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Collinsworth says Bradford has taken a big step

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER Cris Collinsworth watched Sam Bradford step forward in the pocket with a crowd of defenders around him Sunday in the Eagles-Bills game. He threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor.

Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford.
Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford.Read more(David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

Cris Collinsworth watched Sam Bradford step forward in the pocket with a crowd of defenders around him Sunday in the Eagles-Bills game. He threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor.

"Wow," Collinsworth uttered to himself.

Collinsworth, the Emmy award-winning analyst for NBC's Sunday Night Football, will be part of the broadcast team for the Eagles-Cardinals game on Sunday. He studied the Eagles this week and his first takeaway was the performance of Bradford.

"I thought how he played last week was a big step," Collinsworth said Thursday in a telephone interview. "Guys that are hurt tend to not keep their eyes down the field that much, and especially since he's gone through so much. . . . What he did on that play . . . his eyes never left downfield. Despite all the traffic and all the stuff around his legs, he was off-balanced, he still made the play."

Collinsworth noticed the "accuracy that you'd expect from the first overall pick." The blemish on Bradford's performance was the sack he took in the fourth quarter, which Collinsworth said stood out in an otherwise clean performance.

The TV analyst said the victory also showed the importance of left tackle Jason Peters to the offense. He saw Agholor drop passes that "I never saw him drop in college," which surprised Collinsworth because he thought the Eagles "hit the pick." Collinsworth was encouraged by the way Agholor moved after missing time with a high ankle sprain, and still thinks that the first-round pick will be a player.

Collinsworth offered a different spin on the running back situation. He did not fret about DeMarco Murray's reduced role and saw the benefits of the Eagles' using different running backs.

"I know outside the Eagles complex everybody looks at this as a huge controversy," Collinsworth said. "I think inside, because of the pace they want to play on offense, would they necessarily have three running backs that they're rotating through there? Probably not, maybe they would only have two. But they have three with different skill sets, and arguably four. I think they like having guys fresh. . . . They consider it like a blessing."

On defense, rookie cornerback Eric Rowe impressed Collinsworth. He said that the Eagles were helped by moving safety Malcolm Jenkins back to the slot and that linebacker Kiko Alonso is "finally getting healthy . . . and understanding the scheme a little bit." He called defensive end Fletcher Cox the best player on the Eagles and defensive end Vinny Curry the team's best pass rusher.

Collinsworth is an investor in Pro Football Focus, a website that evaluates and rates player performance. He uses the data from Pro Football Focus to help supplement his film study.

When he studied the Eagles' numbers, the player that most intrigued him is Walter Thurmond, who is ranked among "the upper-echelon safeties" in his first year at the position.

"And it's deserved," Collinsworth said. "It's sort of a new era of safeties a little bit. . . . His run defensive grade is positive, his pass rush grade is positive - he's proven to be that complete safety that you wouldn't expect in the first year doing it."

Collinsworth has called Eagles games twice this season - an Oct. 25 loss to Carolina and a Nov. 8 win over Dallas. This will be the sixth week he sees an NFC East team. That provides an inside look at the crowded division race, and Collinsworth is taking the Eagles seriously.

"You start to say, 'Who's hot?' " Collinsworth said. "There's a lot of good things going on now with Philadelphia. . . . Could the Eagles put together a streak here and knock off the Patriots, and knock off one of the top seeds in the NFC? I'd feel a little differently about them. That's what I'm looking for against another quality opponent here."