Is Sam Bradford Finally Ready for Breakout Season?

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Is Sam Bradford Finally Ready for Breakout Season?
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Even though we are less than 24 hours removed from the St. Louis Rams’ first preseason game, it’s never too early to start evaluating the individual performances from last night’s contest. Wide receiver Chris Givens picked up right where he left off in 2012, and Daryl Richardson pleaded his case for the team’s starting running back job.

Yet no one looked better than fourth-year quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford looked strong under duress and all eight of his throws were on the money. When he exited the game in the first half, his final stat line consisted of five completions for 102 yards and one touchdown.

Bradford's statistics from the first preseason game of the 2013 season (via NFL.com).

Still, statistics can only tell a part of the story. Let’s go to the tape and break down three of Bradford’s strongest throws.

On this first play, St. Louis’ offense was in 11 personnel. Givens was split out wide at right wide receiver, Tavon Austin was in the slot on the left side and Austin Pettis was manning the left wide receiver position. Tight end Jared Cook was on the left of the formation in the backfield while Richardson was on the right.

Bradford’s first and only read was Givens. While standing tall in the pocket, Bradford recognized man coverage on the right side of the field. After Givens came out of his break and shed cornerback Joe Haden, St. Louis’ signal-caller delivered a strike along the right sideline.

Kudos to Givens for looking the ball in and catching it with his hands out in front of him, but this play doesn’t happen unless Bradford’s timing is impeccable. Bradford anticipated Givens’ break and put the ball in a location where only the receiver could get to it.

This next play is much sexier than the first play. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense lined up with two receivers, two running backs and one tight end. The 21 personnel look was used to disguise the pass. The Rams were hoping the Browns defense would be keying in on the run.

Luckily enough, Cleveland fell for the horrendous play-action fake, and St. Louis’ offensive line gave Bradford plenty of time to throw. This, in turn, allowed Bradford to go through both of his progressions before he unloaded the ball. 

Left wide receiver Pettis was used as a decoy over the middle of the field to draw coverage away from Givens, and it worked. Browns strong safety Johnson Bademosi jumped Pettis’ route across the middle of the field, which left the back end of Cleveland’s secondary completely exposed.

At that point all Givens had to do was beat cornerback Trevin Wade deep. Based on what we know about his speed, he had no problem flying by the second-year corner.

The end result was a beautifully thrown 59-yard bomb from Bradford. Givens caught the ball in stride, and the Rams scored two plays later to cap off a five-play, 83-yard drive. 

Here’s how St. Louis finally got on the board. It overloaded the right side of the formation and tried to confuse defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s defense with a rub route. Givens and Pettis’ routes were the two main options on the play.

Pettis was option 1A and Givens was 1B.

Again, the Rams offensive line gave Bradford plenty of time to throw, which allowed him to connect with Givens in the back of the end zone. Pettis drew coverage from two defenders, leaving Givens uncovered.

Bradford and Givens looked downright unstoppable. The second-year wideout amassed 82 yards receiving on three receptions. Moreover, he caught every targeted pass and finished with two catches over 20 yards.

Yes, last night was only the first preseason game of the year, but based on Bradford’s comfort level and his mechanics, he looks primed for a breakout season in 2013. Let’s not forget, this year will also mark the first time in his career where he has had the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons.

Undeservedly, the No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma has caught plenty of flak over the course of his three-year career. It’s important to remember that his struggles in 2011 were a direct result of inferior playmakers, a new offensive coordinator and a lockout-shortened offseason. 

Even in 2012, head coach Jeff Fisher said Bradford struggled at times because of the players around him. Here’s what Fisher told ESPN 101 during a radio interview this past offseason, via Pro Football Talk:

His play was directly affected by the people around him. There’s times when it’s difficult to step up in the pocket and make the good throw. That’s not the quarterback’s fault. That’s whatever’s going on out front. We’re pleased with what Sam did. He’s got an exciting future. I know he’s really excited about coming back in here in April and getting started and not having to learn another offense.

Fisher’s right, Bradford does have an exciting future. He finally has viable playmakers at his disposal, thanks in large part to general manager Les Snead. During the offseason, Snead signed tight end Jared Cook and drafted wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. 

In addition to all the new offensive talent, there are a couple of players who seem to be making huge strides from Year 1 to Year 2. One is a player we’ve talked about before in Richardson, and the other is wide receiver Brian Quick.

The Rams are looking to incorporate Richardson more into the passing game this year, while they are hoping Quick has a firm grasp of the playbook. His knowledge of the playbook will help him vie for playing time. Additionally, it will help him cut down on mental mistakes when he’s in the game.

Don’t get me wrong, it will take time for Bradford and his new counterparts to get on the same page, but once they do, watch out.

For the first time in a long time, one has to like St. Louis’ odds. Bradford’s breakout season will help the Rams make their first playoff appearance since head coach Mike Martz was roaming the sidelines in 2004.

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