Today turned out to be Sam Bradford day on the internet. And why not. Last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year is mired in a sophomore slump that few expected from last year's first-overall pick. Unlike touchdowns, the St. Louis Rams have plenty of disappointment, leading the list is Bradford's lapse into Claussen-esque territory.
Bernie Miklasz provided a thorough overview of Bradford's struggles in today's Post-Dispatch. As he points out, there isn't one easy to pinpoint reason for Bradford's rotten season. It's been a cascade of factors leading Bradford and the Rams' offense to the bottom of the league.
The trouble started in the spring, when the lockout wiped out spring OTAs and minicamps that would have been Bradford's first intro to Josh McDaniels, the Rams new offensive coordinator. When the preseason finally did start, McDaniels noted that his complex offense would be installed in stages, rather than all once. That certainly seemed to be the case as the Rams rolled through the preseason on a limited combination of screens and play action passes.
Once the regular season rolled around, things got ugly. Without a doubt, losing Steven Jackson on his second carry of the season, stunted the plan. Despite the loss of Jackson, McDaniels and Spagnuolo failed to change the offensive game plan. Even if Jackson had stayed healthy for that short stretch to start the season, it's safe to assume that the offensive game plan wasn't going to be changed, since it wasn't altered without Jackson.
Despite that, we saw a few glimpses of the possibility. In week two, the Rams moved the ball quite well between the twenties, failing miserably when they got into the red zone. Miklasz is far kinder to the coaching staff than I am in his assessment of Bradford's struggles.
Here's Spagnuolo as quoted in today's PD when asked whether or not changing offensive systems in his second year has been difficult for the Rams quarterback:
I don't know that. I mean, I think what threw things off a little bit was the injury. I really felt coming out of that Green Bay game, even though we didn't score a lot of points, that something was clicking. We were hitting a groove, and the last play - the ankle.
Give Spags points for consistency. As the Rams' losses piled up, the coach maintained his blind faith that sticking with the program would eventually produce results. It's a fine line between consistency and being stubborn. Spags can probably do more to sell his coaching resume by framing it around consistency rather than stubbornness.
Maybe the Rams offense would have starting clicking following that Green Bay game, maybe not. The Rams were 0-5 following the Green Bay game, too late for consistency to matter in terms of getting the Rams into a division race.
Miklasz does come down pretty hard on the Rams brass for the decision to not hire a quarterbacks coach. I agree. I made the case last week that the Rams really screwed up in not hiring a quarterbacks coach. Installing a new, complex offense stretched McDaniels a little thin. After all, there were other players besides Bradford who had to learn the new playbook. Don't forget it was a new playbook and new system for the other position coaches as well.
In that post, we noted NFL Films guru Greg Cosell's analysis of Bradford. Cosell described him as tentative, afraid to make throws down the field and missing the complete picture of what was happening in front of him. Worth pointing here too is that McDaniels chooses to coach from the sidelines, rather than in the both as many offensive coordinators do.
Pro Football Focus noticed similar struggles from Bradford in their game breakdown from this week's special teams win in Cleveland.
Since his return from injury Sam Bradford (-3.0) hasn't looked his normal self. He was playing OK without exactly setting the world on fire up until Week 6 but here, and in Arizona, he has struggled. This time it was as much a case of forcing throws as anything else; trying to get balls to Brandon Lloyd despite close coverage from Joe Haden and also almost getting picked off by Usama Young (first quarter, 2:50 remaining) looking for Jackson on a wheel route. Add to this ignoring Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita underneath in coverage (one of which led to an interception) and a paucity of quality decisions to balance them out, and it all sums to a very poor day.
Whether you buy into Spagnuolo's analysis that things were improving before Bradford got hurt, this presents a stark reminder that things have gotten worse since Bradford's injury.
And what about the talent as a factor in Bradford's slump? Definitely. The Rams flunked on this front. They failed to bring in the kind of help so desperately needed at wide receiver until swinging a deal for Brandon Lloyd at the trade deadline, which was too late to matter in hindsight (though it is a useful addition going forward).
Allowing McDaniels to take over in the draft room in April, they picked a tight end in the second round and made him a focal point of the offensive game plan for the year, despite the lockout and an offensive coordinator stretched too thin to work with rookies and all the time that demands. Let's also not forget the failure to bring in an adequate backup for Steven Jackson, a kind of player who could have kept the offense going and even been a complement to Jackson. And, of course, how can we overlook the coaching staff's failure to turn Jason Smith into a serviceable asset on the offensive line, not to mention the regression from Rodger Saffold.
Weigh those roster decisions against the coaches' insistence on not hiring a quarterbacks coach to work directly with Bradford and installing a game plan despite the conditions, i.e. relying on young players at key spots, a lack of skill players to run the system and the erased prep time, and it compounds the struggles for Bradford, the $78 million asset being asked to restore a moribund franchise.
Regardless of how much disbelief you may have in what the Denver Broncos are doing right now, I give Head Coach John Fox credit for finding a way to make the best of what he has. Fox tried to run a more traditional NFL offense, and it didn't work. He wrote a new script halfway through the film that adapted to Tim Tebow and an offensive roster decimated by injuries and left perilously thin by none other than Josh McDaniels.
Like most of the national media, I agree that Fox's option offense is only going to take the Broncos so far, but he gets credit for adapting to circumstances. Spagnuolo and McDaniels refused to adapt, and here we are, debating what exactly is wrong with a quarterback who possesses the talent to be among the league's elite.
It's a stinging indictment.