St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin (11) scores a touchdown in the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Tavon Austin playing poorly because of Sam Bradford? Not so fast

The St. Louis Rams decided to trade up to take Tavon Austin with the 9th pick in this year’s draft, and the bullish move hasn’t paid off through six games. Drafting a player is definitely all about the long-term returns and Austin definitely has talent, but his poor play so far this year has to be of concern as well. Austin is averaging just 6.6 yards per reception with 24 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns, and those numbers are significantly less than what most of us projected from the West Virginia product.

An executive told the USA Today’s Tom Pelissero that Tavon Austin is struggling because of Sam Bradford, “Little receivers don’t work with inaccurate quarterbacks.”

He then made a statement that I really take issue with, “You can get away with those guys if you have (Drew) Brees or (Tom) Brady. Of course, you can get away with a lot with those guys.”

That’s a pretty scathing statement of smaller receivers. Guess he’s never seen Steve Smith. Or watched Wes Welker catch 67 passes in Miami with quarterbacks with half the talent of Sam Bradford throwing him the rock. More to the point, I respectfully and totally disagree with his first statement. I usually never make these kinds of strong statements against an exec’s opinions since, you know, they know a lot more than I do about the game, but I clearly think this guy is off.

First off, if it’s Sam Bradford’s fault, then why on earth did Danny Amendola manage to have sustained success in St. Louis when he was healthy? Why was he a favorite target of Bradford’s instead of somebody who is losing playing time? It’s simple, Amendola is far more reliable than Austin (well, when Amendola is actually on the field), and he never dropped passes at anywhere near the rate Tavon Austin is dropping passes. So far this season in 34 targets, he has already dropped six passes; that’s awful.

But there are a few things I want to note here. First off, the Rams use slot receivers way too close to the line of scrimmage, and Amendola also averaged an incredibly low yards per reception total. I’m not a fan of Bradford as a quarterback, but Austin’s numbers aren’t bad because of him; he’s just played very poorly through six games. Look, Bradford is averaging a below-average 6.2 yards per attempt, but Austin deserves some blame for averaging just 3.8 yards per pass play too. Despite averaging a meager 8.8 yards per reception, his catch rate is about seven percentage points lower than Bradford’s completion percentage.

If you are trying to absolve Austin of significant blame and instead prefer to heap it on Bradford’s shoulders, then you need to take a closer look at Austin’s numbers and also refresh your memory on Amendola’s place in the Rams offense.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter for more NFL updates and analysis @SorianoJoe. Be sure to like us on Facebook here and follow our site on Twitter as well.

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: Sam Bradford St. Louis Rams Tavon Austin

  • Nathan Kearns

    Check… and mate!

  • bobby

    “Look, Bradford is averaging a below-average 6.2 yards per attempt, but Austin deserves some blame for averaging just 3.8 yards per pass play too.”
    so it’s austin’s fault that his average depth of catch average is a comical 2.9 yards, good for a 74th ranking among wr through week 6? it’s austin’s fault that bradford has a blind spot beyond 10 yards, and can’t get the ball to austin (or pettis for that matter) when he’s running open on intermediate or deeper routes? yes, the reason austin’s numbers are low is most definitely because of bradford, and schott.

    • Joe Soriano

      Tavon Austin has six drops this season, and the PFF guys have graded him really low for his work this season. I think Schottenheimer deserves a little bit of blame and Bradford isn’t the greatest QB in the world either (I hope I made it clear that I’m not a registered member of the Sam Bradford Fan Club), but Austin’s struggles are mostly of his own doing. He’s played poorly this year (drops aren’t everything, but six- to be fair, some have it at five- are concerning).

      Brian Quick averages 14.4 yards per reception and Chris Givens averages 15.9 yards per reception, so the low yards per catch rate would seem to be more up to Schotty. But look, the Rams added Austin with the intent of having him generating a lot of yardage after the catch on those screens, but he is only averaging 3.8 yards after the catch per reception. I understand your arguments, but I completely disagree with a couple of them (Bradford can’t be blamed for the low yards per reception).

      My main arguments with the exec’s comments have to do with his utter disregard for “little receivers”, and the fact that he seems to forget the success Danny Amendola had with the Rams.

      • Nathan Kearns

        Danny Amendola was also significantly better at finding the holes in zone coverage and has much more NFL experience gaining separation on intermediate routes.

    • Nathan Kearns

      There are plenty of numbers that you can use to make your point, either way. However, actually watching the film, Tavon Austin is not doing a good job of getting separation on intermediate- to long- routes, and thus is not getting many targets down the field. That is especially the case on his “9″ routes, skinny posts, and 8-10 yard outs… although, he has had some success on deeper curls against zone coverage, and longer drag route across the middle.

      Sam Bradford is not the type of quarterback that is going to give any particular receiver 8 to 10 targets every game. One of his strengths in the offense is getting the ball to the open receiver (sometimes too quickly, and too a fault). Sadly, Brian Schottenheimer has made it a priority to get Tavon the ball early, and allow him to work for YAC, instead of formulating plays to get him the ball in space further down the field.

      Sam Bradford cannot make Tavon Austin break tackles, he cannot make Tavon Austin gain separation down the field, he isn’t going to force throws into tight coverage (i.e. only one “forced throw” INTs on the season), and, with such a young group of skill players, can really only run the calls that are being sent in from Brian Schottenheimer.

      Moreover, in defense of Schottenheimer and Fisher, they have both always shared the offensive philosophy of generating game plans “to the opponent’s weakness,” as opposed to “the offense’s strength.” Occasionally, in situations like Houston (where they were primarily in two- or three-tight end sets with “blocking” receivers on the outside), Tavon Austin’s “usefulness” will be limited in the offense…

  • bobby

    you mention pff, they have austin at 5 drops, not 6 (as you stated). and, yes, austin has a 3.8 yac average, so does a.j. green, of course a.j.’s depth of catch average is 8.8, not the measly 2.9 average austin’s been forced to swallow. quick and givens? yes, they have much higher yards per catch averages, but they’re wide outs, not slot guys, and they’ve seen less than 50 targets combined. meanwhile, austin and pettis are slot guys, and of the 46 slot wr with at least 10 targets, austin and pettis rank 45th and 46th in yards per catch, sickening. why is this? as i mentioned in my first response, it’s because of sam and schott. it’s sam’s fault because he can’t get past his first read without feeling the need to dump off short (please refer to the many recent articles on the topic of sam dumping off short, they’re spot-on), while missing austiin and pettis running open beyond 10 yards (if you have any doubts about this, take some time and watch nfl game rewind’s all-22 coach’s tape). and it’s schott’s fault because the best use of tavon’s talent he’s managed to come up with is dink and dunk passes in lieu of runs, short underneath passes with little chance for yacs. of course this all changed as of the jags game, when the rams moved to 21 and 12 sets, virtually eliminating the slot guy, resulting in much less playing time for austiin, petiis.and even cook.

    • Joe Soriano

      Yeah, I tried to add that PFF and others have his drop total at 5. I agree with most of what you are saying in this comment, and I remember the Rams did the same exact dink-and-dunk stuff with Amendola, just not quite to this extent. Do you think the Rams moved to 2 RB or 2 TE sets more often because they felt Austin was struggling? Or is there another reason? I never believed in the “Austin is a top-half, first-round pick” hype train, but he’s a more talented player than THIS. I’m sure he’ll improve, but I am really disappointed with the way they are using him too. Is it Bradford? A tad, but I think this is more on Austin and Schottenheimer.

      I used the yards per reception totals of Givens and Quick not as a comparison to Austin’s numbers, but rather to say that Bradford can throw it beyond ten yards. I definitely understand that slot receivers average significantly lower YPR totals in most cases, because their job is just to get a safe gain or move the chains.

  • bobby

    “Do you think the Rams moved to 2 RB or 2 TE sets more often because they felt Austin was struggling? Or is there another reason?”

    i think i’ve heard this notion floated once or twice in the last couple of weeks, and there’s a reason no one has run with it, because it’s nonsense. first, austin isn’t struggling, he’s a victim of circumstances (read: bradford and schott). second, there are more prudent and logical ways ways to address a struggling wr than completely changing your offense in terms of approach, scheme and philosophy, which is exactly what the rams have done. the rams haven’t just moved to 21 and 12 sets “more often” in their last two games, they’ve effectively become a 2-wr offense (short of 3rd down pass situations). prior to the jags game the rams ranked in the top 3 in most wr snaps per offensive snap with a 2.7 average – in the jags game that ratio dropped to 2.0 and in the texans game it dropped to 1.9, which are last in the league type averages. the rams switched to 21 and 12 sets because their stab at a spread offense, which also included cook as receiver more than a blocking te, failed miserably. sam was absolutely horrible at it and, as i mentioned, had extreme difficulty getting past his first read. rather than go through his progressions, he more than often chose to dump off short instead. this, coupled with the rams scripted short passes in lieu of the run, was a disaster, and led to a 28th ranking in redzone appearances and a near bottom of the league 3rd down conversion rate prior to the jags game. moreover, even tho bradford made his living at dink and dunk passes (no other qb threw as many short, high percentage passes), he still ranked 17th in pass completion % after adjusting for drops, that’s horrible. insult to injury, the rams had zero success trying to run the ball out 10 and 11 sets, something that became increasingly bothersome to fisher. in short, the rams didn’t switch offensive philosophy because of austin, that’s a silly notion.

    • Nathan Kearns

      To sum that up: Rams don’t have the experience in their skill positions or the creativity from their OC to run an effective NFL-caliber, spread offense. So, they switched to something they do know… ground and pound, “heavy” and pro-style formations, and play-action. Nothing to do with Tavon

  • Gary Stewart

    my belief is that all is not rosy for the rams that said these are very young players with little to no experience prior to this season and while bradford has been granted excuses like no talent around him in past years suddenly a few electric receivers show up and all is supposed to be better… it doesnt work that way one thing tavon needs to do better is get seperation one thing bradford needs to do is lead him away from the coverage tavon will not rack up yac on the sit down routes that was why amendola had low yac as well it is my belief that after a 8-10 year wait for a good product on the field the team is going in the right direction and as their run game improves the play action should lead to more opportunities.