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What we learned Thursday: Sam Bradford regressing

My offseason scouting report on St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford can be boiled down to the phrase "an enigma wrapped in a riddle smothered in secret sauce."

After Thursday night's 35-11 bonanza of ineptitude against the San Francisco 49ers, I realize the word "enigma" implies a generous curiosity about Bradford's alleged upside.

Against a defense missing two of the NFL's premier players, Bradford continued the disturbing habit of dumping off to his hot read at the first sign of pressure, failing to pose a vertical challenge at any point.

The bewildered Bradford isn't alone under the microscope. The Rams added in-space playmakers Jared Cook and Tavon Austin to unimaginative offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's arsenal, which is a bit like shoving a Rubik's Cube under a toddler's nose.

NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock diagnosed the problem immediately and repeatedly: "There are no chunks at all in this offense."

No quarterback has had more excuses made for his play the past few years than the golden-armed Bradford. The problem is that he's clearly regressed since producing the best game of his young career against the same defense -- at peak strength -- last November.

In Tampa, they fire a quarterback of this caliber. In St. Louis, they trumpet his potential to become the NFL's best while taking a pass on a unique talent capable of revitalizing a moribund franchise.

Here's what else we learned in Thursday's game:

  1. The Rams can't run the ball. Cook, in particular, put forth an embarrassing effort as a blocker. The backfield stable of Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy is averaging a combined 2.68 yards per carry through four games. There weren't many holes against a strong 49ers defensive front, and Richardson isn't the kind of back capable of creating his own space. Pead was inactive for an undisclosed reason Thursday night.
  1. On the flip side, the St. Louis run defense has been a sieve the past two weeks. A rejuvenated Frank Gore (153 yards, one touchdown) was running through lanes as wide as the ones DeMarco Murray enjoyed last week. Niners backup Kendall Hunter is running better than any running back we've ever seen coming off a torn Achilles tendon.
  1. Until the Rams find a play-caller and schemer to get Austin in space, there has to be concern that the No. 8 overall draft pick might be too small to make an impact in the NFL. Averaging just 5.58 yards per touch on offense, Austin has yet to show the ability to make the first defender miss or power through an arm tackle in traffic.
  1. Niners tight end Vernon Daviswasn't 100 percent, but his presence on the field prevented the Rams from shifting extra attention toward Anquan Boldin.
  1. Rookie wide receiver Quinton Patton's run with the 49ers' starters didn't last long. The fourth-round draft pick, playing ahead of Kyle Williams as the No. 2 receiver, limped to the sidelines with a right foot injury in the second quarter. He did not return. Outside those difference-making plays from Boldin, the wide receivers struggled once again to beat man coverage, forcing Colin Kaepernick to throw short of the sticks. The 49ers had 11 drives of 12 yard or fewer and still won by 26 points.
  1. Fellow linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks picked up the slack with Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis out of the 49ers' lineup. The two combined for 13 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and two passes defensed in a dominant showing.
  1. Defensive end Robert Quinn and linebacker James Laurinaitis were the lone bright spots for the entire Rams team.
  1. Niners left tackle Joe Staley suffered a lower leg injury that left him in agonizing pain. It would be a big loss for the ground attack as well as Kaepernick's pass protection if the injury is serious. (NFL Media columnist Mike Silver reported that Staley walked from San Francisco's locker room to the team bus after the game.)
  1. The Rams lost rookie strong safety T.J. McDonald to a fractured leg, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported. Struggling nickelback Cortland Finnegan also left the game with a thigh injury.

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