Eagles Wake-Up Call: Bradford Under Pressure
The fine folks over at Football Outsiders have been digging into their advanced analytics recently to dissect play-action offenses and defenses around the league, as well as how quarterbacks fared under pressure last season.
Here are a couple of numbers relevant to the Eagles.
-108.8% — That was Sam Bradford’s DVOA difference when facing pressure compared to when he wasn’t facing pressure, which ranked 17th (out of 39 quarterbacks) in the NFL. Put simply: Bradford’s drop-off in performance when under pressure was around the league average.
As a quick refresher, DVOA reflects value over an average quarterback in the same situations. As it relates to this article, DVOA isn’t the individual quarterback’s passing DVOA, but the team’s DVOA with the quarterback either passing (including sacks) or scrambling.
However, it’s not as if Bradford performed particularly well against the blitz; rather, he was about as equally bad under pressure than when not facing pressure. Bradford’s DVOA when facing pressure (-81.5 percent) ranked 27th in the NFL, while his DVOA without pressure (27.3 percent) ranked 33rd across the league.
The numbers aren’t available for this, but I’d be curious how Bradford’s performance under pressure changed over the course of the season. Based on the film, plus insight from Pat Shurmur and Ryan Day last year, it looked like Bradford performed significantly better in a crowded pocket toward the end of the season. His footwork improved, his eyes stayed up and he didn’t seem fazed by impending hits.
It’s impossible to say with certainty, but if Bradford ranked 17th in the NFL in terms of production drop-off under pressure, I imagine he would’ve ranked in the top-third of the league in the second half of the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bradford led the NFL in accuracy percentage under pressure last season, with a mark of 74.6 percent. However, that’s not necessarily indicative of success. For example, Bradford ranked 11th in the NFL last season in completion percentage, but just 26th in passer rating. Why? Probably because, according to ESPN’s splits, more than 21 percent of Bradford’s passes were thrown behind the line of scrimmage last season.
Relative to the rest of the NFC East, however, Bradford’s performance drop-off under pressure is pretty good. Kirk Cousins ranked second-to-last (36th out 37) in this category, as he was extremely good without pressure (fourth in the NFL in DVOA) and atrocious when hurried (35th in DVOA). Eli Manning, meanwhile, ranked 22nd in this category, as he was the 24th-best quarterback in terms of DVOA both with and without pressure.
“Opposing teams only managed to get pressure on Cousins 20.5 percent of the time, the fifth-lowest rate in football, which certainly helped him put up a career year,” Carl Yedor wrote. “Washington’s weak schedule (25th-ranked by DVOA) also played a part in his drastic improvement, so it will be interesting to see whether Cousins can keep up his level of play against tougher competition.”
Down in Dallas, Tony Romo didn’t play enough to qualify. Matt Cassel did, and he ranked 11th in differential, although he was bad both with (28th) and without (36th) pressure. Nick Foles’ drop-off ranked 26th in the league, and he was extremely bad both in terms of DVOA with pressure (34th) and without pressure (35th).
Yedor also added this note about the data:
Interestingly, in a change from Sterling Xie’s work from last year, the correlation coefficient between pressure rate and pressure DVOA in 2015 was 0.26, as opposed to -0.16 in the 2014 season. Instead of an increased pressure rate leading to worse DVOA when pressured, the result flipped. This is still not a very strong relationship, though, and it suggests that there is not a consistent relationship between how frequently a quarterback faces pressure and how adept he is at handling it.
20% — That’s the percentage of play-action passes Kansas City called on dropbacks last season, which ranked 12th in the NFL. The Chiefs actually threw the ball better without play-action, as their DVOA ranked 11th (25.6 percent) in such situations, compared to 20th (16 percent) with play-action.
“The Eagles used tons of play-action under Chip Kelly (though less so last season), but Doug Pederson’s offenses in Kansas City were always middling in terms of play-action usage,” Sterling Xie wrote. “Moreover, Pederson hired Frank Reich as offensive coordinator, and Reich’s Chargers finished last in play-action usage during both of his seasons as coordinator there.”
As for the Eagles’ defense last year, they fared better when defending the pass without play-action. They ranked 13th in the NFL in DVOA in such situations, giving up 6.1 yards per play, and ranked 16th in the NFL against the play-action, allowing 8.3 yards per play.
WHAT YOU MISSED
“Historically speaking, [Doug] Pederson should win at least seven games in his rookie season in Philly.” Realistic expectations for Pederson in his first season.
“On the field, Agholor and Randle appear to be the two strongest candidates to line up on the outside while Matthews is in the slot.” Analyzing the wide receiver depth chart.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
What if the Eagles lose to the Browns in the season opener? Angelo Cataldi for PhillyVoice.com discusses that possibility.
Facing the Browns in the season opener is a great way to start a football season, unless you lose. Then it is a catastrophe. Just consider for a moment the implications of a season-opening defeat:
• The cries to replace [Sam] Bradford with Carson Wentz will begin.
• Concerns about Pederson’s status as head coach will grow.
• Howie Roseman’s rebirth as GM will be stillborn.
• The fans will be apoplectic.
Think about it. Eagles fans wait seven torturous months for the start of a new football season. To lose to Cleveland in the very first game would instantly turn their excitement into anger, their hope into rage. The domino effect would be instantaneous.
Bradford’s hold on the city right now, even after a new deal worth $22 million in guaranteed money, is no stronger than the fate of his next pass. If he were to lose the opener, many fans would seek the solace of a future with Wentz as the quarterback, not Bradford.
From the last play of that demoralizing opener, the countdown would begin on how long it will take for the likeable kid from North Dakota to start his first game in the NFL, Bradford be damned. After all, if the Birds can’t beat Cleveland, is there any reason to hold out hope for 2016 anyway?
The battle for the kicker spot between Caleb Sturgis and Cody Parkey will be a position battle to watch, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNPhilly.com.
“At the end of the day, it was my job and (my mindset is) it’s still gonna be my job,” Parkey said this spring, but Sturgis won’t go down without a fight.
During spring practices, Parkey was brought back from his injury slowly, which could have played a role in his performance. In practices open to the media, Sturgis performed better than Parkey, but that won’t matter nearly as much as their performance in training camp will.
“Again, that’s a great battle going on right there,” head coach Doug Pederson said just before the team broke for summer. “We know Cody is coming off the injury from last year and he’s still working himself back into shape, so to speak. But it’s going to be a great competition going into camp. You know, not making any decisions today on that spot, but I like what I’ve seen out of both of them.”
No one cares about the kicker until it’s time for them to win the game. So, no, it’s not the most exciting battle, but it’s a pretty important one.
A look at what the national media are saying about the Eagles.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.