By Jim Thomas St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS — Sam Bradford says the beard will be gone. As for the so-called rookie wall? It was never there.
After a subpar outing two Sundays ago against New Orleans, the superstitious Bradford said he was going back to the beard he wore during a “no shave” November, when he was named NFL offensive rookie of the month.
But the scruffy look didn’t serve him well Sunday against Kansas City, when he completed a season-low 48.8 percent of his passes (21-of-43) for 181 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Bradford was still wearing his “good luck” beard when he met with the media after Wednesday’s practice at Rams Park. But it won’t be there long.
“It’s coming off,” Bradford declared. “I’m going back to my old routine. Saturday night before the game, it will be shaved off.”
Bradford hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since November, but has thrown five interceptions since then. After posting his highest passer rating as a pro (113.3) in a Nov. 28 victory at Denver, Bradford hasn’t posted a rating higher than 66.3 in the past three games.
Which has led to the inevitable sports talk chatter that Bradford has hit the dreaded rookie wall.
“Nah. No way,” wide receiver Danny Amendola said. “I don’t believe it.”
“I haven’t sensed any of that,” center Jason Brown said. “Sam has handled this first year like a true pro — like a veteran.”
“Sammy boy’s doing fine,” said second-year linebacker James Laurinaitis, who personally thinks the rookie wall is a myth. “It’s a long season. But to see him, he’s still in here having fun, smiling, joking around. So Sam is doing fine. I’d expect him to say the same thing about a rookie wall — he’s going to say it’s a myth.”
For his part, Bradford doesn’t think he’s getting worn down. Besides, with meaningful football still being played by the Rams in late December, he has no time for the wall, which supposedly comes when rookies start playing beyond the normal college season.
Mentally, Bradford says the weekly routine of film study hasn’t become a blur.
“I haven’t hit the point where I’m watching film at night and I’m like, ‘OK, what defense? Who are we playing again?’ “ Bradford said. “I’m still very focused. Everything’s very clear when I’m watching film, so I think it’s a good sign that I haven’t got to that point yet.”
Physically, Bradford also feels fresh even though he’s one of just a handful of NFL quarterbacks who have taken every snap for their team this season.
“I really think the weight that I added in the offseason has really paid off,” he said. “My body feels great. I feel probably more fresh now than I did during a typical college season.”
Which is surprising considering the number of hits Bradford has taken lately. The Rams’ pass protection has sprung major leaks the past two weeks, against New Orleans and Kansas City.
The Saints blitzed Bradford 25 times, according to Post-Dispatch count, and many of the issues in that game had more to do with miscommunication in handling those blitzes, or tight end/running back problems, than anything happening with the offensive line.
That wasn’t the case against Kansas City. For one, the Chiefs blitzed only 12 times by Post-Dispatch count, and many of those blitzes had little or no impact. Bradford was hit twice during blitz plays. He was pressured one additional time on a blitz — a play on which either Bradford scrambled or had his throw affected by a pass rusher, but was not hit.
Other than that, the most damage the Chiefs did on blitzes was tipping or batting down balls four times.
Most of the punishment came when Kansas City sent only three or four pass rushers in non-blitz situations. All three sacks, six quarterback hits and four QB pressures came when the Chiefs weren’t blitzing. Which made it almost certainly the worst pass-blocking day of the season for the offensive line.
“Like I’ve said before, whatever quarterback is back there — even if it’s not Sam — I look at that person as if it’s my wife, my mother,” Brown said. “And when I turn around (and see the QB down), whether pressure might have come from me or anybody else, I take that extremely personal.
“That is one of the most upsetting, gut-wrenching feelings you can possibly have. Because if Sam isn’t protected cleanly — if he’s ever on the ground — that’s a direct reflection on my performance. So of course, not just myself but everybody else, we’re going to step it up.”
In fairness, some of those pressures, hits and sacks came on plays where the receivers simply weren’t getting open. On some, Bradford could’ve gotten the ball out quicker. Bradford says he needs to get “cleaner” with his reads than he has been the past couple of weeks. There’s no time like the present for that, what with San Francisco and its stout defensive front seven coming to the Edwards Jones Dome for Sunday’s key NFC West contest.
“I’ve got full confidence in our offensive line,” Bradford said. “I think they’ve done a great job all season. Maybe the past couple weeks there’s been a couple times where the pocket has gotten pushed. But I think that’s just a (result) of some of the (blitzes) we’ve seen the past couple weeks.
“So I think we’ve got those fixed. I think they did a great job the first time we played San Francisco keeping me protected. I’m looking for them to do the same thing this week.”