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Room to Improve - Bradford and the Blitz

Sam Bradford needs to improve his ability to read the blitz.

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Minnesota Vikings Sam Bradford under blitz pressure
Sam Bradford under pressure
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Sam is the man!

We all know that Sam Bradford will be the QB1 at the beginning of the season, so I thought I’d look at areas where he could improve. With the talent that the Minnesota Vikings have placed around Sam this year, he should be on the verge of his first ever winning record. Drafted in 2010, Bradford has yet to post a winning record in any season. Last year he had his best season record at 7-8. He did go 7-8-1 in 2012 for his second best season. Bradford in seven seasons, playing only six of them, has amassed a record of 32-45-1. There is definitely room for improvement and upon a little research, one area will be when he faces the blitz.

PFF season grades for Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford Pro Football Focus overall ratings for his career.

We know Bradford’s lacked sufficient tools around him in St. Louis and Philadelphia, and then coming in on short notice in Minnesota with what developed into a MASH unit on the offensive line, those shortcomings continued. The Vikings have made efforts this off-season through free agency, signing Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, and in the draft with Pat Elflein to improve the offensive line. The Vikings have a competent receiver corps featuring Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, along with what looks to be a dynamic trio of running backs and Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, and Jerick McKinnon. What all that adds up to, is no more excuses.

This all started as a conversation with a friend wondering about blitz numbers. So I went to my Pro Football Focus account and tried to look up those numbers. They didn’t have them. They have a metrics called QB pressured as part of their Elite package, where Sam was ranked #3 ahead of the likes of Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Dak Prescott, and even Tom Brady respectively. PFF gave Sam an adjusted completion rate of 77.3% and an NFL QB rating of 87.7, but that is not just blitz numbers. They showed Bradford pressured 33.1% of the time, which is slightly below the mean of 34.1% of the time. Pressures can come from a normal defensive pass rush as well as a successful blitz. A blitz is when more than four designated rushers are rushing the quarterback, and usually comprise of an extra defensive back or linebacker.

So I asked our PFF friend of Daily Norseman, Eric Eager, the question. What are the blitz numbers for Sam Bradford in 2016, and let’s compare that to the blitz numbers of Teddy Bridgewater in 2015. My goal was not a Sam versus Teddy argument, but one that gives us recent knowledge of both quarterbacks to compare. The results were surprising!

My assumption was, that since last year's offensive line was so bad and Sam was new to the system, it would make it ripe to be picked apart by defensive coordinators using the blitz. ...I was wrong. Here are the numbers:

In 2015, Teddy Bridgewater was blitzed 201 times on 577 dropbacks for percentage of 34.8% of the time.

In 2016, Sam Bradford was blitzed only 98 times on 626 dropbacks for percentage of 15.6%.

Even Eric said, “wow!”, on this one. It is what neither of us expected. What came next from the stats was even more surprising.

Under pressure from the blitz, Bradford had a completion average of 4.8 yards per attempt, but Bridgewater with over twice as many blitzes, had a completion average of 8.5 yards per attempt. That in itself generated a, “whoa!”, comment from Eric. It is not what either of us was expecting.

The bottom line is, this is an area where Sam Bradford can improve and needs to improve. Sam is good under pressure, but needs to improve on reading blitzes. The blitz is a high risk, high reward tactic employed by defenses, but a QB with the ability to read it, and know where the hot route is versus just checking down to a safety valve, will be more successful, and success is what we all wish Sam, and especially the Vikings.