Back in October just days after beating the Arizona Cardinals easily, the Philadelphia Eagles squared off against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football. Philadelphia had lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, but entering the game against one of the better NFC teams the Eagles rode a three-game winning streak. Philadelphia won that game. Carson Wentz had two electric throws, one on third and long to Mack Hollins and another to a streaking Alshon Jeffery. The buzz began then. For a city that cares more about its football team than anything else, the dream of finally winning a Super Bowl flashed then. That feeling stuck for several more weeks. It lingered and lingered. Until.
Sam Bradford ended his hiatus from the Philadelphia Eagles Monday. Even after working with Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews this off-season, Bradford wanted no part of Philadelphia because of how the front office handled the quarterback position. Obviously Bradford initially signed the contract, but his understanding was he’d have a legitimate chance to be the long-term answer in Philadelphia. Bradford did the smart thing by ending his holdout before mandatory mini camp, but he really didn’t have a choice. After the Eagles couldn’t move him, Bradford would only hurt his wallet and his understanding of yet another new offense.
Bradford definitely wanted out of Philadelphia, but I don’t think this situation is that awkward. Time helps. People won’t forget that Bradford was a holdout in April and early May if he throws a pick in the first snap of the preseason, but the fact that August’s months away helps Bradford. Plus, Bradford now has plenty of time to familiarize himself with the new system, so it won’t matter Bradford was absent from Philly’s facility for 15 days if he performs anywhere near the top half of NFL quarterbacks. The Eagles won’t contend for the Super Bowl, but they should have a much better defense and if they get even average quarterback play, a chance to win a division that hasn’t had a repeat champion since 2004-2005.
The Eagles offense has flaws. It has improved offensive line, but that might not mean anything if Jason Peters can’t stay healthy. Ryan Mathews was their best running back last year, but running backs get worse with age and he’s only been healthy for a full season once. Darren Sproles will be used, but how much can you rely on him? And rookie Wendell Smallwood was drafted in the fifth round for a reason. Smallwood, however, will be asked to do more than most fifth-round picks. Matthews enjoyed success in Chip Kelly’s friendly offense, but how will he fair on the outside? If you remember Kansas City wide receivers didn’t catch a touchdown for an entire season in 2014, so the production of Philadelphia’s skill players is up in the air. Ertz, however, looks to benefit the most from playing in Pederson’s offense. Travis Kelce enjoyed great seasons under Pederson, so Ertz should put up solid numbers.
The Chiefs relied heavily on their running game with Doug Pederson as offensive coordinator. According to Teamrankings.com, Kansas City finished in the top-10 in rushing play percentage the past two seasons. No team passed the ball fewer on first down than the Chiefs last season. Bradford’s role in the offense will be similar to Alex Smith’s, I’d imagine. Smith’s much more mobile. He can actually create offense with his feet. But accuracy wise Bradford and Smith play similarly. Smith completed 65.3 percent of passes last year; Bradford completed 65. Bradford will have the opportunity to change the play at the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t have to be a robot.Now is that a good thing? Bradford has been, at best, an average NFL quarterback. But watching him down the stretch last season, the talent was there. Maybe it’s foils gold. He probably isn’t that good. But I’m a believer in chemistry. The fact that Bradford, Ertz and Matthews worked together this off-season might pay off big time this season. Also, Bradford will have three quarterback minds teaching him, and career back-up Chase Daniel trying his best to take the starting job.
Bradford’s back in Philadelphia. His stay won’t be long, but he has every chance to ensure his next team will finally be his team.
Philadelphia Eagles hired Doug Pederson over a month ago. It shocked nearly everyone for a number of reasons. It’s a toss-up which reason shocked people most: the fact the Eagles hired a guy whose only head coaching experience was high school or the Eagles hired a guy who was most recently an offensive coordinator for former Eagles head coach Andy Reid. With a month to evaluate the decision to hire Pederson and the subsequent moves Philadelphia has made, here are thoughts heading into free agency and the draft.
It’s good to have continuity. A popular graphic detailed how homegrown the Green Bay Packers are appeared throughout the NFL season. Malcolm Jenkins wasn’t drafted by Philadelphia, but the other four players Philly extended over the past month (Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Vinny Curry and Brent Celek) were drafted by the Eagles. Chip Kelly preached culture during his tenure, but continuity has to be one of the most important aspects of a football team. Jeffrey Lurie clearly wanted to revert back to the pre-Chip times, which isn’t a terrible idea. Andy Reid surrounded himself with smart football people. The Eagles had dominant defenses in the mid-2000s, and the occasional good offense. The best thing Pederson has done was hire Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator so far. The Eagles have so much talent on defense that under performed last season because they literally were always on the field and their inability to consistently adjust against superior opponents (think Calvin Johnson on Thanksgiving). With Chip Kelly gone, the Eagles should exponentially increase their time of possession. Philadelphia finished 32nd the last three years; Kansas City finished sixth (2013), 15th (2014) and fifth (2015) with Pederson at offensive coordinator.
The biggest question Pederson and others have to answer is simple: who will be quarterback? It’ll be answered fairly soon with free agency beginning next month. The players who recently signed contract extensions, when asked about the quarterback, referenced Sam Bradford as a guy who could lead Philadelphia to a championship. Ertz and Jordan Matthews put up big numbers down the stretch with Bradford at quarterback. In Philadelphia’s biggest win, in New England, Bradford made a perfect pass to Riley Cooper on 3rd and 11 that should’ve ended the game in victory formation, but a Kenjon Barner fumbled gave New England a chance at the end. Pro Football Focus ranked Bradford 12th out of 36 quarterbacks in 2015. Obviously that’s not the most important ranking, and it doesn’t mean Philly should pay him big money, but it shows what Bradford was able to do despite struggled mightily in the first half of the season with timing with wideouts, dropped passes and awful interceptions (specifically against Atlanta and Dallas the first two weeks of the season). It’s easy to nitpick Bradford’s overall numbers: 3,725 yards passing, 19 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a 7-7 record. They aren’t impressive at all. But stats don’t tell the entire story, and if Pederson believes in Bradford, Philly should sign him and focus on surrounding Bradford with the best possible offensive line in the draft.
The best thing for Philadelphia would be to trade down in the draft since trading for Bradford netted them a second-round pick. The Eagles picked up an extra third-round pick from the Lions, but with severals holes on their roster a late first-round pick and a second-round pick would serve Philly better than the 13th overall selection. Obviously if a top-rated offensive line talent falls to Philly at 13th, they should take that player, but NFL teams should do whatever they can to trade down in the draft if their guy isn’t available.
DeMarco Murray isn’t going anywhere. Just being on the field for longer series should benefit Philly’s running game. It’s tough to see where this offense could rank because of the quarterback question and the lack of offensive line depth. Philly’s never been shy in free agency, so they could address the guard spots during that time. The Buffalo Bills ranked 25th in rushing two years ago. Last season no other team rushed for more yards than the Bills. Having a mobile quarterback helps, but the Bills made it a priority to the run the ball, and they also added Richie Incognito at guard. Philly finished first in rushing in 2013, ninth in 2014 and 14th last season. The steady decline makes sense since Chip Kelly’s offense was on a tailspin. The Eagles offense was nearly impossible to watch at times last season, which obviously prompted the coaching change. But the Bills quick success hints that it’s not impossible to improve a rushing attack after an off season. Murray has to prove himself, which is a good thing. He’s not guaranteed to be the lead back since Ryan Mathews is still under contract, and if Murray doesn’t play well next season cutting him then won’t hurt as much as cutting him now.
It’s really hard to find a franchise quarterback even if you have a top pick. Kansas City had a former first overall pick at quarterback while Pederson was offensive coordinator. It’s hard to see Smith as a Super Bowl quarterback, but the Chiefs had a very good defense and controlled the clock (hence their TOP last season). There’s something to be said about continuity between quarterback and receiver. Ertz was an absolute beast the last five games. Only Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall, Sammy Watkins, Julio Jones and Allen Robinson had more receiving yards than Ertz over the final five games last season, and only Brown had a higher catch percentage that the Eagles tight end. Jordan Matthews might have had key drops last year, but he’s been a fairly consistent wideout. According to Football-Reference, five players in NFL history had at least 150 catches, 1800 yards and 16 touchdowns combined in their first two seasons (Odell Beckham, Marques Colston, A.J. Green, Larry Fitzgerald and Matthews), and out of those five players Matthews had the highest catch percentage. Ertz and Matthews aren’t just products of Kelly’s system, either. Both were second round picks. Both have so much room to grow. And both had impressive second halves to their seasons with Bradford at quarterback.
Pederson was brought in because he brings a familiar style. He’s surrounded himself with some intelligent football minds. The defense, under Schwartz, has a really good chance of being a top unit league wide. There are some serious holes: who pairs with Jenkins at opposite safety, cornerback depth and with Curry as one defensive end who is the other, but Philly’s best player, Fletcher Cox, should put up gigantic numbers in the 4-3. The most frustrating thing about Kelly was his stubbornness with the defense. Philly’s best talent was on defense, but game after game Kelly put the defense in terrible situations because of the offensive game plan.