By Dan Buffa
ST. LOUIS – "Do you believe in Sam Bradford?" A more polarizing question doesn't exist in St. Louis these days.
Bradford is reliable, average, decent, alright, good enough or a general body of frustration depending on whom you ask. The bar and grill experts think he lacks that intangible "thing" required for playoff entry. Others believe Bradford has done noble work and can lead this team to the promise land. The larger group worries about his state of health.
I don't think Bradford has ever been the problem with the St. Louis Rams. Consider the following:
*He took over a team that was among the worst in the history of the NFL. Bradford basically walked to the bottom of a hill in the woods near Earth City, got behind a totaled car and has been pushing it up the hill ever since. He was never destined to fly out of the gate and blow our minds. The Rams' rehab process was akin to Keith Richards' future detox: a five-year plan.
*Bradford won Rookie of the Year in 2010 with the Rams and that made every fan in the city think the playoffs were near. Carrying an easy schedule, Bradford led the Rams to a 7-9 record and lost a tiebreaker with the Seattle Seahawks and barely missed the playoffs. That was a miracle season. This came from an area of desperation. The moment Bradford touched the huddle in 2010 against the Arizona Cardinals, he was destined to be the ONE. He has simply disappointed those people.
*Bradford isn't a public personality like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. He doesn't do commercials (we will all forget that Charter spot). He is a quiet guy who made a ping pong table purchase when he scored the last first overall draft pick monster contract. Bradford doesn't party, make himself bigger than the game, or project an image other than a football player working a job. He lacks the flash of other players.
*I don't think it's fair to compare Bradford to either of those previously listed quarterbacks. They are genuine giants of the game and can win a game on their own accord. Bradford's ability falls between a game manager (sound for a run hungry attack) and an efficient red zone passer.
*A lot of Bradford's naysayers forget to recall the level of improvement he has made since the middle of the 2012 season. Halfway into Jeff Fisher's first season, the offense was in a rough spot and a change of attack was needed. The passing attack wasn't working and the run game wasn't established. Brian Schottenheimer and Fisher designed a new mixture of play-calling that made the Rams a more effective red zone team. If you take the last 8 games of the 2012 season and put them with the first 7 games of the 2013 season, Bradford has been sharp up until the knee injury. He had 14 touchdowns and 4 interceptions last year without a sustainable running game backing him up. Think of what Bradford could have done if Zac Stacy was given a shot sooner or Fisher and Schottenheimer abandoned the spread offense attack earlier. This leaves the Bradford critics in a state of dismay.
*Well, Bradford can't throw the deep ball, right? Wrong. In the last 2 seasons, he ranks among the top 6 in the league in passes 20 yards or further. He can throw the deep ball when a Rams receiver happens to get separation from a defender.
*Keep in mind Bradford barely had the time to make a sound judgment behind the line of scrimmage. The offensive line has encountered more changes than a Krispy Kreme staff. Bradford hasn't spent a lot of time on his feet or getting those 2-3 seconds needed to make a pass. This is where Greg Robinson comes into play in 2014.
*Bradford is horrible in the red zone. Wrong? As I mentioned earlier, since the halfway point of 2012, Bradford has been nails in the red zone and ranks among the top 10 quarterbacks in efficiency. He is doing this without a #1 receiver and a crew of young catchers who like to drop passes.
Look, Bradford isn't perfect. He holds onto the ball too long and does like to check down too often at times and throw a screen pass. He does show hesitation in the pocket that can swing a game in another direction or get a man destroyed out there. He is entering his big money years, with 2 years left on his contract. This is the third year of Fisher's regime, with a set playbook and a sound running back behind him that won't pull a hamstring in week 2. Sam Bradford isn't the problem folks. He never has been the problem. The problem was years of bad drafts, bad free agent signings and numerous coaching switches. This is similar to the Blues situation this past March with the goaltending. That wasn't the biggest issue and neither is the Rams quarterback situation. People think inserting RG3 or Johnny Manziel would instantly produce more victories. They couldn't be further from the truth.
With the Rams, it's finding a receiver with game changing ability. It's putting together a solid offensive line. Bradford, with the exception of an injury plagued 2011 season, has been rock solid and is set up for a big 2014 season.
His job came with the close watchful eye of an entire city desperate for the Greatest Show on Turf to return. Bradford is never going to be Kurt Warner. He does have the chance to be a very efficient and productive quarterback in this league if fans can recognize the slow rebuilding situation around the team and the progress he has made under dire circumstances.
Give Sam Bradford the 2014 season to show you what he can really do. If he fails, the vultures will fly in and take him apart. That's the life of an NFL football player. It's not what have you done lately. It's what will you do in the future. Rams fans haven't seen a .500 team in 9 years. Is Bradford the answer to their prayers? I can stand here today and tell you that he is the guy.
Dan Buffa is a sports writer for Sports Rants. He is also a contributor to KSDK.com and Arch City Sports while writing for his own website, Dose Of Buffa. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @buffa82.