In the wake of this howlingly bad loss to the Seattle Seahawks, blame is being spread around like melted butter on a hot pan. Fire Spagnuolo. Fire McDaniels. Fire Devaney. And those are the big targets. This season is too far gone to pick on lesser targets like Ken Flajole and Steve Loney, men who are expected to be caught up like lint in the wake of the "sweeping changes" that Rams fans demand.
But there's another target who is deservedly attracting blame, one that makes us profoundly uncomfortable to point out: our golden boy, Sam Bradford. Before he got hurt, we could make a legitimate case that he was better than his stats, thanks to a receiving corps that dropped balls by the dozens. But now, there's no arguing that his game has severely regressed.
Borrowing (and butchering) a sentiment from the Righteous Brothers, an early diagnosis of Sam's troubles can be reduced to this: He's lost that winning feeling.
You never open your eyes any more when you make your reads...
We can pin a lot of blame on Josh McDaniels here, both for his wildly diverging offensive gameplans from week to week, and for his decision to not hire a dedicated quarterbacks coach to help him parse the gameplan in real time. (This has become a cause célèbre among Rams writers.)
We could also wonder about his comfort level with his constantly rotating cast of receivers. Bradford has had four different receivers start games in the slot: Danny Amendola, Greg Salas, Austin Pettis, and now Mark Clayton. His security blanket routes may not feel secure any more.
Whatever the cause, Sam's head is no longer swiveling. Stepping back from center, he looks as rigid as a London Beefeater, his eyes locked in one direction as he stares down his primary receiver. He no longer has the ability to envision routes unfolding in his mind ... he has to see it happen in front of him.
The result is that very little separates Sam Bradford from Mark Sanchez right now. When his primary read is open, he is making the throw roughly 2/3 of the time. When that read is shut down, or takes too long to develop, he is lost and you can pretty much write off the play, and the drive.
There's no tenderness, any more, in your fingertips
We aren't alone in making these observations. Compare what NFL Films guru Greg Cosell had to say about Bradford a year ago...
"Because of his accuracy, he will always make his receivers better in the long run, because he's very compact, and he's very accurate. Believe me, I'm not comparing him to Tom Brady at this point in time, but I think he has attributes like that."
"I think he's been tentative, QBs can't play tentatively in this league. Checking down, unwilling to throw down field."
Bradford's vaunted accuracy has gone out the window, and a big problem comes in his approach to the throws themselves. His touch, his feel for throws has disappeared completely. You never see him lead a receiver, or loft a ball over the top, or put air under a throw. Every throw is a "stick" throw, as if he's afraid that the window for making a play will disappear unless he guns the ball as hard as he can.
As a result, receivers are dropping balls off their chests, off their hands, and throws are coming in at bad angles, forcing receivers to stop or leap awkwardly to make catches. Yards after the catch have disappeared almost completely. And his deep routes leave no room for receivers to adjust to them. He just guns the ball down field, and either the receiver catches up to it, draws a flag, or it falls harmlessly out of reach.
You're trying hard not to show it... Bradford
Sam is known for his quiet demeanor, for not showing his emotion, for not calling out his players. But that veneer is wearing awfully thin now, and I don't think he's doing anyone any favors by keeping quiet. You can build rapport with your receivers with all the positive reinforcement you want, but if the WR lines up wrong, or runs a bad route, the QB has to set him straight. And if the QB throws a bad throw, it's on him to say "my bad."
We can talk about the lack of trust that Bradford might have in his receivers all we want, but trust is a two-way street. What trust should his WRs have in their quarterback right now? What has Sam earned along those lines?
It's time to let down the shield. If Sam can't lead by example -- and right now he isn't -- he needs to find another way.
But Bradford, Bradford you know it...
"I'm beyond frustrated right now," said Bradford after the game. "I've never been a part of a team that's been in this situation. I don't like it. I hope this is the only time in my career that I'm ever in a situation like this.
"I do know this: I know we have six games left in the season, and I'm going to continue to do everything I can to help this team win. I'm not going to quit. I'm going to push our guys to continue to work and I think that's all we can do right now.
"Obviously it's not what we envisioned it to be at the beginning of the year. But that doesn't mean because we are 2-8 right now that we can give up. There are no excuses. We've got to continue to fight, and we've got to figure out a way to win games.