One of the more shocking moves of the 2015 NFL offseason came when Eagles head coach Chip Kelly traded his starting quarterback Nick Foles, who was only one year removed from his 27 touchdown/2 interception season, along with a second round pick for the oft injured Rams quarterback, Sam Bradford. The St. Louis quarterback was formerly a number one overall draft pick, but has not played since halfway through the 2013 season due to two left ACL injuries. In the Rams’ offense, Bradford was never consistently surrounded by great talent, and the scheme changed on an almost yearly basis. Bradford had some decent games, but never really stood out in the limited offense. Kelly’s quarterback gamble was clear: Hope that the injury prone quarterback could rekindle the magic that made him the number one overall draft pick now that he is in the Eagles up-tempo attack, where there are better skill players and linemen than who Bradford ever played with in St. Louis.
The big reason that this gamble was wise is because of how Bradford fits in the offense. While there are many misconceptions about what Kelly wants in a quarterback, I believe his move for Bradford perfectly illustrates the traits that Kelly values most: accuracy and decision making. The Eagles spread offense moves at a rapid pace, and the quarterback is the key to it all. Kelly gives his quarterbacks lots of control. There are many run/pass option plays where the quarterback must make a decision and get the ball to the right spot quickly. For this offense to be at its best, the quarterback must be able to consistently make the right decisions and be accurate with the football.
This is where Bradford fits. Before his injury in 2013, Bradford was on pace for his best NFL season yet. He’d only thrown an interception on 1.5% of his passes, a career best, and was completing a career high 60.7% of his passes. This is what Kelly is looking for. Efficiency is the key to the offense, and Bradford is a good decision maker who will usually make the right throw. He also gets the ball out fast. Through the 2015 preseason, Bradford has only taken 2.45 seconds to throw the football, which is more than half a second faster than Foles last year. Once again, this fits what Chip is looking for: quick, smart decision making with outstanding accuracy.
So now let’s head to the film room. In only his second game with the Eagles, Bradford went 10-10 for 121 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a near-perfect 156.7 passer rating. The Eagles offense has been dominant through 12 quarters of preseason play, averaging 28.33 points per game, outscoring their opponents by a total of 63 points. Last Sunday was the best game yet, as the Eagles went to halftime with a 39-14 lead over the Green Bay Packers and starters played into the second quarter. The Packers weren’t a pushover team either. This is one of the best teams in the conference who had many starters on the field.
Now with that being said: this is still preseason. The Eagles offense was incredibly vanilla from a play calling standpoint, as Kelly only showed a handful of passing concepts and did not hardly even try to disguise them. It is always dangerous to come to too many conclusions from preseason play, but I believe that this game really illustrates what the Eagles found in Bradford, and why they are poised to be a much better team in 2015.
Of Bradford’s 10 completions, one came on a running back screen, one came on a shallow cross route, one on a post/wheel combo, and another on a deep crossing route. The rest came on two different plays: Snag and Mesh. These plays are staples of the Eagles offense favorites of Chip Kelly. The Philadelphia coach really wants to beat man coverage, and these are two of his favorite play calls versus man.
First is Mesh. The concept is simple. The Eagles have three receivers lined up inside. The inside receiver on the right runs an inside hook route, and the outside receiver on the right and slot receiver on the left run the mesh. They each run shallow crossing routes from opposite sides of the field. This is a very effective plays versus man coverage because the crossing routes result in a natural pick on the man defenders. With three receivers all running through the same area, at least one defender often gets caught up in traffic and out of position.
Here’s an example from Saturday. Kelly calls the mesh play for Bradford and the offense.
You can see here that Nelson Agholor has his left hand extended. The Eagles teach their receivers to give each other a “low-5” as they cross to ensure that there is no room for a defender to come in between. You see this principle here as Micah Hyde (#33) for the Packers had to go over Agholor’s route coming from the right, and that left Jordan Matthews wide open for an easy throw-and-catch and a 7 yard gain.
Later on the same drive, the Eagles were faced with a fourth-and-goal and went back to Mesh. Here, they added a rail route out of the backfield by running back Ryan Matthews. This is Bradford’s first read on the play. If he is matched up with a linebacker, then he may be able to get open because the two crossers coming from the right form another natural pick.
Packers linebacker Sam Barrington (#58) does a good job of fighting through the pick to cover Matthews. Bradford sees this and moves to his next read, tight end Trey Burton, who is crossing left to right. Bradford sees immediately that the defender responsible for Burton, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (#21) is too deep and will have trouble getting through the mesh.
Now it’s just a matter of waiting on the route to develop. Bradford got the ball out just as he got hit…
And Burton was wide open for the touchdown.
The second play that the Eagles called multiple times for Bradford is Snag. This is a concept that anyone familiar with Philadelphia has seen multiple times. It may be Kelly’s favorite pass play, and it is often the passing concept he goes to on the first snap of the game.
Snag is a really good play call against the man coverage that the Eagles see so often. It is a 3 man route combination where the outside receiver runs a spot route, the number two receiver runs a corner, and the number three receiver runs to the flat. The first read for the quarterback is the corner route. This is good versus man coverage, and the Eagles slot receivers and tight ends can often gain separation when running this route. The next best option versus man coverage is the flat route. Similar to mesh, there is often a natural pick formed by the corner and spot routes when the defense is in man. This often leaves the flat receiver open with room to run.
This was evident on the Eagles first snap of the game. Here, the Packers are in man coverage and inside linebacker Clay Matthews (red box) is responsible for running back DeMarco Murray.
Matthews gets caught up by the corner route, and Bradford makes the quick read and hits Murray in the flat for a 5 yard gain.
Snag was also the playcall for the Eagles on their first pass attempt of the second drive. Once again, the Packers are in man coverage.
This time, Bradford likes the matchup of Matthews versus Hyde, and he throws it to the corner route. The ball is right on the money and Matthews makes the easy catch for a 27 yard gain.
It is easy to see why this play is effective versus man coverage. The flat route is often open because of the natural pick, and the corner route is also good versus man coverage. However, this play can be just as effective versus zone.
Later on this same drive, Kelly dialed up the play one more time.
This time the Packers are in a zone coverage. When Bradford saw the zone, he immediately knew that someone would be open. The design of the spot and flat routes is to create a horizontal stretch on the flat defender. Here, you can see that the flat defender is stuck between defending Miles Austin inside or Matthews outside.
Bradford makes the correct decision and hits Austin with a perfect pass, and Austin almost is able to get into the end zone.
Now for the best play of them all. Bradford made perhaps his most impressive throw of the night on his final attempt running snag.
Bradford read man coverage, and made the decision to go back to Matthews on the corner. The throw was perfect and Matthews went up for a fantastic catch. A picture can’t quite do this throw and catch justice, so I included a GIF.
These two concepts show what Kelly’s passing offense is about and why Bradford fits so well. Mesh and Snag are both quick hitting concepts that require the quarterback to make a good decision in a hurry, and make the throw with accuracy. While these are quick hitting plays, they aren’t just short, easy throws. The corner route is a hard route to throw, and Bradford put it exactly where only his man could get it both times. He is a gifted passer who never was able to truly shine in St. Louis because of the lack of talent around him and the scheme. Kelly is running one of the most quarterback friendly systems in the league and the Eagles’ offensive talent is top notch. What jumped out to me about Bradford’s game is not only did he not throw an incompletion, not a single pass was even slightly inaccurate. Every pass, whether the receiver was wide open or tightly covered, was in perfect position for the receiver to either make the catch in traffic, or stay in rhythm to get yards after the catch. His accuracy is top of the line and Bradford is a smart player who can direct Kelly’s offense the way he wants it done. Bradford fits what Kelly is looking for as a passer very well and if he can stay healthy, he is in line for a breakout season.
To watch all 10 of Bradford’s throws against the Packers, you can check out these GIFs posted by Jimmy Kempski over at phillyvoice.com.
For more on Bradford and the Eagles, be sure to check back for new All-22 film breakdowns throughout the season. You can sign up to receive email notifications for new posts at the bottom of the home page, or follow me on twitter for updates @sethpricevfl.