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Bradford fitting into Eagles offense and thriving

Since it was Chip Kelly who initially went with the movie analogy, it's only fitting to find a film with a slow start and a strong finish when describing Sam Bradford's first eight games as an Eagles quarterback.

Sam Bradford.
Sam Bradford.Read more(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Since it was Chip Kelly who initially went with the movie analogy, it's only fitting to find a film with a slow start and a strong finish when describing Sam Bradford's first eight games as an Eagles quarterback.

Maybe the noir detective thriller Se7en, which builds with intensity as seven murders are committed over the course of the film? Bradford and the Eagles, of course, would likely prefer an example that didn't end with someone's severed head in a box.

But the incremental steps that Bradford has taken over the span of eight games have, for the most part, been a slow burn of improvement. There has been the occasional setback or a glimpse of greatness, but his season has progressed, Kelly said, as one would expect for someone who walked in a theater during the intermission.

"In terms of where we are as an offense with a lot of these guys, it's kind of like there was a movie being shown and he showed up halfway through it," Kelly said Monday after the Eagles won a 33-27 overtime adventure against the Cowboys. "And then he's supposed to figure out what's going on and what happened in the first half of the movie because he hasn't been with us for the amount of time that . . . some of the other guys . . . have been here.

"It's something you have to get through reps; it's not something that can be forced."

Naturally, Kelly never made anything remotely in the neighborhood of an excuse during Bradford's early season struggles. But it ended up being overly optimistic to expect the quarterback to step into a new offense after a near two-year absence and perform at a level some had projected.

Bradford hadn't exactly overcome some of the problems he had early on with turnovers, seeing the field and feeling the pocket during the month leading up to last week's bye. But you could see his comfort in the offense grow with each outing.

It wasn't until Sunday night, though, that Bradford resembled the quarterback that Kelly had likely envisioned when he dealt Nick Foles and a second-round draft pick to the Rams. He protected the football, he was repetitively accurate and he was clutch down the stretch.

"It's a great win for our team, most important," Bradford said after the game. "I'll look at the film. It's obviously nice to come out and play the way I did tonight. But in this league you can't get too high, you can't get too low."

Quarterbacks must aim to stay at a happy medium. Bradford is likely in search of some equilibrium as it relates to his performance in the first half vs. the second. He's had confounding starts and riveting finishes.

In the first half of games, Bradford has completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 821 yards and thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions. In the second half, he's had 68.7 percent accuracy, 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions. His first half vs. second half passer rating has been 62.9 vs. 95.4.

But the Eagles as a whole have been sluggish to start. They've been outscored by 40-7 in the first quarter.

"Our plan isn't to start in a hole," Kelly said. ". . . But I think the one thing about our guys, they're an extremely gritty bunch that will continue to scratch and claw and fight until the end."

The same can be said of Bradford, who completed 15 of 18 passes for 221 yards in the second half against the Cowboys. He has struggled on throws beyond 10 yards, but Bradford was especially sharp in Texas.

He completed 3 of 4 passes beyond 20 yards for 54 yards. He was a perfect 4 of 4 for 127 yards and a score on intermediate throws (10-19 yards). In Bradford's first seven games, his 48.0 rating on intermediate passing was second to last in the league, while the league average was 100.2.

His two most impressive throws on Sunday came when he dropped a feather into DeMarco Murray's lap on a 44-yard wheel route and when he hit Zach Ertz on a 27-yard fade. Kelly said those throws had been there before, though.

"You go back to the Jets game and he threw two of those same balls but we dropped them," he said.

The Eagles had their second-lowest total of drops (two) of the season against Dallas. Jordan Matthews, who had been plagued most by butter fingers, had a season-best 133 yards receiving on nine grabs. His 41-yard touchdown in overtime sealed the game.

Kelly found ways to get Matthews more vertical, having him cut upfield on familiar crossing routes. The game-winner and an earlier 28-yard catch came on similar plays. Bradford had to stand in the pocket against heavy pressure to deliver those throws.

His footwork appears cleaner in the pocket, his awareness keen as he keeps his eyes downfield. But Kelly continued to move Bradford outside on naked bootlegs and off play-action.

There are issues that remain. Bradford appeared gun shy early on and may have thrown short of the sticks on third down a few times too many. But he hasn't gotten the necessary help he needs from a collection of outside receivers that is also hobbled with Nelson Agholor and Riley Cooper battling through injuries.

But what's a great film without tension? Bradford and the Eagles just hope the season builds toward a happy finish. Asked which movie he may have been referencing, Kelly kiddingly chose one without a tidy ending.

"It was Gone With the Wind," he said.