Eagles All-22 Wake-Up Call: Bradford’s Growth
Pat Shurmur seemed as though he wanted to get something off of his chest. The normally hushed offensive coordinator was asked about his quarterback’s pocket movement to open his press conference yesterday, and he responded with a 171-word breakdown of Sam Bradford, without really addressing footwork.
“His overall play has improved each week,” Shurmur said. “I certainly expected it. I’m starting to see the things in him that I remember seeing when he was a rookie. It takes a while to come back from what he went through (tearing his ACL twice), and he’s getting more and more used to the way we’re doing things.
“Certainly, it was easy to connect the dots when he first got here, and he was very well aware of what we try to do offensively. But it just takes a little bit of time. Much like an offensive line working together, the quarterback with everything that he has on his plate along with getting himself really physically ready to handle it all, it just kind of takes a little bit of time. I think we didn’t know what to expect as we moved along.
“Certainly, expectations are high whenever you’re talking about an NFL football team and an NFL football player. But we just saw him getting better each day, and I think it’s showing on Sunday.”
Whether you look at the film, stats or another barometer of Bradford’s play, it’s clear he’s trending upward. The Eagles are 5-1 in the last six games Bradford has started and finished and 6-2 in the last eight. Over his last four starts, Bradford has completed 80 of 123 passes (65.0%) for 898 yards, five touchdowns, one interception and a 96.9 rating.
However, Bradford’s entire body of work remains unimpressive as he ranks 28th in passer rating and 29th in yards per attempt this season. Still, his recent growth has been enough to reignite the discussion of whether the Eagles should, and will, extend his contract.
“His efforts have been understated,” Zach Ertz said. “The value of him to this team is second to none. When he’s playing at a high level, I think everyone else on the offense is able to follow that.”
There are several theories out there that try to explain why Bradford has improved, ranging from him having more time in Chip Kelly’s system to being further away from his knee injury to getting more help from his teammates.
Those all make sense, but which one is it?
“I don’t know,” Bradford said. “I think it’s kind of hard to say, but I do feel better out there. I feel more comfortable out there, more confident in what we are doing. I think as a quarterback, when you are confident and you are able to just kind of let things rip, that’s when you play your best.”
Regardless of why Bradford has played better, the result is clear: he’s given the Eagles a much better chance to win. His 53-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor on Sunday was outstanding, but that wasn’t his only pinpoint throw in the first half to set up a score.
The Eagles had a lot of success with the concept that produced Agholor’s trip to the end zone, including on Zach Ertz’s 21-yard reception in the first quarter. (Two plays later, Darren Sproles ran one yard to give the Eagles a 7-0 edge.)
“Nelson did a good job of opening that little zone by getting the corner and safety out of the way,” Stephen Morris said. “The quarterback’s job is to then read the flat defender, who’s low, so Sam made a good decision and a great throw to Ertz.”
Even before that, Bradford threw a great deep ball on the first snap of the game. The pass fell incomplete as Riley Cooper couldn’t haul in the catch, but Bradford threw a good 50-yard bomb.
“Going into the game, we really wanted to go vertical. A lot of times the Bills do a box check, meaning they pass things off and when you do that, sometimes guys don’t anticipate deeper routes,” Morris said. “If the safety was flat-footed — like on Nelly’s touchdown, Sam did a great job — he would take a shot. On that Coop play, he saw the safety rotate the other way, so he took a great shot down the field.”
One area Bradford struggled in to start the season was footwork, something both he and Shurmur acknowledged. However, the quarterback has made noticeable strides forward in that area, which was particularly evident on Agholor’s touchdown.
“I feel like my feet have been much better,” Bradford said. “I feel like my pocket movement has been much better. I feel like when I play with my feet in rhythm, good things usually happen. I feel like the past couple weeks, my feet have been pretty good.”
MORE ROOM TO GROW
Shurmur seems to buy the theory that Bradford’s growth can be — at least partially — attributed to the quarterback’s comfort level with his knee.
“There is a difference between being healthy enough to play, which we all become, and then after you play a while, you get more and more comfortable with it,” Shurmur said. “I think a lot of guys will say, ‘Hey, my second year back from those type of injuries, I feel much better.’ I think that’s fair. The further you get away from the actual injury, the surgery and the rehab, the more and more comfortable you are with everything.”
However, Bradford’s injuries didn’t just take a physical toll, they eliminated game experience he could benefit from. That’s how the Eagles look at their quarterback’s missteps now, like his decision against Buffalo to take a sack instead of throwing the ball away late in the fourth quarter.
“I have to know that it’s going to get down to the two minute [warning] regardless and I have to throw it away,” Bradford said. “I don’t know how many yards I lost right there but I mean it’s critical right there. Just a mental mistake. I should have thrown the ball away when there wasn’t anything there.”
Bradford also missed a few opportunities for big plays, two of which involved deep post routes in the third quarter. Facing first-and-10 from Buffalo’s 36-yard line, Bradford scrambled for a 5-yard gain. However, he missed his left outside receiver open over the middle for a potential touchdown. (The Eagles settled for three points on the drive.)
Previously in the same series, the quarterback again missed the receiver over the deep middle. This time, however, Bradford encountered quick interior pressure.
“I still think there are some things that we can do better,” Bradford said. “I think that we can perform at a higher level. Obviously, we are still not great out there. But I think this is what I envisioned as far as us winning as a team, you know, what we have been able to do the past two weeks, to put two wins together. I think that is kind of what everyone was looking to see.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Breaking down what went right on Nelson Agholor’s 53-yard touchdown catch on Sunday.
“It just hasn’t been feeling that well.” A back issue kept Jordan Matthews out of practice yesterday.
Pat Shurmur touches on splitting running back reps, and more notes from Tuesday.
The NFC East has three teams tied at the top with three weeks to go. Catch up on everything.
“It was a really good feeling.” Looking back at Zach Ertz’s game-changing fourth-quarter catch.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The Eagles have reined in their penalty count, writes Sam Donnellon, and they reaped the rewards Sunday.
[Chip] Kelly said [Sam] Bradford‘s snap count and cadence drew the penalty-plagued Bills offside four times. That’s something Bradford could never have pulled off in September and October, as he tried to get his arm around Kelly’s system, his new teammates, and the speed of the NFL in general.
The offense was still not a well-oiled machine Sunday, or in the Eagles’ bare-knuckles win over the Patriots. The Eagles are still a team that lives and dies by its defensive front and the turnovers its pressure creates, and it was thus on Sunday. There were seven penalties called against Buffalo’s offensive line, which had a bear of a time containing the Eagles’ defensive front, particularly Fletcher Cox.
But their own low penalty number at least offers a hint of hope that the offense will take a bigger bite over the critical three games that end this season, especially with Bradford’s comfort level continually improving.
As Tommy Lawlor writes, it seems like the Eagles are starting to play their best football at the right time of the year.
I don’t know why or how, but the Eagles in the last 2 weeks have become a team that makes those key plays. Think about the Ed Reynolds play. Dave Spadaro asked Chip Kelly what Reynolds job was on the final play. Chip gave a bit of a snarky answer, saying “Catch the ball.” There have been plenty of times this year when Eagles DBs didn’t catch the ball. Reynolds did and that sealed the win. If he drops that pass, Buffalo might go on to win that game. One simple moment made a world of difference.
I think hitting rock bottom on Thanksgiving Day helped the Eagles. In the highly underrated 1990 comedy The Freshman, Matthew Broderick has a very good line.
“There’s a kind of freedom in being completely screwed… because you know things can’t get any worse.”
Chip Kelly will address the media at 10:50 a.m.