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Thursday, November 17, 2011
What is the matter with Rams' Bradford?

By Mike Sando

The St. Louis Rams are averaging an NFL-low 12.6 points per game this season.

The figure is 10.25 when Sam Bradford starts at quarterback.

Something isn't right with that picture. Bradford knows it. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz took an in-depth look at some of the numbers and criticized the Rams for failing to hire a quarterbacks coach.

I spent part of Wednesday going through every available statistical measure looking for one area where Bradford appeared to be shining, or even above average. I'm still looking.

A quick look at where Bradford ranks in NFL passer rating for categories, according to ESPN Stats & Information: The ranking for passes thrown form outside the pocket was the highest I could find for Bradford. However, enjoying moderate success in this area means little. Quarterbacks must prove they can make plays within the pocket. Bradford hasn't been able to do that.

The final two categories listed -- red zone and goal-to-go passing -- most directly affect the first number discussed here, points per game.

Bradford actually emerged from the Rams' 13-12 victory over Cleveland with the first fourth-quarter comeback victory of his career. The game was feeling like another defeat, however, until the Browns inexplicably botched a 22-yard field goal in the final minutes. Bradford led one touchdown drive.

To be fair, the Browns had allowed only two scoring passes in their previous four games. They have allowed more than one scoring pass in a game just twice this season, both in the first four weeks.

But the Rams should be getting better production from Bradford at this point. Total QBR, which measures how quarterbacks affect win probability, showed Bradford with a 41.0 score last season. Fifty is average. His QBR has fallen to 31.6 this season. Opponents returned some early turnovers for momentum-turning touchdowns.

Only John Beck, Curtis Painter, Tim Tebow and Blaine Gabbert rank lower than Bradford this season in QBR, which lists Aaron Rodgers (87.8), Drew Brees (77.6) and Tom Brady (75.5) as best in the league.

My take on Bradford's season: Bradford quickly won over Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Their excitement over the possibilities was palpable during training camp. They were excited about Bradford taking over the protection calls. They were excited about Bradford running an offense that would make significant changes to game plans based on the opponent from week to week, a change from the West Coast mindset.

In retrospect, McDaniels might have overestimated Bradford's ability to handle these things all at once following a shortened offseason. Week 1 injuries to Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola and others compounded the problems.

Still, Bradford was not the problem early in the season. Injuries at running back and wide receiver made his job nearly impossible while the Rams were playing tough opponents week after week. The Rams' tackles also regressed in protection, and their situation at tight end has been in flux.

Bradford was showing significant improvement when he suffered a high-ankle sprain on the final play of an Oct. 16 game at Green Bay. The Rams' lack of firepower hurt them in that game, but Bradford's best game of the season helped them roll up 424 yards, a season high. The team then went out and added Brandon Lloyd, but with Bradford unable to practice or play, their rapport suffered in the immediate term.

Bradford still is not healthy. The ankle is probably going to affect him for the remainder of the season. However, the injury is to his left ankle. He plants on his right ankle when throwing. That means Bradford should be able to make the necessary throws unless there are additional undisclosed injuries affecting his play. Bradford has missed open receivers too frequently in recent weeks.

The next two games, against Seattle and Arizona, provide an opportunity Bradford must seize. Both games are at home against teams with losing records. After those games, Bradford faces the 49ers and Seahawks on the road. He then faces Cincinnati at home, Pittsburgh on the road and the 49ers at home. Some of those defenses and/or venues can make life miserable for quarterbacks.