The personable Ron Jaworski, an NFL analyst for ESPN, recently gave his assessment of Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. We'll get to that in a few moments.
First a hat tip to my friends at Turf Show Times for jumping on this topic last week. I would have missed Jaworski's comments otherwise. Thanks, guys.
"Jaws" does an excellent job in his role. He draws from his expertise as an NFL quarterback in a career that spanned 1974-89. Jaworski was the longtime starter in Philadelphia and an important part of the 1980 NFC Champion team coached by Dick Vermeil.
Jaworski is a film junkie, all but living at the NFL Films offices so he can crunch video and stay on top of his player evaluations. I trust Jaws. I think he's fair and knowledgeable and has a keen eye for quarterback play.
Jaworski is ranking all 32 NFL starters this offseason in a series that runs on ESPN's outstanding "NFL Live" program.
Jaws listed Bradford at No. 22 among the 32. That doesn't surprise me at all. I would have guessed that Bradford would come somewhere between No. 18 to No. 23.
Much more interesting is what Jaworski had to say about Bradford.
Jaws praised Bradford's underrated movement and ability to scoot out of the pocket to make a throw. He praised Bradford's bootleg action.
Jaworski said that in 2012, Bradford "took some sure and steady steps forward." (Agreed. I've written that many times.)
Bradford "has a strong arm with ability to make every single throw," according to Jaws. "He can drive the ball down the field. And when he's comfortable and confident in the pocket, he throws with consistent accuracy."
"The bottom line," Jaworski said. "Is that Bradford has the throwing skill set to be a top 10 passer in this league."
I would agree with all of that.
Now: what about the negatives?
Here's Jaworski's criticism:
"A lack of efficiency in the red zone ... too many interceptions and it's a red zone game. You can't be a high level QB if you can't execute there. Bradford, at times, still struggles with basic blitz concepts that a player with his experience level should understand."
And, "Bradford must eliminate the mistakes that diminish the impact of his ability."
OK... I don't disagree with Jaworski's overview on the red zone; it's a vital area for determining a quarterback's success or failure. A QB has to make plays there, or the offense will stall, and opportunities will be missed. Horrible red zone play can smother an offense, and by extension, drain the morale and confidence.
However — and there is a Part II:
Bradford improved, dramatically so, in the red zone as 2012 season went on.
In the first eight games of the season Bradford was awful in the RZ, completing 43.3 percent of his throws with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions for a weak passer rating of 62.5. That's abysmal.
During the bye week the Rams' offensive coaches reworked the red zone approach to come up with a better plan to achieve more positive results. It was an example of good coaching, and Bradford responded accordingly.
In the final eight games of the season, Bradford completed 67 percent of his red zone passes.... and he had 9 touchdowns and only 1 interception... his red zone passer rating in the season's second half was 101.8.
That's a big jump in performance.
Bradford ranked 25th in red zone passer rating over the first eight games.
Over the last eight games Bradford ranked 9th — and was better statistically in the red zone over that time than notables such as Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Colin Kaepernick, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo.
I'm not suggesting that Bradford was a better quarterback than the guys I just mentioned... just making a point that Sam stood among the league's most effective red zone passers after the Rams coaches retooled the offense during the break.
Bradford also improved his overall TD/INT ratio over the final eight games, with 13 touchdowns and 6 intercepts. In the first eight games he had 8 TDs and 7 INTs.
One obvious reason: better pass protection.
First eight games: sacked on 8.5 percent of dropback attempts; that was the fifth-highest sack rate on an NFL quarterback.
Final eight games: sacked on 3.8 of dropback attempts; that was the fifth-lowest sack rate.
That's my main gripe with the Bradford haters; they seem to think that this is singles tennis, or golf or something ... that a quarterback is playing a one-on-one game.
Obviously a quarterback is impacted by coaching and the play of teammates. For better and for worse.
That's why Bradford improved after his protection improved. His total QBR rating went up 10 points over the final eight games.
That's why Bradford's red-zone form improved after the coaches ripped up the red-zone play list and put in a fresher attack.
And that's why Jaworski is intrigued by what Bradford may do in 2013.
"I would expect a little bit different Rams offense," Jaws said. "With the talent they now have at the skill positions, don't be surprised to see more spread, with Bradford in the shotgun. A faster tempo, just like Bradford's days at Oklahoma."
Thanks for reading ...