Awaiting a breakout from Sam Bradford

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
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bradfordJay Drowns/Getty ImagesAfter a successful rookie campaign, Sam Bradford has been largely ineffective as the Rams struggled with the lockout and injuries.
The stat line for Robert Griffin III seemed too good for a rookie making his first NFL start: 19-of-26 passing for 320 yards with two touchdowns, no turnovers and just one sack.

It was the third time in the past 50 seasons a Washington Redskins quarterback completed at least 70 percent of his passes for at least 310 yards with at least two touchdowns and no picks. Mark Rypien and Joe Theismann each hit all those baselines once.

NFC West baselines

Kurt Warner did it three times for the Arizona Cardinals and five times for the St. Louis Rams. Marc Bulger and Jim Everett each managed one such game for the Rams.

Matt Hasselbeck (twice) and Jim Zorn (once) are the only Seattle Seahawks to post games with at least 70 percent completions, 310 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Steve Young (five times), Jeff Garcia (three), Elvis Grbac (once) and John Brodie (once) have done it for the San Francisco 49ers. In a bit of a surprise, Joe Montana never did.

Griffin and Bradford

The most relevant comparison this week: Griffin to Rams starter Sam Bradford.

Their teams face one another Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. The Redskins selected Griffin with a draft choice acquired from the Rams once St. Louis determined Bradford would remain its starter. Both players were very high draft choices, Bradford first overall in 2010 and Griffin second overall this year.

The scheduling rotation called for the Redskins and Rams to play one another this season regardless of the trade. That part was coincidental. Scheduling Griffin against Bradford in Week 2 gave fans something to anticipate early in the season. Bradford nearly led the Rams to an upset at Detroit last week. Griffin helped the Redskins knock off New Orleans in the Superdome.

Few great games

A note from ESPN Stats & Information, displayed in the first chart, revived a point I've heard recently from a source I can't recall.

The point is that Bradford has never had a truly great statistical performance in two-plus seasons with the Rams.

The chart at right shows players with the fewest games featuring a Total QBR score of at least 70 out of 100, counting only games with at least 25 action plays for the quarterback. Bradford has the fewest.

Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith are on the list, but both have made strides. Smith's QBR was at 83.5 during the 49ers' victory over Green Bay in Week 1. Stafford tossed three picks and struggled, but he led the winning touchdown drive after Bradford had helped rally the Rams into the lead.

Top offensive rookie

Bradford was most productive in 2010, when he was healthy and won offensive rookie of the year honors. Injuries to him and a long list of teammates affected Bradford last season. Learning a new offense on short notice -- we all recall the lockout -- had to be tough.

Bradford completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 308 yards, three touchdowns and no picks during a victory over Denver as a rookie. His Total QBR score for that game was 94.7, a career high by a wide margin. That was one of three 300-yard games for him. It was the only time Bradford tossed more than two touchdown passes. He has five games with two, 12 games with one and nine games with none.

The nine games with no scoring passes are the most since 2010 for quarterbacks with at least 20 pass attempts in a game.

Anyone familiar with the Rams' offense over the past three seasons -- its linemen, wide receivers and changing schemes in particular -- realizes Bradford isn't the primary problem in St. Louis. Still, the best quarterbacks and even a few average ones hit the statistical jackpot every so often. Bradford's time will presumably come.

Closing thoughts

QBR measures how quarterbacks affect win probability for their teams. It correlates to winning more closely than even turnover differential. The Rams haven't won much at all.

So, have the Rams dragged down Bradford more than Bradford has held back the Rams? I think so. We'll have a better idea as the Rams improve around Bradford. We shouldn't expect Bradford to produce the way Griffin did last week. We shouldn't even expect Griffin to do so. That game was the exception. But it's reasonable to expect progress.

The biggest concern from the Rams' perspective is how Bradford will perform behind an offensive line that has already lost center Scott Wells and left tackle Rodger Saffold to injuries. That angle is getting tiresome, but it's real. It's at least a threat to cloud the Rams' quarterback evaluation until those players return.

At a certain point, the Rams need Bradford to transcend the challenges around him. Having it happen against Griffin and the Redskins would come as a welcome bonus.

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