I have been mulling whether to post my thoughts on this, and I have lots of time on my hands today... (working 10 hours on Thanksgiving... :-( ... but making 2.5x for most of the day :-/ ...)
Firstly let me introduce myself. Let's say that I became interested in the Rams because they drafted Sam Bradford. But after watching the Rams that first year, I grew to love SJax, Chris Long, and JL. Before 2010, I had not really been interested in NFL ball for a long while; since I was a kid and was a fan of the Cowboys back in the 90s, which was due to my dad being a Cowboys fan (I am not a Cowboy supporter, but I don't hate them... they have fallen grey "Meh" area). When the Cowboys started to suck, I stopped watching the NFL... Sad state of things is, the first SB that I missed was '99, Rams vs. Titans... Looking back I feel quite stupid for not going into the living room and watching it...
Anyway, since April of 2010, I have followed the Rams, and will continue to follow them with or without Sammy B. I have grown to love the Rams, despite all the problems the organization had, despite all the losses, the Rams are certainly moving in a good direction. GO RAMS!
I have watched Sam since his freshman year at OU. He came into college guns blazing, and lit defenses up, as a FRESHMAN. In only his second year in college he won the Heisman, leading OU to the championship game... where coach Stoops blew the game calling 4th down passes at the goal line and not taking the points and getting momentum...
Remember this was the year that OU set a record (not sure if it still stands?) of the number of points scored in consecutive games. Something like 60+ points in 5+ consecutive games. We know that he could play at the college level.... Then in his junior year, he gets injured, gets the surgery, and still gets drafted #1 overall.
Now, all that college history is in the past and means nothing to the Rams of today. Today Sam struggles with confidence and consistency (mostly due to confidence taking a hit). I have wondered a few things about that confidence he can show, and the lack thereof. He can show it when he makes laser throws into tight 3 man coverage to Danny for a big first down completion when they need it on 3rd and long. He has done that a few times this season, if I am not mistaken. He also misses throws when he gets rattled.
There are two external things that Sam must have confidence in, his O-line to protect him, and his receivers to get open and catch the ball. Sam keeps getting let down in certain key moments, in my view. He gets sacked at some of the worst times, and oftentimes gets hit even if he does get the throw off. I believe that, because he does not have enough confidence in his O-line, he does not go through all of his reads since he doesn't have time, at least in his head.
Now this is not all on the O-line. Sam needs to do a better job of extending plays by escaping the pocket. But Sam still hangs in there and makes throws and gets completions even under these "smashing" circumstances. He is getting better at pocket mobility and awareness. He needs to continue to improve, and I believe he will. He still holds the ball too long often times, while looking for (staring at) a receiver, which leads me to the next group Sam must have confidence in, the receivers.
Bradford has an average, at best, group of receivers. Let’s briefly look at his main receivers. In order of (my opinion of their) performance: Smith, Gibson, Quick, Kendricks, Pettis, Givens, and Amendola.
No need to go into the non-factor Smith, who is playing less than average. He does not have Sam's confidence.
Gibson has shown a few flashes, but he is on my Black list for his miscues this year. "Gibby" doesn't get open reliably, and has suspect hands (probably do to focus/confidence), and as mentioned has cost the team at least 1 game, perhaps more (think week 3 and the Bears). He can lose Sam's confidence.
Quick has all the potential a wide receiver could ask for; big, strong, fast enough, jumps well, has good hands, but does not have enough experience to make a difference week in and week out. We have seen flashes of brilliance from him in several games, catching a drive extending first down for 20+ yards vs. the Seahags (or was it the Cards?), and especially shoving the SF corner to the ground and getting his first TD on the year. But he has also has caused issues when he gives up on a pass, and the D gets a free pick, we saw that against Arizona and the Cheatriots. He needs to get more experience and step up for Sam.
Kendricks has been admirable in helping protect Sam. Without Kendricks helping the O-line, especially Richardson, in pass protection, Sam would be on his back like a 5 dollar hooker (stole that from someone’s comments here at TST… can’t remember who, so props to whoever said that previously). Kendricks has had rather well known some issues with holding onto a pass. He has greatly improved in this area in recent weeks, and is starting to earn Sam’s trust.
Pettis has been rather reliable for Sam. He does not get open quick enough usually to get the ball thrown his way all the time, but when it is, he rarely (this year) drops a ball, and will usually be picking up a first down. Pettis needs to continue working on his routes and getting open. He doesn't make Sam doubt his throws to him, but doesn't raise the confidence level beyond mostly reliable.
Givens has been playing well for a rookie. He can get open on deep routes, usually once or twice a game. He has been a consistent player with his 5 game, 50+ yard catch streak. He needs to work on running more routes, and getting better at focus and catching everything thrown at him. He has boosted Sam's confidence, as evidenced by the deep connections.
The most obvious exception to average is one, Mr. Amendola. Danny gets himself open nearly every play, and has hands to go along with his quickness, that boy can catch almost anything you throw at him. He has not been simply an underneath threat this year. He has shown that he can get open on intermediate and even some deep routes this year. The only thing Danny boy needs to work on is staying healthy.
Are you still with me? Ok, let’s continue. One thing Bradford does not do, is throw it up for grabs, at least not often. Most of the great and some good QBs have at least one WR they can just toss a ball up for a big play, and will bail the QB out of a bad situation. Sam has that now in Quick (and even in DX he had it... but let’s not anger DC lol).
A few times, he has thrown it up for Brian Quick, again who has shown great ability to make catches if he knows what is going on. Let’s look back at the Pats game for a sec, BQ gives up on a ball, and gives a free pick. Later, after Bradford has been relieved in the 4th Q, Clemons throws a high jump ball to the sidelines, between 2 Pats DBs, and Quick goes up and gets it for a nice catch. Clemons had no reason not to trust Quick, so he completes this pass.
Why doesn't Sam throw it up like that more often? Well, how many receivers have the ability to go up and get it reliably? Smith, Gibson, Givens, nor Amendola can do that for physical reasons, they are not big enough. Kendricks has not been reliable enough over a long enough period of time, and probably is not a good option for a jump ball anyway. Pettis is tall enough, but I haven't seen him catch in traffic enough to say he can do it reliably. Quick can, but again when Sam has done it, it gets picked.
Confidence in that type of throw is just not there with the WR group we have. When Sam doesn't think it would work, it won't, and he won't throw it. This is something Sam must work on, trusting his receivers to make the play. Confidence is also why he targets Danny so much, he KNOWS Amendola WILL get open and WILL catch the ball. When this group of WR show Sam that he can trust them, looking at you Gibson and Quick, then hopefully he doesn't lock onto Danny, and the passing attack will thrive.
Confidence is a fickle thing, and Sam can boost his own confidence if he makes quicker, better decisions, searching for open receivers (not staring his target down), and shows mobility in pocket, allowing his receivers more time to get open. Last year, and even the year before, Sam did not trust his O-Line or his receivers. This year, things are starting to turn around. However, when you have been burned as many times as Sam has, it takes time to rebuild that confidence, especially when Sam is continuing to get hit, and one of the main targets (Gibson) loses it and continues to do so.
There is also the issue of the play calling, which has been "Schpotty" at best. While that does factor into some of Bradford's struggles, it is another article, as it relates to the team in general and not solely to Sam.
The question is how to repair Sam’s confidence and build his trust with his O-line and Receivers. And for this, I will ask you, in what must Sam have more confidence to continue to grow and become the QB we have seen he can be?