One of NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell's most common critiques of quarterback play is an inability to make anticipation throws, to know when the receiver will come open before you throw the ball, and have the ball be there when he does. He has a term for quarterbacks who don't make these plays: "See-it, Throw-it quarterbacks."
Sam Bradford, when he's off his game like he was yesterday, is a see-it, throw-it quarterback.
When you have to wait to see what the receiver does or how the defense will play him before you throw, you end up holding the ball too long. You end up taking unnecessary hits. You end up throwing balls away. You might even miss your receiver so badly that he breaks his own ankles trying to get back to the ball.
Sam Bradford did all of those things against the Jets, a defense that is nowhere near as good as the 49ers defense that he shredded a week ago. How could this be?
This got me thinking. Danny Amendola's presence in the lineup is often pointed to as the difference between good Sam and bad Sam, but I think there's another factor involved: Sam Bradford has seen the 49ers defense multiple times, and has an idea how they'll play. He has never seen the Jets' defense before, not in person anyway.
Here's a breakdown of Sam's season, between teams he has played before, and teams he is seeing for the first time in his career:
2012 vs teams Sam has seen before
Detroit: 17-25 198 1 TD 0 INT
Washington: 26-35 310 3 TDs 1 INT
Seattle: 16-30 221 0 TD 1 INT
Arizona (*): 7-21 141 2 TDs 1 INT
Green Bay: 21-34 255 1 TD 1 INT
San Francisco: 26-39 275 2 TD 0 INT
TOTAL: 113-184 (61%), 1400 yards (7.6 ypa), 9 TD, 4 INT, 92.21 QB Rating
2012 vs teams Sam plays for the first time
Chicago: 18-35 152 0 TD 2 INT
Miami (*): 26-39 315 0 TD 0 INT
New England: 22-30 205 1 TD 1 INT
NY Jets: 23-44 170 2 TD 1 INT
TOTAL: 89-148 (60%), 842 yards (5.6 ypa), 3 TD, 4 INT, 71.39 QB Rating
Oddly enough, his completion percentage barely budges. But the key stat to watch, besides touchdown rate, is yards per attempt. These numbers, even including the two outlier games vs Arizona (a pretty good pass defense) and Miami (a pretty poor one) show you the difference between a confident quarterback who is willing to stretch the field, and an unsure quarterback who too often settles for short reads and dump-offs.
The good news here is that Bradford is showing this kind of improvement against teams he has seen before. The bad news is that the NFL is a league of innovation. Coaches and coordinators change teams every year, and introduce new wrinkles into their schemes every year as well. If he is going to have sustainable success in this league, Bradford has got to learn faster on the field.
Of course, Bradford said afterwards that the Jets didn't do anything surprising.
Sam Bradford on Loss to Jets "We lost all rhythm." from 101ESPN on Vimeo.
The numbers, and our eyes, say otherwise.