Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Bradford thrived with short passes vs. Falcons

Despite the new uniform, new offense and new teammates, Sam Bradford, in many ways, looked like the St. Louis Rams version of himself Monday night in the Eagles' 26-24 loss to the Falcons.

Sam Bradford throws the football against the Atlanta Falcons.
Sam Bradford throws the football against the Atlanta Falcons.Read more(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Despite the new uniform, new offense and new teammates, Sam Bradford, in many ways, looked like the St. Louis Rams version of himself Monday night in the Eagles' 26-24 loss to the Falcons.

But there was a new-car smell to the performance and some optimism considering the quarterback's efficient second half. Bradford was accurate, got the ball out quickly and for the most part avoided throwing beyond 20 yards downfield.

The short passing was game-plan specific and predicated on a Falcons defense that emphasized not getting beaten deep, Chip Kelly said Tuesday. So it would be premature to draw conclusions about the Eagles coach's plans for the season based upon one game.

"That's how they play coverage," Kelly said. "They're not going to let you get behind them. They're going to keep the ball in front of them. Look at the Super Bowl, that's what Tom Brady did all game to Seattle. You've got to throw the ball down and get the ball down the field."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn was the Seahawks' defensive coordinator last season and brought that scheme with him to Atlanta. He doesn't quite have the same talent in the secondary as he did in Seattle, but for the first 30 minutes he had the Eagles looking much as they did for an entire 60 against the Seahawks last season.

A penetrating front disrupted the Eagles' inside running game and a pass defense that utilized Cover 3 looks kept Bradford and his receivers off balance. For the most part, Bradford, who hadn't played in a regular-season game in 694 days, wasn't sharp.

"I don't attribute it to the two years," Kelly said. "But there are throws there in the first half where we weren't as crisp as we were in the second half."

Bradford threw a smidgen beyond an open Miles Austin on a seam route. He telegraphed a pass to Jordan Matthews that was easily batted away. He tossed behind Zach Ertz at the goal line. And he threw off his back foot with a defender in his face and was intercepted right before the half.

"Bad read, bad throw," Bradford said of William Moore's interception after the game. "It's just one of those things that can't happen with that little time left in the half. I have to be careful with the ball when we're backed up."

Bradford completed just 15 of 27 passes (55.6 percent) before the break, but Josh Huff, Nelson Agholor and Ertz ran wrong routes on three passes and Ryan Mathews dropped the ball on a wheel route.

DeMarco Murray and Matthews (on the game-ending deflected interception) also had drops in the second half. But aside from those two incomplete throws, Bradford connected on 21 of 23 passes in the second half.

"Even though we lost, just getting back out there again and playing ball again, especially in the second half, was a blast," Bradford said. "Once we got things rolling and we got the lead, I don't know if I've been that excited in a long time. It was good to get that feeling."

Overall, Bradford completed 36 of 52 passes for 336 yards. While those numbers were impressive, his average of 6.46 yards per attempt was not by league standards. It wasn't much more than Bradford's career average of 6.28 yards per throw.

Only one of his passes traveled beyond 20 yards. While the Falcons' coverage played a part in the lack of throws downfield, that is remarkably low number of deep balls considering the number of pass attempts.

But Bradford has never been considered a long ball guy. Some of it had to do with scheme in St. Louis, but he attempted just 169 passes beyond 20 yards in his 49 starts (3.4 per game) over four years. He completed 62 of those throws for 2,029 yards and 16 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.

To put those numbers into some sort of context, Nick Foles attempted 93 passes beyond 20 yards in 19 starts (4.9 per game) for the Eagles over the previous two seasons. He completed 38 for 1,170 yards and 16 touchdowns against four interceptions.

Foles, of course, had DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin as downfield threats. The Eagles are lacking a receiver who can comparably stretch the field, although rookie Nelson Agholor could develop into that type of weapon.

Bradford, meanwhile, wasn't so accurate on passes in between 10 and 20 yards. He completed 4 of 10 for 85 yards with an interception. He was most effective on throws of less than 10 yards over the middle (23 of 25 for 195 yards).

He took advantage of inside receivers like Matthews, Ertz and Darren Sproles who can garner yards after the catch. Two hundred and four of Bradford's 336 passing yards (60.7 percent) came after the catch. Last season, 47.9 percent of the Eagles' passing yards came after the catch.

One game isn't enough of a sample to say that the Eagles offense will look this way throughout the season. The running game deficiencies and early deficit played a large part in the pass-heavy play calling. But the skill sets of Bradford and his receivers suggest a passing offense that could resemble the Patriots.

The personnel have their obvious differences, but Kelly watched the Patriots squeak by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl just like everyone else. The Eagles are far off from remotely thinking about Seattle and the playoffs, but Bradford's performance in the second half was mostly a clinic on how to beat that kind of defense through the air.

Imagine if he had a running game.