[Ed. note: The following is authored by BGN Radio host John Barchard. John has been tweeting about Bradford a lot lately so he figured it would be best to turn his thoughts into a series of posts. Here's the first one.]
When Sam Bradford was traded to the Eagles most of us thought it was Plan B or a bargaining chip to go grab Marcus Mariota. I certainly couldn't wrap my head around it. Investing a second round pick for a guy with back-to-back ACL injuries who barely throws the ball over six yards per attempt doesn't seem worth it. Sure, the Rams weren't exactly bathing in talent during most of Bradford's time there, but how bad could it be? I wanted to know for myself. So I went through every single pass that Bradford threw from 2011-2013. I captured each good and bad moment through the lens of my tiny iPhone and uploaded it on Vine for everyone to see. Is Bradford that much better than Mark Sanchez? Nick Foles? Alex Smith?
I will start with a narrative that I have seen and thought myself.
Sam Bradford is not willing to throw the ball down the field
The biggest misconception that I had (and many probably do have) is that Bradford's stat sheet is very unimpressive. His YPA is one of the lowest in NFL, so he must play it safe right? Wrong. There are a lot of different factors that need to be accounted for. Most noticeably, whether it was Josh McDaniels or Brian Schottenheimer, they all subscribed to the short passing game. During one of the broadcasts I was watching, Mike Mayock put it perfectly: "The Rams offense is like a red zone offense where the red zone is a 100 yards long." Instead of running four verticals, they're running four five-yard comeback routes. The Rams never had a true deep threat and the only receiver that came close to that was the injury prone Danny Amendola. Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, and Austin Pettis were supposed to be solutions to that problem but they never helped consistently enough with the vertical passing game. But Bradford is more than willing to throw it down field. When he sees it he throws it.
A few examples here:
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Chris Givens on the last play there shows us another reason why the YPA number may be so low.
The Drops and The Talent
Can you blame everything on the Rams WR corps? No. Per Pro Football Focus, some of the best quarterbacks in the league like Tom Brady in 2010 and 2013, along with Aaron Rodgers in 2012, dealt with a high drop rate and still won games. I also don't think Sam Bradford is on the same level (nor does he need to be in this offense) as those two even though his skill set is quite similar to both.
Can you blame a big chunk of the problems on the Rams wide receiver corps? Absolutely. Despite Brady and Rodgers dealing with the drops they still had a Rob Gronkowski or a Jordy Nelson while Bradford had nothing close to that. 2011 was horrendous and in 2013, despite the success that Bradford was having before his injury, wasn't much better. 2011 was a tough year around the NFL if you were a team that was making changes due to the lockout. The Eagles, just like the Rams were one of those teams. Lance Kendricks, Austin Pettis and Greg Salas (former Na Brown candidate!) were all thrown into the fire. The inexperience caused lots of moments like this one:
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The drops were only one part of the problem. The other big problem I saw with the Rams wide receiving corps was that they were terrible at beating press-man coverage. And so much that at some point I forgot that they could actually throw down field, so when they did I thought I was seeing a mirage.
Most of the plays they ran were some version of this:
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When you're going up against the top defenses in the league that also happen to be the three most aggressive ones (Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona) and you have to play them twice a year, this is pretty much a recipe for disaster. It's 2015 and the Rams are hanging their hat on Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick, Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Lance Kendricks, and Jared Cook. Though they have shown improvement, they are still far away from being able to complete with the NFC West defenses.
The Offensive Line
So we have a short passing game offense, matched with wide receivers who will drop balls and can't get open down the field... is there anything else creating this low number? Yes. I could write another 500 words on the Rams offensive line struggles but I will leave it at this: from 2010-2012 there were 23 different offensive line starters (according to a TNF broadcast I was watching) for Sam Bradford and it showed. There was consistent pressure in his face and he was constantly taking hits which resulted in some sack fumbles. He was forced to get the ball out very quickly in order to avoid getting hit. If you add together all of these different factors you are going to see a lot of check downs and quick short passes.
BGN's Dave Mangels had an excellent piece on Bradford's struggles which sparked some great conversation on why his backups threw the ball down the field more often than he did. I didn't look at his backups for contrast but just to reiterate what I saw... there was ZERO hesitation to get rid of the ball or to go down field when the opportunity was there. Bradford gets rid of the ball quickly whether it's short, medium or long. This picture keeps being painted like he's this scared little boy afraid to throw interceptions, but he's more like Brett Farve than Alex Smith when it comes to throwing the football. He's a gun slinger.
So why did Clemens throw .9 yards farther per attempt? According to PFF, Clemens threw 25 deep passes (10.8% of his total attempts) to Bradford's 22 (8.4% of his total attempts) That doesn't seem like a huge difference to me. Bradford also put up 6 more touchdowns and threw 3 less interceptions with 4 less games played. Bradford threw 72 deep passes during the last full season he played in 2012. Shaun Hill and Austin Davis combined for 68 in 2014.
To me, that says the Rams' offense is really limiting no matter what your skill set is and not that Clemens, Austin, or Hill are closer to Bradford in arm or actual talent. Our good friend Mark Sanchez was also at the bottom of the barrel in YPA at 6.38 when he was with the New York Jets and when he came to Philadelphia it shot up to 7.8 YPA, sandwiched right between Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. Was Sanchez suddenly more willing to throw ball down the field? Did his arm strength get better? Or was there an offense that actually allowed you to throw the ball down the field? Oakland Raiders rookie Derek Carr was the lowest in the league last year at 5.46 YPA. Is he also a "Checkdown Charlie?" We tend to always look at the quarterback with this stat and we shouldn't be. You have to look at the entire offense, the play calling and the system that the QB is in.
There is no absolute answer here, but I think it's important to have as much perspective on what Bradford was dealing with and how he responded to it. Coming soon in another post we will get into that and break down some more film showing the #SamGoodford and the #SamBadford
In the meantime, feel free to look for yourself. I couldn't include every Bradford video clip here but they are all on my Vine channel.