There was a moment in last Thursday’s 12-6 loss to the Cardinals that further stressed the Rams’ need to find better, more consistent production at the quarterback position.
Faced with a third-and-four from Arizona’s 44-yard line with just under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Rams came out in a spread formation with three receivers to Shaun Hill’s right and two wideouts to his left.
At the snap, the Cardinals blitzed their nickel corner, which left Stedman Bailey open on a slant route. Due to the zone defender playing too far off the line, coupled with the safety breaking on a crossing route ran from the inside slot position by Jared Cook, Bailey had enough real estate in front of him for a big gain.
One problem: Hill threw high and behind Bailey, who couldn’t corral the pass as he left his feet. Had Hill hit him in stride, Bailey may have scored the go-ahead touchdown or, at the very least, set the Rams up deep in Arizona territory. Instead, the drive stalled on the next play and the Rams once again wasted an outstanding effort from their defense.
Granted, this is just one play from one series during one game. Even Aaron Rodgers misses his mark from time to time. But on a micro-level, the play showed how even if an offensive play caller like Brian Schottenheimer dials up the right formation at the exact right time (in this case, as Todd Bowles mistimed one of his blitz calls), everything still boils down to execution.
On a macro-level, the play served as yet another reminder of how the Rams need to find a long-term solution quarterback. Hill is undoubtedly working hard to help put the Rams in position to succeed on game day and his experience was needed when Austin Davis’ limitations became obvious following a Week 10 loss in Arizona. But Hill is 34 and is limited, making him a better backup than a full-time starter.
The Rams face a dilemma at quarterback in 2015. Sam Bradford will be coming off his second reconstructive knee surgery in as many years and is set to count $16,580,000 against the cap. No matter how much they still believe in Bradford, that’s too much money to commit to a player that has given the team fewer than 500 snaps of production the past two years.
But bringing back Bradford at a reduced cost does have merit. First of all, the free agent crop at quarterback leaves a lot to be desired. Michael Vick has proven the past two seasons that he’s finished as a full-time starter. The more film defensive coordinators have on Brian Hoyer, the more inept he becomes. Some might believe that Jake Locker, Christian Ponder and even Blaine Gabbert still have untapped potential but I don’t count myself among them.
Finally, I don’t why anyone would be interested in a Mark Sanchez-Brian Schottenheimer reunion.
The draft presents its own set of problems. Whether the Rams win both, one, or none of their remaining two games, they’re going to be slotted in the teens in next April’s draft. Provided they don’t trade up, that means they’ll be out of reach for one of the top signal-callers (Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston), or forced to reach for the next waive of prospects (UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott).
Now, an argument could be made that the Rams should part with a future first-round pick in order to move up for either Mariota or Winston. Considering the defense is built to win now and the team could address the holes on offense (center, guard, etc.) in free agency or the middle rounds, I don’t hate the idea. If the Rams’ brass feels as though Mariota or Winston is the difference between 7-9 and a playoff berth, then why not roll the dice? (Provided, of course, that we’re not talking about an RGIII-type trade.)
But whether you love Mariota or think a mid-round prospect like Oregon State’s Sean Mannion is the answer to the Rams’ long-term questions at quarterback, bringing back Bradford at a reduced cost for 2015 makes sense. It’s even more reasonable when working under the assumption that Schottenheimer will also be back for next season (which is another topic for down the road).
As for the Bradford critics (provided they even got past the title of this article), I’m not suggesting that the Rams bypass a QB in next year’s draft in order to re-commit to Bradford long term. That wouldn’t make sense.
He’s coming off two ACL surgeries and his contract situation has hindered the Rams long enough (not his fault, just bad luck for the Rams that he was the last No. 1 pick taken before the rookie salary cap was put into place).
But given the choice of the Rams signing a free agent (who would have to learn Schottenheimer’s offense), rushing a mid-round prospect like Hundley onto the field before he’s ready, or rolling the dice on Bradford at a reduced cost, I’m taking Option C. Because what’s the worst case scenario in that situation? Bradford gets hurt again? Well, then the rookie is forced into action. Bradford is brutal? At least in the rookie you have a fallback option with upside. Bradford plays well and the Rams have to make a decision whether or not to re-sign him for 2016? Then that’s a good problem to have. The rookie outperforms Bradford in camp? Again, that’s a good problem to have.
What the Rams need to avoid is a situation like they had this past year with Hill and Davis forced into extensive action because the team failed to draft a signal-caller before the sixth round. That simply can’t happen again.
Prioritizing the position in the draft and bringing back Bradford at a reduced price would hopefully provide the Rams with enough options so that they don’t have a repeat of 2014.