Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sam Bradford's report card

I was going to publish this report card on Sam Bradford at the three-quarter mark of the season. I decided to postpone until after the Saint game for several reasons. I was expecting that to be a bad loss. The Saints are beginning to peak, and the Rams have lost several key players on defense. I expected them to put a lot of points on the board, more than they actually did, thus leading to considerable down turn in Ram-fan moral.

Having a look at the accomplishments of this season should snap them out of it in time to make this stretch run through the final three games. We have good reason to be optimistic about these final three regular season games of the 2010 season.

Does anybody remember Edwards' Law?

Months ago, I wrote a piece laying down a framework for grading Sam Bradford's rookie year. I quoted Herman Edwards liberally in that entry. Edwards' law says that a franchise Quarterback is worth 4 more victories than you would have had without him.

Under that principle, we would project the Cardinals 6-10 football team in 2010 due to the retirement of Kurt Warner. I said 5-11 due to other loses. If the Rams actually acquired a franchise QB in the 2010 draft, we would expect the Rams to finish +4 at 5-11 in 2010.

What actually happened this year? Sure enough, the Cardinals have fallen hard, and worse than expected. At this point it seems unlikely they will reach 6-10. 5-11 might be difficult as well. On the other hand, the Rams are already 6-7, hold first place in the NFC West. Further, many believe they can win out against Kansas City, San Francisco and Seattle. The Rams continue to be the projected eventual winner of the NFC West.

The Rams are already +5 over last season with three more shots at victory; three shots in which we will be favored to win. You have to admit, that looks awfully good. What would you say to an 8 game turn around for the Rams? How does a 9-7 winning record and an NFC West title look on that resume? I would have to vote for Spags as the coach of the year, and Sam Bradford for AP Offensive Rookie of the year.

Even if this turns out to be a 7 game turn around, I would still favor Spags for coach of the year and Bradford for AP Offensive Rookie of the year.

Herm Edwards law is looking pretty good, and maybe even better than expected. In truth we shouldn't give all the credit for these changing records to the presence of a franchise QB, or lack thereof. The Cardinals lost Anquan Bolden, Karlos Dansby, and Antrell Rolle. The Rams also acquired Rodger Saffold, Barret Robbins, N'ail Diggs, and Michael Hoomanawanui.

Much depends on how the Rams finish, but I can tell you this: Herm Edwards' Law is looking pretty good, and Sam Bradford is looking pretty good according to Herm Edwards' Law.

How does Sam compare to Marc Bulger?

If you look at some game film of 2009 and 2010, you see quite a stark contrast in the Rams' offense in these two seasons. Under Bulger et al, the Rams were a run first and run second team. We threw the forward pass only as a last resort. In 2010 the Rams are very much a pass-first team, with counter-punch alternatives provided by the running game. Last year we were nominally a West Coast Offense team, but much more a grind 'em out running team. This year, you can actually say--with some intellectual integrity--that the Rams run a version of the West Coast offense.

Does that show up in the stats? Yep, you bet it does.

In 2009 Bulger completed 140 of 247 passes for a paltry 1469 yards, 5 TDs and 6 ints. In just 13 weeks, Sam has completed 286 of 474 passes for 2,884, 17 TDs and 12 Ints. Marc Bulger finished 2009 with a QB efficiency rating of 70.7. After 13 games, Sam Bradford has an NFL passer rating of 79.123. It was higher before the Saint game, nearly 81.

Most importantly, Bulger et al managed to produced a total of 175 points last season, an average of 10.9 points per game. This year, Bradford's offense has managed 245 points in just 13 games, or an average of 18.85 points per game. We are on pace to score 302 points in 2010.

Remember, Sam still has three games to pad his margins.

The conclusion is pretty clear cut. In slightly less than twice the number of attempts, Badford has more than doubled completions and yardage. He has more than tripled our number of touchdown passes, whilst only doubling the number of interceptions. As a result, point production has nearly doubled.

Last year, the Rams were dead-last (32nd) in points scored. This year, we are 25th in the league. Whilst a 25th in the league ranking is nothing to boast about , it is much better than last year, and better than I expected.

During the deep off season, I set down some goals for the Rams, and I hoped that we could nearly double our scoring from 10.9 to 20 points per game, for a total of 320 points. We are close to achieving this goal. If we win-out during this stretch run, we could very well make the 320 point goal.

A few words about the Playoffs

Some guys are ridiculing the notion of the Rams in the playoffs, detesting the fact that good team like the Packers may be left out because the NFC West gets an automatic bid. The same thing was said the Cardinals two years ago. Don't think I am predicting a Super Bowl, I am simply saying that those locked out of the playoffs always find a way to complain about their outcome.

Should we win-out and take the NFC West, We may well become road-kill for another team in the playoffs, but I wouldn't count on it. If we should happen to get a team like the Bucs, which is still hypothetically possible, we could and should be favored to win. It is more likely that the Giants and the Saints will be the NFC's two WC teams. Either would be a very difficult opponent.
Ultimately, the outcome of the playoffs is of no importance. The 2010 season will be a very memorable one indeed if we just get to 9-7 and make the playoffs. Most of us did not expect anything like this sudden turn around. Most of us didn't think the club had made anywhere near this level of progress during the off-season. No one in his right mind was talking about us contending--even for the NFC West--this season. Even the most sanguine among us believe the team needs one more super-strong off season before we can compete seriously in the NFC.

Just remember, if the 2010 season proves anything, it proves this: One more super-strong off season in 2011 will put us in position to dominate the NFC West and contend in a serious way.