Eagles Wake-Up Call: Bradford And the Deep Ball

And why getting it going won't be easy.

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

The ability to run the ball is tied in part to air levels, Trent Dilfer explains.

The less air — or spacing — between the front four and the linebackers, the harder it is to run it. “And the less air between the safeties and the linebackers…now it’s nearly impossible to run the ball,” he said.

“And the only way to put that air back in there – that space in the back half –is the fear of the deep ball, and there is just no fear of that right now with the Eagles.”

The stats suggest that there’s not a whole lot to be scared of regarding the deep ball when Sam Bradford is the quarterback. Per Reuben Frank, Bradford is dead last among active quarterbacks with at least 1,000 career passes in yards per attempt (6.3), and is fourth from the bottom in career completions of at least 25 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, only 8.4 percent of his passes in 2013 (his last year playing quarterback) went at least 20 yards in the air, which ranked fourth-lowest among signal-callers that season.

The numbers this year seem to support the idea that he is not much of a deep ball threat. He has thrown five passes that have travelled 20-plus yards in the air through two games, per PFF, and doesn’t have a reception to show for it.

“I think [Bradford not going deep] is an issue personally,” said Dilfer. “I think Sam has always been a guy that likes to get the ball out quick, doesn’t want a real cluttered pocket, and wants to throw that intermediate-short stuff and he’s very,very good at it. This offense I believe has to have the element of fear in it with the passing game, especially off play-action where there is always the chance they are going to throw the deep ball. If we [as a defense] get too close to the line of scrimmage, if we get too nosy in there, they’re going to strike us over the top.”

It’s easy to ride right along with the Bradford/deep-ball narrative (which has obviously developed for a reason) but the full story extends beyond the quarterback. While it’s true that the long ball can help create space for the run game, the inverse apllies as well.

“When you start to run the football well, you need to now take people from deep and bring them up closer to the line of scrimmage,” said Kelly. “When that happens, now you have an opportunity to throw the ball over the top.  We haven’t had the opportunity to throw the ball over the top because we haven’t established a run game and blocked well against a 4‑2 box. Basically that is what we are seeing right now: two linebackers and four defensive linemen.”

Added Bradford: “Last week , once we couldn’t get the run game going, we saw a lot more two high.”

Here’s a good example: On the first play of the second half, the Eagles have a 1st-and-10 at their own 20. Despite the down and distance, the Cowboys are showing a six-man box with two safeties hanging back.

Six man box 1

Even with play-action the safeties continue to backpedal, and appear to have the deep threat – Jordan Matthews — pretty well contained.

Deep ball 1

Bradford appears to look at Matthews early in the progression but settles for a shorter throw to Nelson Agholor, which seems to be the correct decision.

Agholor 1

Similar deal on first down the following series. Six-man box, two safeties deep. Here’s a look at Bradford’s options in the midst of going through his progressions.
Agholor 2

Not much there downfield. He eventually settles for a short pass over the middle to Agholor that falls incomplete.

“When the defense gives us opportunities to push the ball downfield, we want to,”said Bradford. “We just haven’t had a lot of those opportunities.”

“I think people are defending us to not allow us to throw the ball over the top right now,” added Kelly.

Bring up Bradford’s history with taking shots downfield, and this coaching staff will be quick to cite the QB’s arm strength, saying that he is more than capable of chucking it when necessary. Others will point to the system and personnel in St. Louis to explain the lack of explosive plays.

Bradford, who has not played particularly well to this point, needs to prove that his underwhelming stats in the long-ball area are related to circumstance and not apprehension. In order to get a legitimate shot at stating his case, the running game and receiving corps are going to have to do something about the current  air quality.

WHAT YOU MISSED

DeMarco Murray left Wednesday’s practice early with a hamstring injury. We have all the details.

“You sit down when you’re injured, and not a moment sooner.” Adam takes a deep dive into Trey Burton‘s past.

An in-depth, All-22 look at the struggles of Chip Kelly‘s increasingly predictable offense.

“This is a team that’s well-coached, they have a plan and they execute well.” Scouting the Jets ahead of Sunday.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Jason Kelce‘s explanation for the Eagles’ stagnant offense makes a lot of sense, writes CSN Philadelphia’s Corey Seidman.

But the predictability thing does have some legs. When Kelly entered the NFL, his offense took off at first because teams didn’t know what to expect. He unveiled formations and play designs that had never been seen before, or at least in years.

“The first four games the first year Chip was here, teams didn’t really know what we were doing. But for the most part, we’ve never had this huge playbook,” Kelce said Wednesday at his locker. “That’s never been part of our arsenal. We like to major in things that we do, and we have plays that go off of each other very nicely. When teams try to take away one play, we have plays that can hit them.

“The problem is in games when you don’t take advantage of what’s there, then you kind of handcuff the coach. I think there were plays to be had this past Sunday (against the Cowboys) and there will be plays to be had this Sunday, and we just have to do a better job when we get in those situations of executing.”

Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that  Bradford hasn’t let two losses affect his outlook.

Bradford insists he still believes in his teammates and himself despite the bad start.

“I don’t think it has done anything to our confidence,” Bradford said Wednesday, “Obviously there are ups and downs in this league.”

Bradford says that the key is sticking together.

“We can’t back down and can’t lose confidence in what we are doing or what our system is,” he said. “I think we all still believe in it.”

COMING UP

Preparation for the Jets continues. We’ll speak to Kelly at 11:45 before practice.