It's Put Up or Shut Up Time for Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams

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It's Put Up or Shut Up Time for Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams
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When one takes the time to examine the St. Louis Rams and the star-studded players on their roster, it’s clear that quarterback Sam Bradford is by far the most widely discussed team member. 

This should come as a surprise, considering Bradford was selected No. 1 overall by the Rams in 2010 and hasn't exactly lived up to his lofty draft status over the course of his four-year career.

Furthermore, he is set to make $17.61 million in 2014 and $16.58 million in 2015. That’s a lot of money for a player who has missed 15 games since the start of the 2011 season with knee and ankle injuries. 

Fortunately for Bradford, the $17.61 million he will make in 2014 won’t be an issue, based on the fact that general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher have thrown their full support behind the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner for another year. 

That’s not to say St. Louis is sold on Bradford as its long-term quarterback of the future, which, in turn, means it’s put up or shut up time for him in 2014. 

With that said, let’s dig deep into the numbers and examine whether or not Bradford will be putting up or shutting up come the end of the 2014 season. 

Since handling pressure is a huge part of playing quarterback in the NFL, it only makes sense that we start with one of the most important aspects of the position. 

According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Bradford dropped back to pass 284 times last season. Of those, opposing defenders registered pressure 103 times. 

This means Bradford was under pressure 36.3 percent of the time on his drop backs, making him the 20th most pressured signal-caller in the NFL out of 41 qualifying quarterbacks. 

In terms of how well Bradford handled the pressure, he was amongst the league’s worst. While under pressure, he took 15 sacks, threw two touchdowns, one interception and completed a mere 38.8 percent of his passes. 

To put those numbers in perspective, backup quarterback Kellen Clemens completed 48.6 percent of his throws under pressure and threw one touchdown pass on 99 drop backs.

In accordance to Pro Football Focus’ grading metric, Brandon Weeden, Matt McGloin and Thaddeus Lewis were the only quarterbacks who performed worse under pressure than Bradford. 

Pro Football Focus
Statistically, Bradford was the fourth-worst quarterback in the NFL when he was under pressure.

The second area of Bradford’s game we are going to focus on is his ability as a play-action passer. 

In my opinion, being an effective play-action passer is essential to Bradford’s success because the Rams offense transitioned to a run-heavy attack once Zac Stacy cracked the starting lineup last year.

For Bradford, the good news is his numbers as a play-action passer were much better than his numbers under pressure. Per Pro Football Focus, he completed 65.4 percent of his passes, tallied 506 yards passing, tossed six touchdowns and amassed a quarterback rating of 111.5 on play-action passes. 

Bradford’s completion percentage was the ninth-highest in the league, his quarterback rating was the seventh-highest and his yards per attempt (9.7) on play-action passes was also the seventh highest. 

Clearly, Bradford is a top-tier quarterback when the run game is cranked up and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenhemier is dialing up play-action passes.

Pro Football Focus
As you can see, Bradford posted the seventh-highest quarterback rating on play-action passes.

Next we are going to break down Bradford’s ability to push the ball deep down the field.

This ended up being a tough study when you look at Bradford’s numbers from the 2013 season. Why? Because the sample size was extremely small, Schottenheimer’s play calls didn’t appear to call for shots 20 yards or more downfield and the Rams wide receiving corps was extremely unreliable early on in the year. 

Nevertheless, the analysts at Pro Football Focus said Bradford completed seven of 22 passes that traveled 20 yards or more downfield, tossed two interceptions and scored one touchdown. 

His 40.9 accuracy percentage was 21st-best in the NFL, while his attempts percentage of 8.4 was good enough for 37th-best. 

Alex Smith, Chad Henne and Matt Ryan were the three signal-callers who finished with a lower attempts percentage than Bradford. 

Pro Football Focus
Through seven regular-season games, Bradford only completed seven passes of 20 yards or more on 22 attempts.

The last in-depth statistic we are going to scrutinize is Bradford’s Pro Football Focus quarterback rating. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with that statistic, here’s how it is described on PFF's website: “Offering an alternative to the out-dated standard, we take into account dropped passes, throw aways, spikes, and yards in the air and further adjust the old formula so it makes more sense and is a more accurate measure.”

Based on those perimeters, Bradford finished the 2013 season with the 17th-highest Pro Football Focus quarterback rating. That’s outstanding when one realizes that he ended ahead of guys like Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill and Alex Smith.

Obviously, the four statistical categories we just studied aren’t the only ones that matter. However, they are the ones that do the best job of telling an accurate story. 

It's evident that Bradford is no longer the promising prospect he once was coming out of college. Similarly, given his setting, he isn't as bad as he is made out to be. 

Despite having an inexperienced wide receiving corps, an inept offensive coordinator and a non-existent run game to start the season, Bradford exceeded expectations in 2013. 

He knocked it out the park as a play-action passer, and his PFF quarterback rating ended up being higher than most thought it would be. Both of those things will prove to be building blocks as Bradford heads into Year No. 5. 

However, those two things don’t excuse his poor play under pressure and less than impressive ability to push the ball deep down the field. If Bradford wants to reestablish himself as a franchise quarterback, he will have to improve his play in a muddied pocket and show the masses that he can accurately hit targets 20 yards or more downfield. 

With improvement being the most crucial key to Bradford’s long-term future in St. Louis, it’s easy to see why 2014 is put up or shut up time. 

Bradford has to get better or the Rams will have no choice but to move on; they can’t afford to go 8-8 or 7-9 every year and miss the playoffs. 

They have to eventually get over the hump, and Bradford will have one final shot to show the team that he can get them over the hump. If he doesn’t, Rams fans should expect a fresh-faced youngster under center in 2015. 

Bradford, your time is now. The clock is ticking.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all contract numbers via Over the Cap and all statistics via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).


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