St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford Injury Explained by Advanced Pass Protection Stats

Jack HarverCorrespondent IISeptember 15, 2011

St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford Injury Explained by Advanced Pass Protection Stats

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    As the St. Louis Rams will tell you, it only takes one quarterback hit to cause an issue.

    Fans in Edward Jones Arena were left holding their breath this past Sunday as Sam Bradford, their franchise signal-caller and the former first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, crunched the index finger on his throwing hand against a pass-rusher's arm.

    Bradford left the game in the fourth quarter, after the Philadelphia Eagles had all but wrapped it up with a touchdown that made the score 31-13. Backup A.J. Feeley went in and threw five passes, four of which hit St. Louis' home turf, as the Rams' meager comeback attempt fizzled.

    Fortunately for St. Louis, the injury doesn't seem likely to keep him out of their primetime Week 2 showdown against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football.

    Nevertheless, it underscores the importance of pass protection. In a league where any hit on the passer can take the wind out of a franchise's sails, whether he's holding the ball or not, it's always true that the fewer hits there are, the better.

    By calculating the rate at which each team's pass protection allows hits on the quarterback, we can shed a little light on how much the blockers (and the passer himself!) are flirting with that one crucial knock.

Week 1: NFL Divided into Pass Protection Haves, Have-Nots in Season Openers

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    As to be expected from a league coming off a lockout-shortened offseason, only a few teams' pass protection schemes were organized well enough to block better than last year's league average in Week 1.

    (A detailed explanation of the 'PASH' (pass attempts per sack or hit) statistic in its original iteration can be found here.)

    As presented herein, it's like a batting average—and the quarterback is the ball.

    In 2010, the NFL as a whole held defenses to a .205 PASH average. Behind the Indianapolis Colts' blockers, Peyton Manning's .093 PASH was the league's lowest, while the Chicago Bears' league-high .317 PASH foreshadowed Jay Cutler's game-changing injury in their conference championship loss.

    After the dust settled from Week 1 this past Monday, only 12 teams had performed at or above that middling .205 PASH standard.

    The Detroit Lions (.000) pitched a perfect game, allowing only the hateful South Florida sun to inflict a bout of cramps on quarterback Matthew Stafford in their 27-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Arizona Cardinals squeaked by the Carolina Panthers with .185 PASH in their 28-21 win.

    At the other end of the pass protection spectrum, the Philadelphia Eagles (.469) and St. Louis Rams (.429) spent most of Sunday afternoon bludgeoning one another's passers behind sieve-like protection.

NFL Predictions: Pass Protection Goes 10-6 Forecasting Week 1 Winners, Losers

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    Predictably, the teams who kept their passers upright more often (i.e. lower PASH) emerged victorious in 10 of the NFL's 16 Week 1 contests.

    Going forward, it stands to reason that the teams with the best pass protection are set up to succeed in the modern pass-friendly game. As a straight-up predictor, PASH figures to be better than a coin flip.

    (If its 67% success rate holds, it might win your office's weekly picks pool this year!)

    Game by game, with the PASH winner in bold:

    Green Bay Packers (.172) 42, New Orleans Saints (.163) 34

    Baltimore Ravens (.138) 35, Pittsburgh Steelers (.244) 7

    Chicago Bears (.375) 30, Atlanta Falcons (.362) 12

    Cincinnati Bengals (.408) 27, Cleveland Browns (.225) 17

    Houston Texans (.083) 34, Indianapolis Colts (.388) 7

    Jacksonville Jaguars (.292) 16, Tennessee Titans (.235) 14

    Buffalo Bills (.231) 41, Kansas City Chiefs (.111) 7

    Philadelphia Eagles (.469) 31, St. Louis Rams (.429) 13

    Detroit Lions (.000) 27, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (.130) 20

    Arizona Cardinals (.185) 28, Carolina Panthers (.270) 21

    San Diego Chargers (.104) 24, Minnesota Vikings (.267) 17

    San Francisco 49ers (.005) 33, Seattle Seahawks (.405) 17

    Washington Redskins (.353) 28, New York Giants (.375) 14

    New York Jets (.227) 27, Dallas Cowboys (.278) 24

    New England Patriots (.063) 38, Miami Dolphins (.265) 24

    Oakland Raiders (.136) 23, Denver Broncos (.261) 20

San Francisco 49ers Shined in Week 1, Cincinnati Bengals Will Improve in Week 2

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    In 2010, the San Francisco 49ers struggled to a .278 PASH average during a season that ranked among the NFL's worst.

    The growing pains involved in bringing rookie linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati up to speed were part of the problem.

    Six games with Troy Smith waffling under center in regular starter Alex Smith's stead, and an underwhelming year from franchise left tackle Joe Staley, didn't help matters either.

    But with expectations low after a short offseason, as well as a change at head coach, the 49ers posted a shockingly-low .050 PASH in their Week 1 NFC West win over the Seattle Seahawks.

    You can credit a conservative approach on offense—San Francisco's 20 pass attempts were the second-fewest among all teams—and Pete Carroll's toothless "Elephant" defensive package, but don't bank on a repeat performance against DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2.

    The Cincinnati Bengals, on the other hand, should improve on their .408 PASH from Week 1. Ironically, it might be because of the throwing-arm injury to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton: Bruce Gradkowski, a six-year NFL veteran, steadied the offense during a 14-point fourth quarter comeback to win the game.

Indianapolis Colts Thrashed in Week 1, Kansas City Chiefs Face Letdown in Week 2

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    As if this horse hadn't been beaten to death already, more numbers are piling on to show just how much the Indianapolis Colts miss Peyton Manning.

    Last year, Manning's quick trigger and legendary football acumen masked the Colts' overmatched offensive line to the tune of .093 PASH, far and away the NFL's best.

    (No other team broke .125!)

    But with a 38-year-old street free agent under center in Kerry Collins, not even a Houston Texans defense making the awkward transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme could put lipstick on Indianapolis' piggish linemen. The Colts posted .388 PASH in their 34-7 blowout loss, plummeting into the company of the league's bottom five for pass-blocking.

    Indianapolis will have to keep mammoth Cleveland rookie Phil Taylor from bulldozing Kerry Collins like he did Cincinnati's Andy Dalton to have a shot at avoiding an 0-2 start.

    The Kansas City Chiefs had a surprisingly easy day in terms of PASH (.111) against the Buffalo Bills despite their 36 pass attempts in a 41-7 shellacking. As dominant as the Bills were, their two-gap scheme sports only one sharp tooth (edge rusher Shawne Merriman) to attack passers.

    In Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Cliff Avril, the Chiefs will be faced with a mouthful to defend when they head to Detroit to face the Lions in Week 2.

Pass Pressure: St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Defense-Adjusted Metrics

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    Thus far, we've focused on offensive PASH and its implications.

    But on the other side of the ball, defensive PASH (DPASH) works as a grade on pass-pressure. The most aggressive defenses take pride in a high batting average, teeing off on opposing quarterbacks as often as possible.

    After Week 1, the St. Louis Rams' .469 DPASH stands out as the NFL's highest, buoyed though it might have been by Michael Vick's tendency to live outside the pocket.

    In stark contrast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers posted the worst possible DPASH (.000) by failing to get so much as a whiff of Detroit's Matthew Stafford on any of his 33 pass attempts.

    With just one week in the books, viewing NFL offenses' PASH through the lens of the defenses they've faced would be redundant. Each team's PASH is its Week 1 opponent's DPASH and vice versa.

    Starting next week, the math gets a bit heavier. There'll be a raw PASH and DPASH score for each team through two games, but defense-adjusted PASH (daPASH) will come into play as well.

    To churn out daPASH scores, weekly PASH will be sifted through the lens of raw DPASH to account for strength of schedule. The raw numbers will tell us who's getting hit the most, and the defense-adjusted statistics will show how that's affected by the quality of a team's opponents.

    (Got it? Good. See you next week.)