When Chip Kelly was handed the master key to the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2014 season, he proceeded to rip the cover off the book of conventional wisdom. He took a number of risks, none bigger than acquiring oft-injured and never productive Sam Bradford. The idea was that Bradford
would be flipped in a trade for Marcus Mariota, freed from the shackles of the Rams impotent offense in both talent and coaching, would shine on the Eagles, surrounded by talent and coaching light years ahead of what he had in St. Louis.
It hasn't happened, and Bradford shoulders a lot of the responsibility. Not all of it, obviously the complete inability of the offensive line to block defenders has crippled the run game, and that's a huge problem for a team that wants to run the ball more than anyone. But that topic has been well covered in the week and a half that the 2015 season has existed. Independent of the run game, Bradford has the Eagles passing attack looking more like a retreat. He has it looking like the St. Louis Rams offense.
The Cowboys defense gave Sam Bradford no respect, and he commanded none with his performance. It was a good and insulting game plan, harkening back to the days of teams treating Donovan McNabb's wide receivers with no respect, though this time it was the QB and the play calling that was treated poorly. For much of the game Dallas played a simple two deep, five under Cover 2. Their outside corners often pressed, which is a solid game plan when one receiver is Riley Cooper and the other is a rookie, because rookies have very little experience against press. When not pressing, they usually had the field corner (the corner on the side of the field opposite the hash the ball is lined up on) giving his reciever plenty of room to operate, because they didn't fear Bradford hurting them with a deep, across the field throw.
Brandon Carr lets Nelson Agholor go by him and keeps his eyes on Bradford. He knows Bradford isn't throwing over his head, and the Cowboys underneath defenders easily swallow up Darren Sproles.
Here Morris Claiborne does the same with Cooper, and Bradford can't make him pay.
The Cowboys weren't concerned with anything beyond a short pass, and Bradford gave them no reason to. Time and again he threw short of the sticks when the Cowboys ran Cover 2, giving his recievers little chance to make a first down.
When there were openings beyond 5-7 yards, Bradford didn't see them, instead throwing shorter passes. Here he takes the short completion to Nelson Agholor for 12 yards, but Jordan Matthews was open for 20+. The protection was good and Bradford had time to step up in the pocket for the throw.
Here Agholor is open on a 12 yard curl, and even signals to Bradford before the play. Bradford instead throws the shorter route that has no chance of advancing the ball beyond the catch. Again the protection was good, and Agholor was within the line of sight of Bradford.
By choice and by ability, Bradford presents no vertical threat. Only 175 of his 560 passing yards have come through the air, giving him a league low 1.97 air yards per attempt and 5th worst 31.3% of air yards as passing yards. These rankings are actually worse than a majority of his Rams career.
|Year||Air Yards/Attempt||Air Yards %|
|2015||34th of 34||29th of 34|
|2013||36th of 37||36th of 37|
|2012||22nd of 32||15th of 32|
|2011||25th of 34||3rd of 34|
|2010||30th of 31||27th of 31|
The hopes that Bradford would transform himself in the Chip Kelly offense simply haven't materialized because Bradford is the same quarterback he was in St. Louis: rarely attempting and completing deep passes.
Bradford simply doesn’t throw deep. This chart reflects the numbers, which note that just 9.5 percent of his pass attempts last year traveled 20 yards or more in the air; of the 39 quarterbacks who threw at least 200 passes last season, 33 threw deep more frequently than Bradford. And when Bradford did throw deep, he was terrible; his 38.9 QBR on deep passes was 33rd in the league.
That’s not exactly a one-year fluke with Bradford, either. Just 9.9 percent of his professional passes have gone 20 yards or more in the air since he arrived in the league in 2010. Among regular starters over that time frame, only Alex Smith, Matt Schaub, and Matt Ryan (at a league-low 8.0 percent) have been less likely to air it out. During his career, per ESPN Stats & Information, the average Bradford pass has traveled just 7.5 yards in the air. The only regular passer in that time making shorter throws is Alex Smith.
In fairness to Bradford, there were some bad drops by Eagles receivers, and the Cowboys squatting on short passes all game long wasn't entirely his fault. With the run game again going nowhere, Chip Kelly again substituted rushing attempts with short passes. Coupled with the Cowboys already putting more defenders underneath than receivers the Eagles ran there, results were predictably inefficient. In 27 meaningful pass attempts (all those before the game was 20-10 with 4:07 to go in the fourth quarter, and not counting two 3rd and 21s, which Bradford dumped off to the RB both times anyway), the Eagles sent just one receiver further than 10 yards 11 times, nearly half of such attempts. It is difficult to throw deep when receivers aren't running deep.
But when they were running deep, or even intermediate routes, Bradford often was not throwing to them, and when he did he could not complete the pass. There's plenty of blame to go around for the offense's issues, Bradford is as responsible for it as anyone. He's been the same player he was in St. Louis, and that isn't good enough.