Bradford in his short career has been his targets. In 2010, his wide receivers were Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola, Laurent Robinson, Danario Alexander (on one knee), Mark Clayton, Mardy Gilyard (on the sidelines) and Dominique Curry. If you remember, many of us were expecting great things from Donnie Avery in 2010 (or at least hoping), but he got injured by the turf monsters in pre-season.
Danny Amendola proved in 2010 that he could be a reliable option, and he had 85 receptions. Danario Alexander, when he was healthy, was spectacular, but he was only able to play in 8 games and started only 2. Mark Clayton looked like he was going to be the guy who could get separation and make a key catch when necessary, but he only made it through the first five games before getting injured. Otherwise, Brandon Gibson was his normal inconsistent self with numerous drops. Laurent Robinson was his normal, non-2011, self, which means unspectacular. Mardy Gilyard and Dominque Curry had no impact. It is somewhat surprising that Bradford had as good a year as he had in 2010.
Last year was an embarrassment from the wide receiver perspective. Danny Amendola and Mark Clayton, the only two receivers on the team that showed any ability to consistently get open, went down quickly. Bradford was left with Danario Alexander (still gimpy), Brandon Gibson, Brandon Lloyd, Nick Miller, and two rookies who were not ready for the NFL, Austin Pettis and Greg Salas.
This year, Bradford has Danny Amendola, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Brian Quick and Steve Smith as targets. When healthy Danny Amendola is a reliable target, but can have difficulty when doubled teamed. Chris Givens has shown an immediate ability to get deep, but his other skills need refinement. Brandon Gibson and Austin Pettis can get some separation, but it is slight. Bradford has to be perfect to complete a pass to either. Brian Quick is the guy that we need desperately. He is someone that has the build to handle press coverage, with sufficient quickness to get some separation. Unfortunately, Quick is completely lost right now in this offense and Bradford has zero confidence in him. Steve Smith’s balky knee does not allow him to get separation, even from the nickel cornerback or linebacker.
In my opinion, Sam Bradford has shown every skill necessary to be a top quarterback. Even without a single pro bowler on the line, he has shown that he can perform when he at least has consistency on the line. When he has a legit deep threat, he can get the ball deep. The real question is whether Bradford has the ability to show consistency, when he has consistency around him.
Certainly, Bradford needs reliable players around him. However, we fans want to be able to rely on excellence from Bradford when that occurs. Will we see it in the next five games? I believe we will. What do you think?