While Sam Bradford Struggles, Where Does He Stand?


The Philadelphia Eagles are beginning to show signs of life. Staring down the prospects of a disastrous 1-4 start, the offensive engine revved to life and propelled the Eagles to victory over the New Orleans Saints two weeks ago. In week six, the results were similar, yet the process was very different; a dominant win in dire straits, albeit on the back of a stifling defensive effort.

Despite two red zone turnovers, the Eagles thoroughly eviscerated the Saints defense, and Sam Bradford put together a compelling performance in the process. Against the Giants, Bradford took a step back statistically, tossing 3 picks and drawing a collective sigh from the fan base. It’s been tough sledding for the Eagles quarterback, however, things have been somewhat better than you might expect.

There’s little doubt that Bradford underperformed against New York. An otherwise solid effort was mired by a few errant passes, several of which he was solely to blame. But in every week following the Eagles first win –and oddly enough perhaps Bradford’s worst performance– we have seen tangible progression from a fundamental standpoint.

After Bradford’s poor performance against the Jets, I had this to say about his mechanics:

"Bradford had issues with balance, leading to some errant throws. The play in which Bradford fired low to Nelson Agholor –who had a step inside– is a prime example of this. Bradford steps up into a beautiful pocket and, while gaining ground on his plant, allows his upper body to subtly leak over his plant foot and in front of his arm. A passer’s inability to lead with his arm will undermine his ability to establish his release point and effectively locate passes with any semblance of consistency.The more balanced and controlled a thrower can be in delivering the ball, the easier it is to manipulate release point and avoid misfires. Because Bradford leans froward with his upper half he is forced to compensate and adjust his release; he doesn’t stand tall and dominate/manipulate the ball as he has in the past and the throw skips in to his target."

It was abundantly clear that Bradford wasn’t comfortable during this game. He looked stiff, slow, and borderline arthritic in his movements. This caused a breakdown in mechanics that, earlier in his career, generally didn’t occur. This level of discomfort for Bradford can be largely attributed to his mental/physical progression  in the wake of his ACL recovery, as well as his acclimation to a new offense. The following week against Washington, Bradford took a step forward, and appeared more comfortable and confident. He was still somewhat limited physically, however the difference from the prior week was apparent:

"Bradford’s footwork was better, nothing spectacular, but much choppier and more under control than in weeks past. Where I was very impressed was with his improved balance, body awareness, and penchant for leading with his hand/arm. Bradford consistently stood tall and let it rip against Washington, exemplifying the concept of “quiet body, loud hands;” simplifying and controlling his body movements while maintaining arm speed.The results were pretty, as Bradford drilled several drive throws right between the numbers. Bradford’s previous mechanical flaws had led to the quarterback’s inability to throw through targets –and at an appropriate height– as he was constantly either under/overcompensating for a dragging arm. Now, he’s letting his arm do the work and his release is markedly better.The Eagles are far from out of the woods yet, as Bradford still seems skittish at times, struggling with a muddied pocket compared to in the past, but it’s a step in the right direction. If Bradford can reflect his confidence in delivering the ball deep onto his pocket presence, the potential is there. Bradford is feeling the rush, and is very hesitant to hang in the pocket without dropping his eyes or getting overtly defensive."

Now, from week 4 in Washington to weeks 5 and 6, Bradford has demonstrated yet another significant leap. He looks undeniably strong in the pocket compared to his early-season self. He’s maneuvering quickly around the pocket and is planting/driving with much more authority. Everything he does looks a lot more natural and dynamic. There is simply no stiffness or tentativeness to his game, as there was before. Instead, he’s simply allowed to play without being over encumbered by the burden of his previous injuries. This has allowed Bradford to be more comfortable stepping into the line of fire and delivering passes.

This jump in physical performance has been a boon to his play. Yes, Bradford has made his share of mistakes. The overthrow to Zach Ertz early in the game was the result of a poor release, and the under throw later on was just that; a poorly placed ball that should’ve been a few yards deeper. Bradford is just rediscovering his physical peak, and as a result, his game is evolving from week to week. Along with the improvement from week 3 to 4, we saw Bradford take more shots downfield. Since then, he has been more likely to pull the trigger on throws that he seldom even considered during weeks 1 through 3.

The results have been mixed as Bradford continues to get more comfortable, both from a physical and a scheme perspective, however, the skill set he has demonstrated recently is much more conducive to sustained success than what he has previously shown. The tentative and conservative play from earlier in the season shrunk the field and made things difficult on the Eagles offense. Now, things have opened up a bit, and with the run game clicking he’s taking advantage of opportunities in the deep-intermediate sections of the field. This will lead to more mistakes than in previous weeks, but it’s necessary for a quarterback to take calculated risks.

Despite what has been considered a sub-par performance from Bradford in recent weeks, his numbers have improved by a wide margin. Splitting Bradford’s season in half, statistically, supports the idea of steady improvement from week to week. During the first 3 weeks of the season, Bradford’s tentative play led to a pathetic 5.57 YPA, and 71.9 passer rating. Since then, Bradford has posted a YPA of 8.13 and 90.8 passer rating; a monumental improvement over the first 3 games.

What this illustrates is Bradford’s efficiency and his improved ability/willingness to push the ball down the field. Yes, Bradford’s recent performances leave something to be desired, and there is much room for improvement, however, you can’t ignore the fact that he is trending in the right direction. His interception numbers have spiked (when considering the deflected INTs of weeks passed), however, that is to be expected given the greater risk assumed in testing the defense.

To be clear, I’m not expecting Bradford to spontaneously evolve into Aaron Rodgers, but there exists the false lingering notion that he can’t/hasn’t improved. Whether or not Bradford is franchise QB material remains to be seen, however, it’s clear that he continues to improve as he comes along from his injury and becomes better acclimated in the offense.

Next: Eagles Defense to Face a Different Test Against Panthers

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