In 2012 the St. Louis Rams (7-8-1) and the Baltimore Ravens (10-6 with a Super Bowl victory) had tremendously different seasons. To say that quarterback play was the reason for this difference would huge. While it cannot be argued that Joe Flacco’s playoff run was spectacular, his 16 games before that are not unlike Sam Bradford’s.
The statistics, all the way down to pass attempts, are extremely close. There is not a huge discrepancy in sample size when comparing the seasons, as Flacco attempted 531 passes and Bradford threw only 20 more. Pass yard difference is negligible as well, with Bradford tossing 3,702 yards and Flacco 3,817 yards. Not surprisingly, the completion percentages of the two are almost exactly the same—Bradford completed 59.5 percent of his passes and Flacco completed 59.7 percent. Flacco threw 22 touchdowns to his 10 interceptions. Bradford threw 21 touchdowns to his 13 interceptions. The statistics are pointing to incredibly similar output.
Those statistics, one might argue, don’t actually tell the whole story. Unfortunately for Bradford assailants, no matter how deep the statistics go, the 2012 production of the quarterbacks is quite close. Here are a few more numbers:
- Yards per attempt : Flacco – 7.2 & Bradford – 6.7
- Yards per game : Flacco – 238.6 & Bradford – 231.4
- Quarterback rating : Flacco – 87.7 & Bradford – 82.6
With a sufficient bombardment of numbers, one might ask: What’s the point of all this? Or, an even better question might be: How does one quarterback win 10 games and a Super Bowl, while the other only manages to win 7 and not make the playoffs? The answer: Football is a team game.
The bigger picture here is that Joe Flacco’s offense was littered with Pro-Bowlers and established veterans. In 2012 the Baltimore Ravens led all of the NFL with eight Pro-Bowl selections. Two offensive lineman Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda, running back Ray Rice and fullback Vontae Leach represent the offensive selections. Rams’ Pro-Bowl selections were non-existent.
Bradford and Flacco were both sacked 35 times in 2012 and the percentage of pressure was similar as well; Bradford pressured 22 percent of pass attempts and Flacco 20.9 percent of pass attempts. Even with two Pro-Bowl linemen, the Ravens’ line didn’t protect Flacco as well as one may expect.
Steven Jackson and Ray Rice produced similar yardage outputs at running back. The story, though, is in the rushing touchdown totals: Rams – five & Ravens – 17. A solid rushing attack takes much of the pressure off of the quarterback to score all of the team’s points. Ray Rice had more rushing touchdowns (nine) alone than the Rams had total—a discrepancy so large it puts a much greater burden on Bradford to score points.
The Ravens may have won their 10 games with a solid rushing attack and stout defensive play, much like the Seattle Seahawks did in 2013, but they didn’t have a stellar defense. The Rams had more sacks and interceptions than the Ravens. Overall, the Rams ranked 14th in both points and yards, and the Ravens ranked 12th in points and 17th in yards.
The only category left to cover is the receiving corps. Flacco’s top target, Anquan Boldin, had 65 receptions for 921 yards and four touchdown receptions. Bradford’s top target was Danny Amendola, who had 63 receptions for 666 yards and three touchdowns. The Rams had Chris Givens, who was supposed to be a deep threat, still only managed a team high of 698 yards on 42 receptions, and three touchdowns. These numbers aren’t bad until compared to the Ravens’ tight end, Dennis Pitta. Pitta had 61 receptions for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. The production out of the top Ram receivers wasn’t there to help bail Bradford out when he needed it. Flacco’s receivers were able to bail him out more often.
With more reliable receivers and a steady rushing attack, Flacco was able to win 10 games and the division. When all is said and done, Bradford has the quarterbacking tools to win a Super Bowl, or at least win 10 games. There is nothing in the individual passing statistics that says Flacco is obviously better than Bradford on his own. Wins rarely reflect solely on quarterback play, which is not to say that quarterback play doesn’t matter. As previously stated, Flacco’s playoff run in 2012 was spectacular, which is exactly what helped his team win the Super Bowl.
What the Rams lacked in 2012, and in all seasons since the drafting of Bradford, is the reliability of a receiving corps and a rushing attack that can put points on the board. Steven Jackson racked up thousand yard seasons consistently, but the team’s ability to score points in red zone was far from consistent—either rushing or passing. The difference between a 10 win Ravens team and the sub .500 Rams is not quarterback play.
Adding insult to injury, the Rams have to square off against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers twice a year. Facing the Arizona Cardinals isn’t exactly a walk in the park, either; that team won 10 games in 2013. Bradford faces top-10 defenses 6 times (at least) out of a possible 16 regular season games.
Bradford assailants, this is not to say that Bradford is an elite quarterback by any stretch. He needs to complete more passes to even be considered elite. Bradford apologists, this is not to say Bradford is elite. Joe Flacco is not elite, either. Flacco relied heavily on his rushing attack and receivers to get him to his Super Bowl. If Flacco puts up Tom Brady- or Peyton Manning-numbers, then he can be in the elite conversation.
Bradford has the tools needed to take the Rams to the next level. The Ram defense looks to be improving, Zac Stacy seems to provide stability at the running back position, and the receiving corps is a work in progress. Sam Bradford may finally, five years into his career, be able to lead the Rams to a playoff berth.