That the St. Louis Rams steadfastly refused to throw the deep ball last year ranked among fans' biggest frustrations. Here was one of the most accurate college quarterbacks in the midst of a stunning rookie season being asked to dink and dunk his offense down the field. Five yards here, six yards there, run it up the gut...defenses simply just squeezed all their players up closer to the line, made adjustments for whatever successful route and receiver the Rams used and kept points off the board.
Just how effective were the Rams when they threw the deep ball? Pro Football Focus put together a very thorough look at all the QBs with at least thirty deep attempts in 2010. I was a little shocked that Sam Bradford and the Rams made that cut, but they did throw deep a little more often than that.
Below the jump, some comments about Bradford's effectiveness on the deep ball last year, and a few thoughts on what might or might not be changing as far as stretched field this year.
Bradford, the eventual Offensive Rookie of the Year, set a new record for pass attempts by a rookie QB with 590. In fact, only Peyton Manning and Drew Bress threw more passes last year. Those two averaged about 7 yards per attempt. Bradford's YPA average was just under 6 yards. Of those 590 attempts by Bradford, just 40 of them were attempts of 20 yards or more, a league-low 6.78 percent.
For wide-eyed comparison, Bress and Manning threw down-field 11 and 13 percent of the time, respectively.
Think about this, Bradford's deep throws average out to 2.5 per game. Manning takes an average of almost 6 deep shots per game, and Brees makes more than four.
As far as his completion percentage goes, Bradford's 32.5 percent is middle of the pack, even better than Manning's 30.5 percent. But again, that completion percentage is on less than 7 percent of all his passing attempts. He had an overall completion percentage of 60 percent. But isn't Bradford supposed to be prized for his accuracy? Yes. And he is very accurate. However, he was also a rookie, and more significantly playing with a group of receivers that lacked speed, separation ability and experience. Of all the receivers on the Rams roster last year, Danny Amendola was only one able to catch the ball consistently with any sort of coverage.
Things have changed now. A new sherriff will be calling the plays. Josh McDaniels will have a couple new options at receiver, a few deep threats returning from injury or coming into the year with a year's worth of experience under their belt. Spagnuolo should be less inclined to protect the older, wiser Sam Bradford, in his second year, by keeping his foot on the break. Down-field throws should be a much more common occurance, right?
Yes and no. The data from PFF covers the 2010 season. Personally, I'm not big on comparisons with past teams/systems as written in stone precedent. Good coaches run systems that evolve and grow over time. We're already seeing that with McDaniels and the Rams with the coming emphasis on two tight ends, a la Bill Bellichick circa 2010. McDaniels certainly didn't use that approach in Denver last year. Let's take a look at Denver's deep ball tendencies anyway.
Kyle Orton threw the ball deep 14.66 percent of the time, 73 deep attempts on 498 throws. He had a completion percentage of 39.99 percent on those throws, and was intercepted just twice for the best INT rate on deep throws among all qualified QBs in the PFF study.
But just how much copying McDaniels' does of his old team's 2010 system could change that. Tom Brady threw the ball deep just 49 times, slightly less than 10 percent of all his throws.
I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between. If the Rams receivers are a better group this year and Bradford a more experienced quarterback, I can't imagine they won't take advantage of the deep accuracy he showed in his college spread offense that made him such a valuable draft pick. But again, every year and every offense is a little different. Stay tuned.