Doug Farrar at Football Outsiders has a great piece on St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford in his Cover-3 column today.
It's not the usual fawning over the probably NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year you've seen elsewhere. In fact, it's really more of a piece focused on the Rams with Bradford at QB than it is a story about Bradford himself. Required reading.
Without giving it all away, let me quickly deal with the key theme of the article. That happens after the jump, and before jumping I encourage you to go read the article first.
Farrar notes at the beginning that Bradford most reminds him of Tom Brady, has since his 2008 Heisman Trophy season. Why? His deep accuracy, among other things. Bradford still has those traits, but the Rams offense just doesn't use the deep ball very much.
To some extent, Farrar and Greg Cosell of ESPN, point to the rookie's development. Underneath routes and short, quick throws limit his exposure, up the success rate and transition him to life in the NFL, which is vastly more difficult that it is on the collegiate playing field. Of course, the cast of characters around Bradford has something to do with that approach as well.
However, Bradford hasn't really needed that much insulation to ease him into the league. Farrar points out throughout the article that when Bradford does throw the deep ball, good things happen. Hence his wondering why the Rams aren't doing more of that. From his analysis of the Detroit game:
Especially as the Rams were falling further behind, I was curious as to why the team wouldn't open it up the passing game. I didn't see another pass that went for more than 10 yards in the air until Bradford hit Mardy Gilyard for 17 yards with five minutes left in the first half. Tack on another 15 yards on a Detroit face mask penalty, and it was easy to see that the Lions really didn't like it when Bradford aired it out.
It could have been any one of our game thread commenters making that same statement. The frustration with the dink and dunk approach has been a burr in fans' saddle all season. The Detroit example shows just how easy opponents can bottle up the Rams offense. The change in the passing game after Mark Clayton was injured in that game were obvious, and go a long way toward explaining why the Rams offense has been so maddening at times this year. When Clayton went out, they got conservative. It was obvious Spagnuolo (who is Shurmur's boss remember) and Shurmur weren't entirely comfortable with their receivers or putting too much risk on Bradford's shoulders.
Cosell notes in the article that the Rams are starting to air it out more this season, part of the reason the offense has looked so good at times in recent weeks...before going back into their shell with the lead. Now that they have a playoff push to think about, there should be even more deep balls. Given how well Bradford recovers and adjusts after sacks or bad throws, it seems unlikely that facing some headwinds on more deep throws would crush his soul.
Appropriate amount of deep throws or not, one thing that cannot be disputed is that the Rams have an incredibly talented quarterback.
Without question, the Rams receivers have been much better this season, especially over recent weeks as the offense has gelled around Sam. The addition of Danario Alexander has given the Rams the deep threat they need. The return of Donnie Avery figures heavily in the plans for 2011, as well as the potential return of Mark Clayton. It's clear the Rams want certified deep threats as opposed to asking another WR to fill that role on an as-needed basis.
Farrar covers much more, including Bradford's success on rollouts, pocket presence and the importance Steven Jackson. But the biggest takeaway is that the Rams need to use Bradford's talent, regardless of the risk. It's not overly critical of Shurmur and the Rams offense, nor should it be. However, if the Rams are still mind numbingly conservative next year, fans and pundit complaining will become a duty.