Bradford Off to Strong Start

Posted Sep 19, 2012

After spending an entire afternoon chasing after Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, Rams defensive end Chris Long had enough energy in him to track down one more signal caller as the clock went to all zeroes and the Rams were victorious.

Only this time, Long had no intention of tackling his target, he only wanted to celebrate with his quarterback Sam Bradford. As a former No. 2 overall pick with massive expectations heaped on him from day one, nobody understands better what a day like last Sunday meant for someone like Bradford than Long.

“I know that everybody in this locker room is behind Sam,” Long said. “It was real exciting to see the offense clicking like that yesterday and I just feel good for those guys.”

Long didn’t feel better for anyone than he did Bradford. The two have made fast friends since Bradford came to the Rams as the No. 1 pick in 2010. Since, Long has witnessed a changing of the guard in which the pressure has shifted from his shoulders to the strong right arm of his quarterback.

Although the sample size is extremely small – two games is but an eighth of the regular season schedule – Bradford has gotten off to an impressive start in 2012. In fact, through two weeks, he’s placed himself among the game’s elite names in nearly every major passing category.

To wit: Bradford is third in the league in quarterback rating at 112.4, third in completion percentage at 71.7 percent, fourth in yards per completion at 8.47 and tied for third in touchdowns with four. For the season, he’s 43-of-60 for 508 yards with those four scores and a single interception.

Last week against Washington, Bradford was humming to the tune of 310 yards and three scores in leading the Rams to victory. Of course, after the game, he was still bothered most by that aforementioned interception he threw in the end zone.

“I just wasn’t happy with myself,” Bradford said. “Obviously, that was a critical situation and you can’t afford mistakes like that. Fortunately, we were able to overcome it, but I knew that there were going to be more plays and the team needed me to come out and continue to play well. So I tried to forget about that as quickly as possible and go out and continue to make plays.”

In doing just that, Bradford impressed teammates and coaches alike. Head coach Jeff Fisher noted Bradford’s resolve as he came back on the field following a blocked punt and fired a dart in to wide open tight end Matthew Mulligan for what turned out to be the game winning touchdown.
“Sam’s played two pretty good ballgames against two difficult defenses,” Fisher said. “Sam can put things behind him. He was really frustrated with the interception, but again, came right back and takes care of that with another touchdown pass.”

Two games into his third NFL season, Bradford already appears to be as comfortable in an offense as he’s been since he arrived in the league or at least since his rookie year. Given a full offseason to work within the confines of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense, Bradford has quickly adapted to its nuances.

Using last week as an example, Bradford was decisive in getting the ball out of his hand, moved around the pocket effectively and was deadly accurate on nearly all of his throws. Bradford was sacked just twice against Washington, a vast improvement over the seven from the teams’ meeting in 2011.

“We want to get the ball out quick, there’s going to be times where you have to hold it, but I think he understands when it’s third-and-12 or third-and-14, it doesn’t make sense for him to get hit,” Fisher said. “We trust our punt team, trust our defense and we’ll get the ball back and we’ll put another drive together. That’s an important thing to realize. And then, of course early downs we are. He knows where to go with the football and people are getting to spots and he’s getting rid of it.”
Likewise, Fisher and Schottenheimer have emphasized pocket awareness and installed plenty of plays that allow Bradford to make throws on the move, something he’s always done well.

“Yeah, you have to be able to move in the pocket and Sam’s always been able to do that with the exception of when he tried to play through the ankle injury last year,” Fisher said. “But he’s healthy as we said, and we can get him on the edge and he throws very accurately outside the pocket, as we found out the other day.”

Running back Steven Jackson called Bradford “lights out” after the game, an assessment that seemed to be a consensus around the locker room.

Receiver Brandon Gibson said after the game that anytime a player like Bradford is as locked in as he was last week, the mission for he and his fellow wideouts is simple.

“Catch it,” Gibson said. “By any means necessary, just catch it. I just want to make sure I attack the ball every play, whenever I get the chance to. With Sam’s ability, 99 percent of his passes are going to be catchable, so I am just going to continue to make sure I’m where I need to be to catch the rock.”

Perhaps most encouraging about Bradford’s start is that he has been at his absolute best when the Rams offense needs him most. In the fourth quarter of the first two contests, he is 10-of-13 for 125 yards and two touchdowns for a rating of 145.8, second best in the league.

And for as good as Bradford has been in the fourth quarter, he’s been nearly as good on third downs, which comes with a slightly larger sample size.

On the always pivotal third down, Bradford is 14-of-17 for 159 yards with a touchdown for a rating of 125.2. Against Washington, Bradford was perfect, completing all nine of his third down pass attempts, seven of which went for first downs.

Bradford spread the credit around for that performance.

“I think it’s a group effort,” Bradford said. “When you have success on third down, everyone is dialed in, everyone is doing their job and I thought our line did a good job of giving me time on third downs. Our backs in protection did a great job of giving me time and our receivers on third down last week, they had a lot of one on ones, a lot of man coverage and did a great job of winning those routes.”

Still, while all success in football is gained by a group effort, there’s little doubt that Bradford’s job as the triggerman is now to find ways to establish consistency.

In his first two seasons, Bradford has had similar flashes of potential but been unable to piece together long strings of success. Carrying a confident approach and a continuously developing fiery brand of leadership, Bradford appears poised for a breakout season according to Long.

“Everybody wants everybody to be screaming at the camera and gyrating and making all types of dramatic movements,” Long said. “That’s what fans want but Sam is a competitive guy. He’s a winner and he’s a tough guy and he showed his teammates that he needs to be respected and he can make a lot of plays for us. That’s all NFL players need is to see what Sam has exhibited.

“He is a fiery guy and he’s a fiery competitor. There is nobody I have more fun watching on Sunday than Sam making plays.”

For his part, Bradford knows that two games doesn’t amount to much in terms of consistent production but it never hurts to have a reminder that the sky is the limit when things are clicking.

“I go about it the same each week,” Bradford said. “I need to play at a high level, play my best to give this team a chance to win.”