Sam Bradford flashes potential, needs help from supporting cast
Despite a disappointing loss to the Redskins on Sunday, quarterback Sam Bradford had the best game of his Eagles career so far.
Bradford graded out at +4.2, pulling his overall season grade to -2.9 (No. 23 among quarterbacks). He logged a league-high PPF QB rating of 111.48, gained 9.89 yards per attempt, and most impressively, completed four-of-five passes to the deep middle of the field for a pair of touchdowns. This strong outing gives the Eagles a glimmer of hope, but he’ll need more support if there is hope of long-term success.
The lack of success on the ground has been an obvious issue for Philadelphia, leading to a lack of offensive balance. The Eagles’ running backs are averaging 3.1 yards per carry through Week 4, with big-ticket free agent signee DeMarco Murray averaging 1.6 yards a pop. Ryan Mathews graded positively against Washington (+1.5), and should see further repeats of the 25 carries he was given against the Jets.
Drops by receivers have also been a major concern—most notably Jordan Matthews’ last-minute tipped ball against Atlanta that allowed Ricardo Allen to make the game-clinching interception. Bradford has had 9.7 percent of his pass attempts dropped, and has lost 133 air yards as a result.
One of the more surprising developments has been the lack of a play action game in the Eagles’ offense; they are using play action on 13.6 percent of the time when passing, down from 32.3 percent with Nick Foles last year.
Conventional wisdom would lead you to think that this decrease in play action usage is linked to Philadelphia’s poor rushing attack. In reality, a strong running game often has little bearing on success with play action passes; look at Andrew Luck’s 2014 season, where he compiled a fantastic 12-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio on play action passes, and 8.9 yards per attempt with distinctly average rushing.
Bradford enjoys a 1.2-yard bump when running play action, and his QB rating improves from 80.1 to 98.6. Play action would also simplify his reads and keep the opposing defenses honest.
Employing a quick-strike passing attack should also pay dividends. His average time to attempt sits at 2.49 seconds, half a second slower than the quickest time; that half second can make all the difference in the NFL, especially when you are getting pressured on 50 percent of your dropbacks, like Bradford was against the Redskins. His average of four seconds from snap to sack indicates that he is holding the ball too long (partly a result of receivers failing to separate), and that some of those sacks could have been avoided.
Before injury ended his 2013 season, Bradford ranked eighth in the league with a 74.7 accuracy percentage. His 75.6 percent figure so far this season shows no diminishment in that aspect of his game. With a defense ranked fourth in our grading system, and favorable matchups on the horizon, all Bradford needs to do is produce some solid football, and the Eagles may become contenders in a wide open NFC East.