Breaking Down Sam Bradford's Form at the NFL's Midseason Mark
The St. Louis Rams (3-4) are nearly at the season's midpoint with a losing record, but they have certainly improved compared to last season and they remain competitive on a weekly basis.
The most drastic improvements have been on the defensive side of the ball, while the offense remains nearly as stale as it's been over the last two seasons.
Stuck on the receiving end of the criticism is former No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford.
The young quarterback was initially bulletproof when it came to criticism, especially after a Rookie of the Year performance in 2010. But now, patience is wearing thin and the fans are expecting more production out of Bradford, who was advertised as the next great quarterback coming out of the draft.
Then again, considering that Bradford has been through three different offensive coordinators in as many years, while also lacking consistent playmakers and adequate protection, it's fair to point out that Bradford hasn't been put into a position to succeed.
So with that, let's take a glance at Bradford's work seven games into the 2012 season.
Comparing 2012 to the Past
The most obvious way to determine whether Bradford has improved is to compare his performance this year to his first two years in the NFL.
2012: 131-for-219 (59.8 percent), 1,592 yards, 7 TD, 6 INT
2011: 142-for-257 (55.2 percent), 1,587 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT *Through first seven games
2010: 146-for-260 (56.1 percent), 1,483 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT *Through first seven games
As you can see, when comparing Bradford's 2012 numbers to the first seven games of his two previous seasons, there's consistency as far as pass attempts, completion percentage and yards.
The thing that jumps out the most is the fact Bradford has more yards than the previous two seasons, despite having significantly less pass attempts.
Brian Schottenheimer's offense is well balanced compared to Josh McDaniels' generally pass-happy offense from 2011, yet Bradford has still been able to produce more yard and touchdowns, even though he has 38 less pass attempts.
This, along with Bradford being on pace for the best completion percentage of his career, is a sign of him maturing as a player.
It's also interesting to note that his touchdown totals seem to be a direct reflection of the health of his top receivers.
In 2010, he had Mark Clayton for the first four games and Danny Amendola stepped up after Clayton's knee injury. Bradford had a No. 1 receiver available for all seven of those games, which is why his rookie year has the highest touchdown total.
In his first seven games of 2011, he only had Amendola for half a game due to an elbow injury, while he had Brandon Lloyd for just two games. He only had a No. 1 receiver for just over two of his first seven games, resulting in his lowest touchdown total.
This season has been in between. Amendola has been healthy for four-and-a-half of the first seven games, resulting in a touchdown total more than 2011, but less than 2010.
It's also worth noting that five of Bradford's seven touchdowns in 2012 came when Amendola was healthy. He has just two touchdown passes since losing Amendola to injury.
Even if Amendola isn't the one scoring all those touchdowns, his presence still affects the coverage and the overall offensive game plan.
But regardless, a skeptic might point out that his 2012 numbers are uncomfortably similar to the numbers from his first two seasons, which possibly points to a lack of growth.
Sam Bradford has already been sacked 21 times this season, which is third among NFL quarterbacks behind only Aaron Rodgers (26) and Kevin Kolb (27).
At this rate, Bradford is on pace for 48 sacks this season, which would be the highest total since Jay Cutler was sacked 52 times in 2010.
If Bradford stays on pace for 48 sacks, it would bring his career sack total to 118, which isn't far off from the 140 sacks David Carr took in his first three seasons.
We've seen Bradford's pocket awareness improve over the last several weeks, most notably in his game against Miami, where he was able to scramble for a career-high 34 yards.
However, if we don't see better protection in the second half of the season, then we can continue to expect mediocre numbers from Bradford.
Offensive linemen Rodger Saffold, Wayne Hunter and Scott Wells are all injured and will help improve the protection once they return to the lineup.
C Scott Wells, who broke his foot in Week 1, is still not healthy enough to practice. He's targeting Week 10 vs. San Fran for his return— Rams RapidReports (@CBSRams) October 22, 2012
. . . .Also inactive for Rams, OT Wayne Hunter (back), and OT Rodger Saffold (knee).— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) October 21, 2012
Best Moments of 2012
There has only been one game in 2012 where Sam Bradford has undoubtedly looked like the No. 1 overall pick he is supposed to be, and that came against the Washington Redskins.
Bradford finished with 310 yards and three touchdowns as the Rams picked up a 31-28 victory over Washington.
And despite losing to Miami on the road, Bradford produced 349 yards of offense against the Dolphins while nearly breaking his back to score the team's only touchdown of the game on a goal-line quarterback sneak.
In Detroit, despite being held in check for the first half, Bradford came out strong in the fourth quarter with 101 passing yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson.
Bradford's late-game surge against Detroit kept his team in the game, even if they did come up short in the end.
Worst Moments of 2012
Against Chicago, Sam Bradford and the offense struggled to find any traction. Bradford was held to 152 yards and zero touchdowns, while being picked off twice.
Although his performance against Chicago was questionable, you can't put all the blame of Bradford considering he was sacked six times.
At home against Arizona on Thursday Night Football, Bradford was able to throw for two touchdowns, but the offense struggled most of the game. Bradford completed a laughable 33.3 percent of his passes, while being held to just 141 yards.
What to Watch for in Second Half of 2012
Will Sam Bradford step up his play in the final eight games of 2012?
If Sam Bradford is going to up his production in the final nine games, the rest of the offense will have to get healthy.
Center Scott Wells was supposed to be a huge upgrade for the offensive line, but the Rams lost him to injury in Week 1, while left tackle Rodger Saffold has been out since Week 2.
When those guys return, the line should be in much better shape.
Also, while the offense has taken a nose dive since the injury to Danny Amendola, there is some hope with rookie Chris Givens.
In the last four weeks, Givens has produced 261 yards and a touchdown, including a play of 50 or more yards in each of the last four games.
It will certainly be interesting to see what Bradford can do with both Amendola and an improving Givens in the lineup at the same time, especially if the line is healthy.
As long as players are on track with their injury rehabilitation, we'll start to see the level of talent on offense increase, probably starting after the Week 9 Bye.
If Bradford's second half of the season is not stronger than the first, then it might be time to show some concern.
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