Four Downs: Bradford And the Red-Zone
MOST TELLING STAT
The Eagles were 5-for-5 in their red zone trips — all of which came in the first half. Sam Bradford finished each of his three drives with touchdown tosses, and Mark Sanchez capitalized on his two red zone opportunities with TD passes to Jeff Maehl and Trey Burton.
“The quarterbacks threw me some really good balls, right on my body, really easy catches,” said Burton, who had two touchdowns on four targets Saturday. “It felt that everything went really well as an offense…Everything was just clicking on all cylinders.”
The Eagles’ quarterbacks were 23rd in red zone quarterback rating last season, per Sporting Charts. The team ranked in the bottom third overall with a touchdown conversion rate of under 50 percent. The rate in Chip Kelly‘s first season (53 percent) was only marginally better. Jeffrey Lurie identified red zone offense as one of the three issues that proved to be the team’s Achilles’ heel last year along with turnovers and big plays allowed on defense. It is a key stat to watch once the season gets underway. The Eagles are 10-for-17 (59 percent) in that department this preseason, and 4-for-4 with Bradford at quarterback.
DID YOU NOTICE…
That Taylor Hart flashed a couple times?
In the first quarter, he was able to fight off guard Josh Walker and swallow up Eddie Lacy at the line of scrimmage.
His most impressive moment arguably came in the third quarter, as he was able to split a pair of blockers to stuff Rajion Neal for no gain.
Hart was credited with three tackles and a quarterback hit in all.
The fifth-round pick out of Oregon did not see any action his rookie season but has shown signs of development this summer. If he can bring anything to the table this year, it will add strength to an already stout defensive front.
Assuming Bradford does not compete in Thursday’s finale against the Jets, he finishes the preseason 13-for-15 for 156 yards with three TDs and no interceptions. He has played a total of 32 snaps. That’s not a ton for a QB that is coming off a long layoff and adjusting to a new system, but Kelly has to be pleased with what he has seen in this short sample size.
“I think, like anybody, we can always continue to improve,” said Kelly. “That’s the great thing about Sam, he’s not going to rest on anything. He’s missed a lot of football coming into this, but I think he’s playing good right now, but he can always get better, be sharper, and you know, the thing that I love about him: he will be back out on the field Monday, trying to get better.”
The Eagles continue to use different looks in the secondary when in nickel. Against the Packers, they experimented with kicking Nolan Carroll inside and using Eric Rowe on the outside opposite Byron Maxwell.
“We’ve used a lot of different combinations, and will try to make an educated decision on what’s the best combination of five when we go to nickel,” said Kelly.
The fact that no one has seized the job yet is not a disaster, but it is a situation worth monitoring. When the Eagles dealt Brandon Boykin to Pittsburgh, it looked like JaCorey Shepherd had a great chance to lay claim to the gig. Shepherd was lost to an ACL a short time later, though, and the position has since been a rotating cast that has included Jaylen Watkins, Rowe, E.J. Biggers and now Carroll. Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond also have the ability to move down if need be.
Rowe struggled at times Saturday. He was in coverage on the touchdown pass from Brett Hundley to Kennard Backman in the third quarter, was beat on a double-move early in the second leading to a big Jeff Janis catch-and-run, and lost his man on a couple other occasions. While the rookie is showing promise, it’s also reasonable to expect growing pains — some of which are bound to come in meaningful games if he’s handed a significant role from the onset.
The Eagles have options, but this is still an issue that needs some sorting out.