For all the talk about how Sam Bradford has improved recently, the Eagles' starting quarterback will face a big test this weekend as the Cardinals come to town. The Arizona defense is really good. It ranks fourth overall by Football Outsiders and is tied for the eighth least yards per play allowed. The Cardinals rank tied for second (with the Eagles) for most takeaways at 25. Part of the reason why the red Birds are able to make opponents make mistakes is due to the pressure they generate. Arizona blitzes on 46.9% of their snaps, which is more than any other defense in the NFL.
"So one out of every two snaps, somebody is coming, and they bring them from all different areas," Chip Kelly said during his Wednesday press conference. "So they have continued what [Todd Bowles] was doing there and actually [blitzing] a little bit more. So it's something, we had a high blitz number going into the Bills game and really had to prepare for that. You always have to prepare for blitz, but these last two opponents, the Bills and the Cardinals, are teams that are really going to come after you. A big part of our preparation this week is trying to handle those blitzes and how we're going to be able to pick them up."
The Eagles were able to handle the Bills' blitz effectively enough to beat Buffalo. On 13 dropbacks where he faced the blitz, Bradford completed seven of his 13 attempts (53.8%) for 87 yards, zero touchdowns, zero interceptions, zero sacks and a 74.8 rating. Those certainly aren't flashy numbers, but the key was that he didn't get pressured into making mistakes. Instead, Bradford made good decisions to beat the blitz, as highlighted by the great Fran Duffy of PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
Shot 4 - Same play design, but Bradford reads presnap pressure & goes to his man blitz beater backside for 1st down pic.twitter.com/dXsxzdTy7f— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 15, 2015
Shot 7 - Same deal on this 18yd completion to Josh Huff. Throw hitch vs off coverage instead of running into blitz pic.twitter.com/Dms0B9Bbba— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 15, 2015
These plays are nice, but let's take a look at the bigger picture. Here are Bradford's career numbers against the blitz:
As you can see, he hasn't been great against the blitz in 2015. His completion percentage ranks near the bottom of the NFL:
QBs w/ lowest comp % vs. blitz Cassel 44.0 Bradford 47.8 Tannehill 48.0 Kaepernick 48.7 Cutler 50.4 Winston 50.9 E.Manning 52.0 Luck 52.8— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 16, 2015
But a look at his performance against the blitz since 2013 is more encouraging. In 150 dropbacks since then, Bradford has completed 83 out of 146 attempts (56.8%) for 852 yards, 10 touchdowns, one interceptions, two sacks, and a 92.8 passer rating. Again, he's not lighting the world on fire, but he's not making killer mistakes that the blitz is designed to force.
Despite Arizona being so blitz heavy, they haven't always been able to capitalize on that pressure by taking down the quarterback. The Cardinals' pass rush ranks tied for 25th in sacks with only 24 through 13 games. Instead, the Cardinals have used their blitz to force the opposing quarterback into mistakes. If Bradford can continue to limit his errors against the blitz as he has in the past, the Eagles just might be able to beat it. Then all the Eagles will have to worry about is Arizona's high-powered offense ...