Eagles' Sam Bradford getting 'comfortable' with offense
The quarterback, who led the Eagles to an overtime win over the Cowboys on Sunday, says he's improving as season progresses. tom,deb
THREE YEARS IN, you can't help wondering whether something like this occurs whenever the doors close behind Eagles coaches after practice.
"So what did you tell them today, Chip?" an assistant will ask with great anticipation.
"I told them Bradford's early-season troubles were akin to showing up halfway through 'Gone With the Wind,' " the coach would say, and laughter would immediately fill the room.
If so, I don't mind. I would probably be much like this if I were one of the lucky 32 paid a king's ransom to coach a National Football League team. I would answer long and detailed to general questions and short and unenlightening to more specific ones. I would say, "I disagree," when it was suggested, as I did Wednesday, that this season's special teams group, which has surrendered momentum shifting punt blocks and momentum shifting punt returns, is not as special as last year's group, which scored seven touchdowns - a huge factor in the team finishing 10-6 and not the other way around.
"I think our special teams are playing very well," Kelly said.
Kelly went on to argue that teams are kicking away from Darren Sproles and the other returners, and that the blocked punt and last Sunday's 79-yard kickoff return were blemishes inside a pretty good script.
The son of a trial lawyer, he knows how to make a weaker argument convincing. But the truth is that a couple of those seven touchdowns were not returns. And the truth is they also blocked six kicks, much of it occurring in the early going as they built a 9-3 record.
Their margin of victory in three of their first four victories was less than seven points.
They aren't within a sniff of that production this year, and that's only partially explained by the coach's contention Wednesday that teams are kicking away from their returners.
But it does no good for the palace to panic, especially in a kingdom as underwhelming as the NFC East. So Kelly's modus operandi of giving us what he wants and not what we are asking for has been amped up this season. Two days after he used his "Gone With the Wind" metaphor, the coach was asked whether "there was any specific observation" he had in watching Sam Bradford work feverishly on his fundamentals with quarterbacks coach Ryan Day over the last three weeks.
"No," said the coach.
Fortunately, the quarterback was not nearly as short when he arrived in the interview tent after practice, pinning his improved accuracy on correcting flaws in his footwork. "It was something that me and coach Day talked about," he said. "Something that both of us noticed from watching both the game tape and the practice tape. We drilled it a lot in practice the last couple of weeks and I think it's something that has paid off."
Throughout his struggles this season, Bradford has avoided embracing the excuses provided for him by others, specifically that he was shaking off the rust of two mostly inactive seasons. But after Kelly publicly embraced that broad rationale following Bradford's best performance as an Eagle Sunday, the quarterback answered a question about whether the game had finally slowed down for him like this:
"The more you do something," he said, "the more reps you get, the better you feel. And that's kind of how this process has been for me. The more I've been out there, the different looks I've seen from defenses against certain plays, the more comfortable I feel running this offense."
Bradford scored a 103.4 passer rating in the overtime victory over Dallas Sunday. His final drive, his gamelong accuracy against a Dallas defense that has been lauded for its stinginess, seemed like advanced science. It helped, of course, that Jordan Matthews caught everything thrown to him and that the Eagles' rushing attack again resembled what the resumes suggested it would, but if you believe Kelly and his loyal soldiers, it all fits into the same capsule.
The new guys, the ones who arrived halfway through, finally understand the plot. And not a moment too soon.
Gone with the wind, indeed.
"Over the past couple of weeks, we've kind of found what we're good at," Bradford said. "Some pass concepts and things that I'm comfortable with, that we're comfortable with. We just kind of repped those, so we've gotten good at those. We're just gonna go run those plays on Sunday. And I think maybe for a while, it was just finding what it is that this offense, this year, what we're going to be good at. What we're going to attack people with."
On Twitter: @samdonnellon