All-22: Why Sam Bradford Isn’t Playing Well
After struggling in his first three games while throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes, Sam Bradford finally showed why Chip Kelly traded for him. Against Washington, he tallied three touchdowns, 270 yards and a 122.6 passer rating.
Since then, however, his performance has declined each week, bottoming out with three interceptions against the Giants. After the game Monday night, Bradford was asked if he was happy with his performance.
“No, no. It’s not even a question,” he said. “It was just inconsistent, missing throws. There was some good, there was some bad. But I know for us to be where we want to be, I have to play much better.”
In addition to those three picks, he completed 24 of his 38 passes for 280 yards and one touchdown for a 61.3 passer rating. Each of his three interceptions were caused by different problems; the first was an over-throw, the second was a bad read and the third was an under-throw.
Although he only completed 63.2 percent of his passes, he often had receivers open — and missed them. Other times, he found guys in space, but couldn’t get them the ball.
“It’s not one specific thing; it’s not always the same thing,” Kelly said. “So it is not just, ‘Hey, this happened, so let’s correct it.’ At one point in time, it’s the receiver, and at the other point in time we didn’t get it communicated. So it’s a group of guys, so we’ve got to get it straightened out.”
‘THIS IS KIND OF NEW TO ME’
Before arriving in Philadelphia, Bradford had his struggles in St. Louis. What that didn’t include, however, was interceptions. Six games into this season, he’s tied for second in the NFL with nine, on pace to shatter his career-high of 15.
On Monday night, he was asked why this is happening.
“Yeah, I don’t know. If I knew, I would stop throwing them,” Bradford said. “It is something that I never really had a problem with in my career. I have never thrown a lot of interceptions, so this is kind of new to me.”
On his first pick against the Giants, all four of his receivers were open, as shown above. He targeted Ertz, and then air-mailed it above his head.
“The first one was just a terrible throw,” Bradford said. “I missed it; Ertz was open.”
However, he has also had problems with under-throws, such as his last interception.
“Sometimes you’re trying to guide it instead of letting it rip,” Kelly said. “You’re trying to place it instead of just taking it and ripping it.”
Bradford’s lack of success on third downs has also hampered the offense. When he threw the ball on 3rd down against the Giants, he completed five of his 10 attempts for 33 yards. The Eagles only got the first down three times, including one because of a penalty.
Part of that is because Bradford often throws the ball to a receiver around the line of scrimmage, instead of one near the first down line.
By my count, he missed an open receiver down field three times on third down against the Giants and instead checked it down to a receiver who failed to pick up the necessary yardage. One example of this is the play above, when the Eagles faced 3-and-5 from New York’s 21-yard line in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Although Zach Ertz was open several yards past the first down marker, Bradford threw it to Riley Cooper. The receiver picked up just one yard, forcing the Eagles to settle for a field goal in the red zone. Cooper may come before Ertz in Bradford’s progression, but this has been a reoccurring theme throughout the first six games.
In general, Bradford has had difficulty generating big plays on his own. Kelly has partially addressed this, however, by using play-action as the run game improves.
Against the Giants, Bradford completed 10 of his 15 play-action pass attempts for 176 yards. Although that also includes one touchdown pass and two interceptions, he averaged 11.7 yards per attempt. On throws that didn’t include play-action, Bradford completed 14 of his 23 passes for 104 yards, equaling just 4.5 yards per attempt.
“When you’re able to get open deep, it’s because you’ve found a way to run the football,” Pat Shurmur said. “When you’re running the football, then play-action is meaningful.”
All four of Bradford’s completions that were longer than 17 yards were off-play-action, including the 43-yard completion to Cooper above. The linebackers get sucked up into the run fake, but Bradford also does a good job on this play by looking the single high safety off Cooper.
Like a couple of his other big completions, however, Bradford doesn’t throw a great pass. If he would’ve led Cooper, he could’ve had a touchdown.
Bradford didn’t address this play specifically, but he did reveal yesterday one problem he discovered with some of his passes.
“Me and [quarterbacks] coach [Ryan] Day talked about it a little bit this week,” he explained. “I’m not sure my weight transfer has been where it should be on a couple of the throws. I’m not sure I’ve really gotten to my front leg; I think that’s why some of them have been short.”
Overall, Bradford played poorly against the Giants, but he also struggled at times because his receivers didn’t give him much help.
One example Shurmur gave Wednesday was the above incompletion to Jordan Matthews.
“That was one where the pocket movement was great; he kept it alive and then he came, but I still think that falls on both of them,” Shurmur said. “Jordan certainly could have come back to the ball a little bit more and then Sam could have thrown him a little bit higher of a ball.”
The offensive coordinator also pointed to Bradford’s first pass attempt of the game, an incompletion to Darren Sproles.
“Sprolesy was the first look in the flat, but then he had another part to the route that he was going to run, Shurmur said, “and he just got into it a little too quick.”
However, it goes both ways as Bradford was also at fault for a couple of similar off-target throws.
“We had some miscommunication [Monday] on a couple routes where the quarterback and the receiver were not on the same page, but we have to clean that up,” Kelly said. “We’ve talked about that. He’s getting more familiar, in terms of what we’re doing, but we can’t continue to do that against really good football teams.
“We were fortunate that we did it and got away with it today, but in this league, you can’t do that and sustain things and sustain winning. So, we’ve really got to clean that up on the offensive side of the ball.”
One pass Bradford did have success with was a package play the Eagles ran against the Giants, where Bradford connected with Ertz three times for 27 yards.
Each time, the Eagles lined up in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) with trips to one side of the field and a lone receiver to the opposite side. The key to this play is the slot receiver — Ertz in the picture above — and his five-yard hitch route.
When Bradford sees all the space his target has, he pulls the ball back from the handoff and tosses it to the tight end for an easy completion.
“It was something we saw that they were giving us last week,” Bradford said. “We talked about it during practice last week, we felt good about it. Obviously it’s a nice option to have; it gives us an extra option on those run plays. It makes them defend one more guy, which is why you saw us have some success with it last week.
“When we can force them to defend an extra element, especially on a run play, I think it spreads them out. It helps the run game get going, but if they want to play a six-, seven-man box and everyone crashes down, then we’ve got to get the ball to the perimeter.”