One of the biggest debates of the preseason for the Philadelphia Eagles is how much to play Sam Bradford. He’s torn his ACL twice in the past two seasons and hasn’t played in a regular season game in a very long time. Chip Kelly held him out of their first preseason game against the Colts, but unleashed him in their game against the Ravens. Although there was some clear rust, he looked good to go.
However, after the recent discussion over the low hit that Bradford took from Terrell Suggs in the Ravens’ game, there is some sentiment that the Eagles shouldn’t be running zone read plays or other formations that can often lead to the quarterback getting hit a lot. The problem is, they really can’t hold back with their offense.
When the Eagles traded for Bradford all the way back in March, they knew what they were getting. They knew they were taking a risk on a player who is coming off two consecutive serious knee injuries whose career very well may be over if he were the suffer a third. They knew that there was at least a 10 percent chance that he could tear his ACL again. They knew he often struggled in St. Louis despite being a former No. 1 overall pick in the draft. But they saw potential in him behind all the bad in his career thus far.
Reporters all over the place, covering either the Eagles exclusively, the NFL or sports in general, have given Bradford positive reviews so far in Philadelphia. His arm strength and accuracy are his strongest attributes, and the Eagles will be sure to utilize those effectively. However, they can’t afford to go out of their way to be extra cautious with Bradford.
The Eagles play fast, that’s just how Chip Kelly’s offense is. They run no huddle, they run shotgun, and they sometimes will run zone reads or read options, as I mentioned before. This requires the quarterback to make a split second decision on whether to hand it off to a running back or keep it. It also often results in defensive player purposely being left unblocked due to the offensive line only blocking in one direction, depending on the specific play call. In college football, this type of play is extremely popular, and any option offense like that can lead to the quarterback handing the ball off at the last possible moment before getting crushed by a defender. This is just what happens.
Bradford is going to get hit this year. He’s going to get sacked. He’s going to probably get injured in some form or another. It’s impossible to avoid it, that’s just how the NFL game is. But if the Eagles are uncomfortable with him getting hit, they shouldn’t have traded for him the in the first place. Not that Nick Foles was the answer at all, because he probably wasn’t, but at least he didn’t have two knee injuries. If injuries were going to hold back their offensive play calls, they should’ve instead acquired a player who hadn’t been hurt so severely. It’s as simple as that.
Also, they should’ve put a higher premium on their offensive linemen, regardless of age or contract situation. In the end, it was the Eagles’ decision to cut both Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis. Herremans was a long-time starter and Mathis was a former All-Pro in Philly. There’s no denying that they’re aging, but there’s also no denying that at least Mathis is still a very talented player. The replacements, likely Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner, have a combined 16 starts in their NFL careers. It’s not unfair to question how they’ll fare in 2015, as well as the offensive line as a unit.
So if they knowingly allowed the offensive line to get worse as a unit and bring in a quarterback with a serious injury history, should they be more careful and change their offense a bit to keep him more protected? The answer is no. They just can’t afford this. Everyone in the league knows that Bradford has an injury history, and regardless of if Suggs “tried” to hit Bradford low on the controversial hit, they just can’t worry about it. They’re stuck with Bradford and have to deal with it.
It’s very possible that opposing defensive players will be aware of Bradford’s knee history and purposely try to hit him there. It’s also very possible that nobody is thinking that and that people are overreacting to the Suggs hit. At the end of the day, hitting a quarterback below the knees after a pass is illegal anyway. But Suggs’ comments about the situation, in which he basically suggested the Eagles shouldn’t run zone reads or similar plays with a player like Bradford, caused some concern.
But, after Kelly’s press conference today, he said this hit occurred on a normal hand-off and said it’s wrong for quarterbacks to be allowed to get hit in that situation, just because they lined up in the shotgun. Whether the play really was a regular hand-off or not doesn’t matter to my argument though. The point is, there’s always going to be a risk. No matter what formation, play or situation, there’s always the slight chance that Bradford will get hit the wrong way and get hurt again. This is a risk that Kelly is willing to take, and fans have to be okay with it because he’s going forward with it either way. The Eagles just have to hope people sufficiently block for him.
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