If you're going to take away anything positive from Sunday night's loss to Arizona, other than the fact that the Eagles are very much in control of whether they make it into the postseason or not, you had to be impressed with the play of quarterback Sam Bradford. The first-year Eagle had arguably his best performance of 2015. He stood tall in the pocket and delivered some big-time throws under serious heat against a pressure-packed Arizona defense.
On the very first series of the game, the Eagles faced third-and-13 in Arizona territory. Bradford dropped back. He knew he had wide receiver Jordan Matthews on an out-breaking route right at the sticks. The Cardinals sent an overload pressure to that side. Bradford takes a hit just as he releases this pass, and keeps the ball low where only Matthews can get it as he approaches the sideline with a defender on his backside hip. That's a great opposite-hash throw from Bradford, who put his poise and arm strength on display with that toss.
In the second quarter, the Eagles faced a third-down situation. The Cardinals, the most blitz-happy team in the league, sent a five-man pressure at Bradford. The Eagles called a Four Verticals pass concept. Bradford sees the defender over tight end Brent Celek turn his back to him, pulls the trigger and places a perfect pass right on the back shoulder of his veteran tight end, again, where only his receiver can get it.
Early in the third quarter, the Eagles were backed up in a third-and-15 situation on their own 2-yard line. This was a big play. If you don't hit on this pass, you're punting from the back of the end zone and are very susceptible to getting a kick blocked on you. Wide receiver Josh Huff runs an isolation pattern, a post-corner route, on the outside. Bradford steps up to deliver this pass on time and on target for a 22-yard catch and a big first down.
Last week, I highlighted Bradford's success against the blitz package of the Buffalo Bills, and Bradford thrived against pressure once again this week. Overall, Bradford was blitzed 13 times on 44 dropbacks, and finished 8-of-12 for 107 yards an interception (the interception being the mix-up between he and Ryan Mathews on the pick-six by Deone Bucannon). Bradford was poised, decisive and able to get the ball out quickly on a consistent basis against the Cardinals. I thought he did a good job on plays where Arizona not only sent pressure, but feigned pressure before dropping eight in coverage.
On the fourth play of the game, the Eagles faced third-and-9 from the 27-yard line. Arizona presented an exotic front with six potential rushers, but at the snap of the ball half of them drop into coverage. With just a three-man rush, Arizona is playing a version of Cover 3 with three deep defenders and five underneath protecting the sticks. Bradford hits the top of his drop and picks his window. Matthews settled into a soft spot in the zone over the ball, reeled in the pass and sprints 30 yards for a first down.
A couple series later, on first-and-10 just outside the red zone, Bradford dropped back and hit tight end Zach Ertz on a beautifully designed and executed touchdown pass. With Celek running an over route, Bradford kept his eyes on him inside, hoping to keep the attention of the high safety on that side.
At the same time, look at Ertz's route. He sells the corner to get the defender's hips turned before breaking back toward the post. This was a fantastic route by Ertz, who has now scored twice in three weeks, and a great job by Bradford of manipulating second-level defenders. That wasn't the only example of how he was able to move defenders with his eyes though, because he did it multiple times in the game on Sunday night.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles called for a quick-hitting version of the "Double Slants" concept to the wide side of the field. With the two outside receivers running slant routes and the No. 3 receiver running a bubble screen, the Eagles get the benefit of both "Tosser" (Double Slant) and "Slant Flat." Chances are, the backside slant route to the No. 1 receiver, in this case Huff, will be open because you have the routes from the two inside receivers to help create a passing lane.
The ball is snapped, and Bradford immediately darts his eyes to Matthews on the bubble route. Look how quickly the safety charges the line of scrimmage when he sees that action, and that's just what Bradford was counting on. With the inside slant route taking the slot corner out of the picture, and the safety running to the bubble, a throwing lane is created for Bradford to hit Huff on the run for a 16-yard gain and a first down.
Last week against Buffalo, the Eagles' offense surprised some people with its ability to stretch the field vertically. There weren't many completed passes down the field on Sunday night, but it wasn't due to a lack of trying.
On first-and-10 early in the second quarter, the Eagles were in striking distance in the fringe area of the field. Chip Kelly called a "Y Throwback" play, with Bradford under center and rolling to his right, seemingly looking to hit one of three receivers running to that side of the field, a familiar sight in this offense. Those three receivers aren't Bradford's primary target, however, because who he really wants is Celek leaking out the back door. The veteran tight end's first few steps at the snap made it look like he was blocking down in the run game, but he released across the field and ran down the opposite sideline.
Misdirection like this is a great route concept to beat man coverage because if the defender responsible for Celek thinks he's staying in to block, he may "Green Dog," or he may just get lost in traffic, leaving Celek wide open for a big play down the field. Unfortunately, the Cardinals (who are a very big man coverage team) were in a zone concept on this play, and Celek ran right into the area occupied by linebacker Markus Golden. Bradford is forced to eat the throw, and a potential big play down the field turns into a 4-yard run.
Late in the third quarter, the Eagles were in the same part of the field and again had another shot play called as they came to the line of scrimmage. This time, with two tight ends aligned to one side of the formation, they call a "Scissors" concept with the outside receiver (Ertz) running a post route and the inside receiver (Celek) running a deep corner route. Ertz breaks open in the middle of the field, and Bradford is ready to deliver the football, but pressure gets to him too early and he's brought down for the sack, fumbling the football away for a Cardinals turnover. It's another vertical shot play left on the field by the Eagles' offense.
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles were finally able to hit on one of their shot plays, this deep pass to Matthews. With Ertz sitting his route down after crossing the 30-yard line, the safety to that side steps up, creating room over the top for Matthews to run free, as he sprints for a 78-yard scoring strike. Bradford is getting hot at the right time of the season. With the Eagles' playoff hopes in the balance, the team will need him to be at his best on Saturday night against the Washington Redskins.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.