TEMPE, Ariz. — Before the Arizona Cardinals made the ambitious move of trading up to draft their quarterback of the future in Josh Rosen, they signed the quarterback whom they believed would be the veteran quarterback of the present.
They’d seen the recipe work before.
In 2013, Arizona traded for a then-34-year-old Carson Palmer, who guided the Cardinals to their best three-year stretch in franchise history capped by their second NFC Championship Game. In Sam Bradford, Arizona had hoped history would repeat itself.
It did not.
Bradford was benched late in the fourth quarter Sunday, less than three games into his tenure with the Cardinals.
For a quarter Sunday, there was a glimmer of hope that the first two games were just growing pains for Bradford and the Cardinals. They scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and Bradford threw for 92 yards. During those two touchdown drives, coach Steve Wilks thought the offensive line protected well, and the receivers ran the right routes and made plays. It was the best the offense had looked in the young season.
Then Bradford threw for just 65 yards the rest of the game.
After the game, he couldn’t explain what happened to the offense after its good start.
“I’m not really sure,” Bradford said. “We got off to a fast start. Kind of the same thing it seemed like, we didn’t convert a third down. Next thing you know, you look up, and it is halftime and we have run 15 plays again.
“I’m not exactly sure what happened after that start, but obviously, it couldn’t have gone much better the first drive.”
Wilks had a more succinct answer.
“Stopped making plays, very simple,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to come off the ball, create a new line of scrimmage and, No. 1, we’ve got to protect, give the quarterback time. We’ve got to make plays when given the opportunity.”
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Bradford’s future with the team is still an unknown. He signed a one-year contract with an option for a second that paid him $5 million guaranteed in 2018 along with a $10 million signing bonus. Part of his deal was a $312,500 roster bonus for every game he’s active. But as Arizona plans to move forward the rest of the season with Rosen, the postmortem on Bradford’s run in the desert will provide more questions than answers.
Under his direction, Arizona’s offense barely got going. It was ranked last in the NFL in points, total yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, net yards per pass attempt, interceptions per pass attempt, first downs per game, third-down conversions, third-down conversion percentage, red zone drives, red zone touchdowns, offensive efficiency, point margin and time of possession.
“No excuses at all,” Bradford said. “We had a whole camp, training camp and OTAs. There are definitely no excuses. I came out and didn’t play my best.”
Bradford, widely considered one of the most efficient passers in the NFL, struggled in all areas with Arizona. He completed 50 of 80 attempts, both of which were ranked 29th in the league, for 400 yards (31st), two touchdowns (25th) and four interceptions (24th), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
A breakdown of Bradford’s passes showed a limited offense while he was barely under duress.
The numbers paint a picture of a quarterback who wasn’t getting much pressure after the snap but didn’t take long to throw.
He was under pressure on 27.6 percent of his dropbacks, about an average number thus far this season across the league. He was only blitzed 11 times, or on 12.6 percent of his dropbacks, which was the lowest rate in the NFL, hit eight times and sacked six.
Of his 80 attempts, 62 were thrown in the air 10 yards or shorter. For a quarterback whom coach Steve Wilks said could throw receivers open, the long ball was rarely thrown. Bradford threw 18 passes 11 yards or longer, including five 21 yards or longer and three 30 yards or longer.
Bradford found the most success in the intermediate range from 11 to 20 yards. He was only 4-for-13 for 98 yards and threw both of his touchdowns in that range but also tossed two picks.
Bradford was most efficient behind the line of scrimmage. In passes behind the line, he completed 17-of-20. He threw the most passes in the 1-to-5-yard range with 27, completing 18.
And Bradford didn’t spend much time in the pocket or holding on to the ball.
His average time in the pocket was 2.02 seconds per play, the third shortest in the NFL. By comparison, the longest average time spent in the pocket per play was 2.49 seconds, by Buffalo’s Josh Allen. Against Washington in Week 1, Bradford’s first game back from a knee injury, he spent 1.94 seconds in the pocket per play. His highest per-game average was 2.13 seconds in Week 2. On Sunday, his average was 2 seconds. Of Bradford’s 80 attempts, 75 came in the pocket.
Bradford also didn’t spend much time deciding where to throw the ball.
He averaged 2.51 seconds before throwing a pass, the sixth fastest rate in the league. Allen took the most time in the pocket with an average of 3.29 seconds.
It all led to Bradford losing his starting job Monday.
To Wilks, sitting Bradford had as much to do with what Bradford didn’t show as it did with what Rosen did show.
“I’m very pleased and happy with what I think Josh is going to be able to bring to the table,” Wilks said. “Then again, we just didn’t have a lot of production at that position in the past. Whether it was all on Sam, or whether it was collectively with the offensive line, the receivers, running backs, we all had a hand in it. But, I wanted to make a change, and I think Josh is going to bring something to the table.”