Yesterday I broke down just how bad the Eagles ground game was on Sunday. Problems amongst almost every member of the offensive line. Still, it isn’t the first time an NFL team has had to overcome a poor ground game performance. Unfortunately, the Eagles passing offense might be even worse right now with erratic QB play front and center. When Chip Kelly traded Nick Foles and a 2nd round pick for Sam Bradford all the concern was surrounding Bradford’s health. People thought it was a terrible move considering he was coming off back to back ACL injuries. That said, the optimists among us said if, just if, Sam could stay healthy he’s the exact QB Chip Kelly is looking for. Great arm, intelligent, quick decision maker with repetitive pinpoint accuracy. Despite Sam’s lackluster QB stats and win-loss record, of which most blamed coaching and supporting cast, people believed that Bradford could still be what everyone thought he would be as the #1 overall pick many years ago.
2 games into Bradford’s tenure and he looks nothing like that QB. We saw a glimpse with the 2nd half performance against the Falcons of what Bradford can potentially be when the offense is in rhythm. Unfortunately, up to this point the offense hasn’t found a rhythm and Bradford might be the major culprit. So far, he looks like an inaccurate, in over his head, inconsistent 2 reads and a cloud of dust QB. Surely, Sam is not the only guy to blame on what has been a dreadful offense to start the season, but in the end he’s had pretty good pass protection across the board and has had numerous opportunities to overcome some of the struggles in the run game. His defense has kept him in the game, and when the team absolutely needs a play, you expect that to come from the highest paid member of your franchise. Sam hasn’t been up to the task. Let’s have a look at a couple of themes I spotted on Sunday.
I’m going to drop the “repetitive” aspect, because you first have to be accurate to be considered to have “repetitive” accuracy. Sam has not been. Here’s a nice play design on a 3 x 1 formation against the Cowboys:
Matthews and Huff are lined up on the inside with Agholor on the outside. Matthews and Huff will run deep patterns to occupy the deep safety. Agholor has a ton of room to work inside and underneath. The Cowboys CB gives him a clean release to the inside. Agholor is wide open:
First, let’s note that Bradford has a clean pocket and lots of room to step up.
But he sails the ball over Agholor and it’s not even close.
For the 2nd straight week, the game was essentially sealed on a Bradford INT that bounced off the hands of the intended receiver. While in both cases, Matthews and Ertz probably should have caught the ball, Bradford’s accuracy is not shining and he’s not showing good ball placement. On this throw to Ertz he has a ton of open field in front of him. However, Bradford, once again with a clean pocket and room to step up:
He throws a little behind Ertz forcing him to contort his body and high point the ball when he really shouldn’t need to. Even if Ertz catches this ball, Sam has squandered the opportunity for some additional YAC.
Let’s look at some familiar offensive concepts the Eagles run. We’ve talked about the snag concept. It’s a 3 WR route concept designed to give the QB 3 reads to one side of the field. Generally the first read is the deep corner route being run by Jordan Matthews. Cooper will run the snag route underneath and Celek will run to the flat:
As the play unravels, Bradford has exactly what he wants. Jordan Matthews in one-on-one coverage on the deep corner route with about 15 yards of sideline and no safety help over the top:
Bradford successfully hit this throw in the preseason and in week 1. Again, look how much much green area he has to the sideline to get this ball to Matthews.
His attempt here is absolutely putrid and he almost throws an INT:
Man vs. Zone Coverage:
Something that is worth watching moving forward is how defenses are mixing man and zone coverage. In his first year, teams deployed zone coverage and Chip roasted them. They quickly moved to man coverage and slowed the Eagles down a bit. Chip talked obsessively about the need to beat man coverage at the pro level. He saw more in year 2 but also teams went back to zone as well. The Cowboys mixed their man and zone coverages very nicely on Sunday and it appeared to really slow down Bradford. The Eagles ran their staple mesh concepts on Sunday on numerous occasions with limited success. Here the Eagles show their characteristic wheel route and mesh concept. Murray will run a wheel route out of the backfield and Matthews and Ertz will run shallow drags in opposite directions. This has proven to be a good man beater for Chip's scheme in the past because it generally creates traffic in the middle of the field and the Eagles use rub concepts well to naturally pick off defenders. However, you'll note below that the Cowboys are going to drop into zone coverage:
By employing zone, all of the Eagles eligible receivers essentially run right into coverage:
On the Bradford interception in the red zone, the Eagles went back to this play and this time they draw man coverage:
Note all the traffic is in the middle of the field but if there is a time to throw to ball to Ertz it is now. He comes open initially and if Bradford quickly unloads the ball high and into the back of the end zone he probably has a TD to Ertz. However, he waits, presumably to see if Josh Huff or Brent Celek come open underneath as the featured receivers on this concept. As expected, Brandon Carr initially loses Huff in the mesh. Josh Huff comes wide open albeit a little short of the goaline and directly in Bradford's line of sight:
Instead Bradford waits and is locked on Ertz in the back of the end zone. As other have mentioned, you can see that Sean Lee has his back turned to Bradford. As a result, it's not a terrible idea to throw the ball to Ertz here but the ball placement is absolutely crucial: If he throws the ball high and over Lee's head, he's putting it in a place where only Ertz can make a play on it:
Instead Bradford throws it low and directly into Sean Lee's waiting arms. I can say quite confidently that Bradford doesn't necessarily want the read back, but he absolutely wants that throw back. Just awful ball placement and sadly it's something we've seen all too much in Bradford's first 2 games.
Sticking with man vs. zone, here's a concept we saw last week against the Falcons where the Eagles run a switch concept to the top of the screen with Jordan Matthews running the wheel route to the outside. If this is man coverage, you hope to create confusion and maybe even a natural rub from Agholor:
But instead, it's zone coverage and the Cowboys have it covered. Sam is slow in his recognition and holds the ball waiting for someone to get open. Sam needs to recognize zone coverage quicker there and move along through his progressions. Instead he waits and fires a ball to Agholor who is blanketed off the mark. The Eagles generally like to use pre-snap motion to tip off zone vs. man coverage. We haven't seen that as much this year but it's something that may be helpful for Sam:
You'll see the same concept on the bottom of the screen below. This time the Cowboys are in man coverage:
Matthews will again run the wheel route to the sideline:
Bradford has the matchup he wants and unloads quickly:
Good ball placement as Matthews is tugged by the defender. Pass interference on the Cowboys:
Here's one more 3 man route concept against zone coverage that highlights Bradford locking into his primary read and not allowing a play to develop. Note how this concept puts the Cowboys slot receiver into a bind. He picks up the tight end down the seam as he occupies his zone
He gets caught with his eyes on Bradford and Agholor sneaks behind:
Unfortunately, Bradford is too quick to throw underneath to Ertz and while the result is a completed pass, Bradford leaves a big one on the field there. More proof that he just isn't exhibiting good patience and is not seeing the field well and evaluating zone coverage:
The Supporting Cast:
When you are an offense that is struggling with an unproductive ground game and a struggling QB. Someone needs to step up and make a play. The Eagles receivers have not been able to bail out the offense at all. Here Bradford has Miles Austin down the field in man coverage
Bradford quickly recognizes it, and although Austin is not open, he's going to give his receiver a chance:
Bradford makes a really nice back-shoulder throw against man coverage to a spot where only Austin can make the catch. Austin gets both hands on the ball but the Cowboys DB makes a nice play to knock it away. It's these types of plays that the Eagles desperately need to make as they continue to struggle.
For the 2nd straight week the Eagles get a nice play called back with offensive pass interference. Like Agholor's gaffe last week, Zach Ertz needs to do a better job with a more "subtle" pick. The Eagles are setting up the screen here and will have 3 OL release downfield. All Ertz has to do is get in the way of the defender. Instead he knocks him on his ass. Obvious penalty and he draws the flag calling back a nice play and setting the Eagles up with yet another unfavorable down and distance:
The next one is just a really odd play. Again, it's a 3 man route concept with Ertz drawing the deep safety in giving Riley Cooper single man coverage down the field.
Again, Bradford is going to give his guy a chance to make a play:
Cooper is open and Bradford seems to make a good throw, but somehow it looks as though Cooper gets distracted by outstretched arms of the DB whom he just beat. The result is an incomplete pass on yet another missed opportunity:
This last play sums up this post in a nutshell. The routes are below but Bradford will be looking for Jordan Matthews on the deep cross down the middle of the field. Note the deep safety is 20 yards of the ball:
After the snap the safety backpedals even more and Matthews has ton of space in front of him. He just needs to beat his man coverage which he does with ease. Note the exceptionally clean pocket for Bradford as well as the amount of green space he has between Matthews and the boundary:
But Bradford doesn't get the throw out far enough and Matthews has to reach down for it. This is a catch, as I've mentioned, that Matthews has to make, but again, it's poor ball placement from Bradford where he had a clean pocket and a wide window to throw this ball into:
Between this and the previous post, it all adds up to one of the most dysfunctional offensive performances I have ever seen.