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Bradford will face defense run by his first NFL coach

Sam Bradford's introduction to the NFL came under Steve Spagnuolo, his first head coach with the St. Louis Rams. Bradford and Spagnuolo met each week to discuss defenses, a crash course for Bradford on what to expect in the NFL.

Sam Bradford.
Sam Bradford.Read more( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )

Sam Bradford's introduction to the NFL came under Steve Spagnuolo, his first head coach with the St. Louis Rams. Bradford and Spagnuolo met each week to discuss defenses, a crash course for Bradford on what to expect in the NFL.

Spagnuolo, a former Eagles assistant, was fired by the Rams after the 2011 season. He is now the New York Giants' defensive coordinator. On Monday, Bradford will face a Spagnuolo-coached defense for the first time since his practices with the Rams.

Some of it will look familiar to Bradford, although he pointed out that he has seen a lot of defenses since then – plus, the Eagles have different offensive packages than Bradford used with the Rams. But Bradford should have his arm ready, because the Giants' pass defense is ranked last in the NFL and will miss top cornerback Prince Amukamara for two to four weeks with a pectoral injury.

"If it comes down to it," Bradford said, "we feel confident where our pass game's at."

Bradford said the statistics are skewed against the Giants' pass defense because their run defense (No. 2 in the NFL) forces teams to pass. Quarterbacks average 43.4 pass attempts per game against the Giants - the second most in the NFL.

It's a good time for Bradford to catch the Giants, because the Eagles quarterback is playing better than he did earlier in the season. He had 603 passing yards and five touchdowns in the last two games, and by his own admission, he's more comfortable in Chip Kelly's offense.

"My pocket awareness and pocket movement last week was probably better than it has been the previous few weeks," Bradford said. "That's something that, looking back on the first couple of weeks, I felt like my feet were all over the place. My pocket movement wasn't great. That was just a comfort thing. Now that I've been in there, that's allowed me to be more comfortable and get to some of my third and fourth progressions."

Bradford compares quarterbacking the Eagles to playing point guard in an up-tempo basketball offense. He wants to spread the ball around to different targets. Ten players have catches this season. Nine caught passes in last Sunday's win.

Bradford also is more comfortable in the locker room. His pregame pep talk to the offense in the Lincoln Financial Field shower became a popular story - Bradford wished it had stayed private - but it was evidence of Bradford's growing leadership role.

"I think for anybody coming in new to an organization or a team . . . you've got to establish yourself a little bit before you can start to [talk]," Kelly said. "Anybody would be like, 'Why is this guy telling me something to do? He just got here.' And I think Sam handled it really well. Sam was a little bit more quiet in April and May because he wasn't really full-go in terms of what we were doing. But I think as he has gotten more snaps, as he came back to preseason camp and we started rolling here in August, you could start to see him assert himself a little bit more."

Bradford said Sunday's speech was his first of that kind with the Eagles. He tries to pick his spots, and he felt the "time was right." He does not have the reputation for being a fiery leader, although he thinks he can be miscast.

"I feel like . . . people question my leadership because I'm quiet, but they don't see what I do behind the scenes," Bradford said. "I'm very comfortable stepping up saying something when I feel it needs to be said."

Bradford said it's not much different from when he entered the league under Spagnuolo in St. Louis. He just needed to establish himself on the team first. It's now six weeks into the season and he's been in the locker room since April, so his teammates have a better sense of who he is.

The locker room speeches work only if he's hitting his receivers and not throwing the ball to the other team. Bradford has shown reasons for optimism in recent weeks, but most of that damage has come in the second half of games. Bradford must improve his play early in the games. He has a 65.6 quarterback rating in the first half of games this season and a 102.1 rating in the second half.

The Giants defense won't look familiar just to Bradford, but also to Eagles fans. Spagnuolo is influenced by former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, with disguised blitzes from the edges. Kelly said that with any blitz, there are opportunities if they can recognize it in time.

If the performances of other quarterbacks against the Giants are any indication, then Bradford will be busy on Sunday. And the coordinator trying to stop him is the one who first taught Bradford about NFL defenses.

"I don't really know if there is an advantage," Bradford said. "It's been a long time since we worked together. We've both changed over the last four to five years."

Extra points

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor (ankle) did not practice for the second consecutive day. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring), linebacker Kiko Alonso (knee), and defensive end Brandon Bair (groin) also missed practice. Kendricks ran on the side Thursday and was encouraged by how well he moved. He said he was taking his injury "day by day," and was not ruled out for the Giants game. However, he also said he wants to be cautious with the hamstring injury.

zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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