Eagles Wake-Up Call: Bradford And the Zone Read

Daniel Shirey | USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Shirey | USA TODAY Sports

Today’s question comes from reader Andrew, via e-mail:

I have been waiting for an article discussing Sam Bradford and running the read option. It seems like the guy is already a risk to get hurt just staying in the pocket. Do we really want this guy running the read option 5-7 times a game? I already envision Sam tearing an ACL running to the sideline a la Mcnabb in 2006. Talk me off the ledge Sheil.

I imagine that when he’s surrounded by his peers, Chip Kelly speaks rather eloquently about the intricacies of the zone read and why it works/doesn’t work in certain situations. But with reporters, he’s usually not very forthcoming on this topic, Andrew.

Just last week at the owners meetings, Kelly was asked about the zone read.

“We don’t run as much zone read as you think we run,” Kelly said. “Probably less than two times a game.”

Can it be an effective tool at the NFL level?

“It depends on your personnel,” Kelly said. “I think the Seattle Seahawks run it outstanding. And it’s a real difficult play in terms of how they run it. But I think we’re maybe less than one a game in terms of running zone read plays. It’s not a big part of what we do.”

And probably won’t be with Bradford, right? “Probably not, no.”

The confusion here is in the read aspect of the play. It’s relatively simple to identify the Eagles’ zone runs, which they use over and over again throughout the course of a game. But on some plays, the quarterback is given the option to read the edge defender and keep the ball, while on other plays it’s a straight give to the running back without a read.

Kelly’s numbers certainly seem low. In the first Cowboys game, for example, Mark Sanchez kept the ball on several zone-read plays. But again, there are instances when the QB hands it off, and it’s difficult to tell if he’s reading a defender or not.

In general, defenses paid little attention to the QB and had the unblocked defender crash in on LeSean McCoy.

“We ran it quite a few times,” said Todd Herremans last week. “But we just never used the read option, just always handing it off. I think Nick [Foles] was just kind of to the point where, ‘I’m not really gonna read this. I’m just gonna give it.’ And then when they really started biting, he’s like, ‘OK, I can get a few yards here.’ ”

As soon as he got to the NFL, Kelly bristled at the idea that he needed a quarterback who could run the ball. And his actions have backed up his words. Under Kelly’s direction, the Eagles have drafted Matt Barkley, signed Sanchez (twice) and traded for Bradford. None of the three is a true threat with their legs.

As for Bradford specifically, he looked average on film in terms of athleticism. And that was before two ACL injuries. In 2013, he ran for 31 yards on 15 attempts, and 23 of those yards came on one scramble. He wasn’t a runner in college either.

If and when Kelly lands a quarterback with some wheels, expect him to take advantage. But if it’s Bradford, I wouldn’t expect much of a change from last year in how the Eagles use the zone read.


“He’s made of glass.” One analyst on the risk that is associated with Kelly  hitching his wagon to Bradford.

The Eagles will sign WR Miles Austin to a one-year deal, according to a report.

“I think he knows he needs talent.” Jeremy Maclin on the theory that Kelly can plug and play wide receivers.

The Eagles signed DeMeco Ryans to a one-year contract extension.


Paul Domowitch of the Daily News looks at Marcus Smith’s potential of contributing in the near future:

At this point, at least, Smith clearly isn’t better than the guys in front of him. Not even close. Connor Barwin has a lock on one of the starting outside linebacker spots, and the Eagles just gave Brandon Graham a 4-year, $26 million deal with $14 million in guarantees, which trumps Smith’s $6.3 million. Graham also had 5 1/2 sacks and 18 hurries in 240 pass-rush opportunities last season.

There’s also promising 2014 undrafted free agent Travis Long, who is recovering from his second torn ACL, and there’s a good chance the Eagles will draft another pass rusher at some point. Billy Davis might even toy with the idea of occasionally lining up newcomer Kiko Alonso or Mychal Kendricks on the outside if DeMeco Ryans fully recovers from his torn Achilles’.

To make a long story short, Smith had better show up at OTAs ready to prove he’s better than he looked last year.

Tommy Lawlor of Iggles Blitz wonders how Austin might fit in:

You could have Matthews and Cooper on the outside, with Austin in the slot. Austin can play outside, but he’s not a guy you feed the ball to.

You still have Josh Huff and a rookie or two to add to the mix.

It will be interesting to see if there is any kind of a signing bonus or if Austin gets a minimal deal.

Do not think of this as Austin replacing Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles needed a veteran (or two) to add to the mix. Brad Smith is a free agent. We don’t know if Jeff Maehl is coming back. There was room for a veteran. With Matthews, Huff and at least one rookie, you’ll want a veteran receiver on the team to help them develop.

Hardly a compelling move, but does make some sense.


We’ll have some draft buzz and more.