The Story of How Marc Bulger Became the NFL's Most Underappreciated QB
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to have performed at a higher level than almost anyone in your profession just to be forgotten in a matter of seconds, you should talk to Marc Bulger.
I know that nobody is talking about the Rams these days, especially here on Bleacher Report. Hell, they don't even have a Community Leader.
Yet oftentimes tales of underrated heroes vanish amidst a clouds of more popular gossip.
For every person who's wondering "What the hell makes Marc Bulger relevant?", there are another one-hundred people wondering whether Brett Favre will come out of retirement to play for the Minnesota Vikings.
I'd dare say at this point in time, Kyle Orton has become more relevant than Marc Bulger.
But he shouldn't.
While the majority of NFL fans may have forgotten a team which once known as "The Greatest Show on Turf", I am one fan of professional football that has not forgotten the high level that Marc Bulger played at.
Now, I know what you're thinking. "What did Marc Bulger do that was so special, right"?
Allow me to explain.
You see, two years ago Marc Bulger would have been considered among the NFL's elite.
No, he didn't get as much screen time as Peyton Manning and he didn't get the girls like Tom Brady. Marc Bulger however put all of his heart, soul, and focus into playing football and did so at a very high level.
For a moment, let's take a look at what Marc Bulger's career looked like prior to the past two disastrous seasons in St. Louis. His numbers were as follows...
Marc Bulger (2002-06): 1,357 of 2,106 (64.4 percent) for 16,233 yards, 95 touchdowns, and 59 interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 91.3
Yet as impressive as those numbers were, they don't tell the entire story unless you look further in depth.
While Marc Bulger did play many games over the course of those five seasons, he also missed 20 of those games (nine of them being a backup prior to Kurt Warner's injury and 11 of them due to being injured himself).
Prior to the 2007 season, Marc Bulger averaged 270.5 yards per game (the highest total in NFL history and more than 10 yards ahead of the man in second place, Peyton Manning).
His completion percentage of 64.4 was the second best in NFL history (ranking only behind Kurt Warner) for quarterbacks who had more than 2,000 passing attempts.
On September 10, 2006, against the Denver Broncos, Marc Bulger completed his 1,000th pass faster than any quarterback in NFL history.
Bulger reached this plateau in 45 games. It took Kurt Warner 47 games, Peyton Manning & Drew Bledsoe 48 games, and Dan Marino 49 games (all of the above four mentioned ranking second to fifth respectively).
So what we have prior to 2007 was one of the most accurate and productive quarterbacks in NFL history. A man who was equaling or exceeding plataues that not even the likes of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady had reached at that point.
Yet even prior to 2007, you rarely heard mention of Marc Bulger in the same class as many other quarterbacks, even those who performed at a much lower level than he did.
But like I said before, that was before the start of the 2007 season.
Marc Bulger's performance during these past two seasons has been anything but spectacular. The production also tells the same story.
Marc Bulger (2007-08): 472 of 818 (57.7 percent) for 5,112 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 28 interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 70.9
So, how did this happen?
How did a quarterback who was once performing at a higher level than almost everyone in the entire NFL suddenly perform like this?
His quarterback rating dropped by more than 20 points. His completion percentage went down 6.7 percent and a man who once threw many more touchdowns than interceptions was suddenly throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.
Something just didn't sit right with me and that was even prior to doing the research.
Thankfully, taking a look at the rest of Bulger's team managed to shed much light on the situation.
From 2007 to 2008, the St. Louis Rams were 4-28 which was the worst winning percentage (12.5 percent) of any NFL team during that span.
And while it might be easy to sit back and blame the quarterback for the team's poor performance, let's actually take the time to look at how much support was given to Bulger.
Marc Bulger played in 27 games from 2007 to 2008 and was sacked 75 times. To put that into perspective, Tom Brady was sacked 73 times from 2005 to 2007 in a total of 48 games.
The Rams averaged 411 carries for 1,588 yards during those two seasons. To put that into perspective, the 2008 Cleveland Browns carried the ball 409 times for 1,605 yards.
Out of those 411 carries, the Rams averaged 6.5 rushing touchdowns per season. To put that into perspective, the 2008 Detroit Lions carred the ball 352 times and scored 10 touchdowns.
In both 2007 and 2008, the Rams defense ranked 31st in the NFL in terms of points per game allowed.
So what we have in terms of support is an offensive line that allows the quarterback to get sacked at the drop of a dime, a running game that gains less yards on more carries than the 2008 Cleveland Browns, a running game that scores 35 percent fewer touchdowns on more carries than the 2008 Detroit Lions and a defense that ranks 31st in the NFL.
Now, how many quarterbacks have played with that kind of support and done well?
That is not to say that Bulger does not deserve any of the blame, I'm sure he would be the first person to take all the blame on his shoulders.
My point rather, is to illustrate that when you play for a team that performs at the above illustrated levels, it's only logical to expect the play of the quarterback to decline as well.
Yet even with as bad as Bulger's past two seasons have been, his career numbers are still quite impressive.
To have done what he has with the supporting cast that he has had makes his accomplishments all the more impressive.
People think that because Bulger has played with the likes of Marshall Faulk and Stephen Jackson, that he has had excellent rushing support.
But as I've illustrated many times in other articles, individual rushing performance can not make up for the lack of total team support.
The real NFL is not like a game of Madden where you use one running back in a game of five-minute quarters. In the NFL, the rest of the backs have to perform at a high level as well if the quarterback is to be adequately supported.
Let's now look at how the Rams have performed on average from 2002 to 2008...
Rams Running Game (2002-08): 394 carries for 1,577 yards (4.0 YPC) and 11.4 touchdowns.
To put that production into perspective, let's take a look at the rushing production of the 2008 Denver Broncos...
2008 Denver Broncos: 387 carries for 1,862 yards (4.8 YPC) and 15 touchdowns.
You might not think that the 2008 Denver Broncos would have produced more than the average Rams team during Bulger's tenure, but they did. They averaged more yards and touchdowns on fewer carries and did so with their leading rusher being Peyton Hillis.
It doesn't matter who your stud running back is, if your entire team is moving down the field less and scoring fewer touchdowns on more carries, they're not producing at the same level as the above mentioned team.
Marc Bulger has also had the benefit of playing with some of the worst defensive squads in recent memory. Let's take a look at the Rams' defensive ranking in terms of points per game allowed during Marc Bulger's career.
When ranking 17th in the NFL is by far the best defensive support you've had your entire career, you know that you're in trouble.
How many teams can you think of that ranked an average of 30th over a four-year span (2005-08)? No wonder the Rams hired former Giants' defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to coach them.
The effect that poor defense can have on a quarterback is perhaps the most overlooked factor in all of football fanhood.
It's simple, when your team allows the other team to score an excessive amount of points, your quarterback has to play under much more pressure and take far more chances in an effort to produce just enough points to even come close.
Compare that to a quarterback who has the luxury of knowing that the defense will take care of the situation and the team will win anyway.
How many games do you think the Rams won if Marc Bulger had an off day?
Unfortunately, with the departures of all the Rams' play-making wide receivers, Marc Bulger is going to be forced to learn the West-Coast offense while throwing to (what on paper at least) appears to be one of the weakest receiving cores in the NFL.
It's a shame that so much of what Marc Bulger has done has been overlooked. There are many quarterbacks in the NFL that had they achieved half of the milestones that Bulger has, would have been showered with monumental praise.
Meanwhile one of the league's finest quarterbacks of our generation continues to fly under the radar.
If he wasn't very appreciated prior to 2007, God only knows what people will think of him now.
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