Coming off back-to-back wins in Weeks 12 and 13, the Eagles are entering the final stretch of the season. And with just three games remaining in the regular season – and two of those coming against the Redskins and Giants, with whom Philadelphia is tied with for the division lead, the level of focus inside the NovaCare Complex is as high as it has been all year.
On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur spoke to reporters about the recent play of quarterback Sam Bradford, his take on the more balanced running back rotation the team utilized against the Bills last week and the challenge that lies ahead as the team prepares for the 11-2 Arizona Cardinals. Here are a few takeaways…
Bradford Living Up To Expectations
Coming into this season, quarterback Sam Bradford hadn't played a regular season game since October 2013 because of back-to-back knee injuries suffered while still a member of the St. Louis Rams. Early in the year, the former first-overall pick showed some understandable rust, but as the season has gone on he has looked much more comfortable in the pocket.
"I think his overall play has improved each week," said Shurmur, who coached the now 28-year-old signal-caller when he was a rookie with St. Louis. "I'm starting to see the things in him that I remember seeing when he was a rookie with the Rams in 2010. It takes a while to come back from what he went through. And he's getting more and more used to the way we're doing things.
"We saw it when he was a rookie, and we expect to see it again. And we're starting to see it on a more consistent basis."
In his last four starts, three of which have resulted in victories, Bradford has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 898 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception, one that arguably could have been called a fumble after the ball was ripped from tight end Brent Celek's hands by cornerback Leodis McKelvin last week against Buffalo. During the stretch, he has a passer rating of 97.5.
"He's got outstanding accuracy. I think that's his number one attribute," Shurmur said. "I think he understands the game extremely well, he's extremely smart. And you can see, throwing a football is a total body motion, and so you need every part of your body (in sync) to do it ... And he's getting more and more comfortable with being back, you can see that ball going exactly where he wants it."
Managing The Running Back Rotation
Coming into the season with three former Pro Bowl selections at the running back position, the Eagles knew that getting the ball into the hands of each of them would be a challenge, but a good one to have to deal with nonetheless. With Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray both struggling with injuries at different points in the season, the running back rotation was simplified. With both healthy coming into the final stretch, the team is going with a more balanced approach.
"We have what we think to be four really good running backs, so we want to use them all," Shurmur said. "I think if you put a really good player in the game, and he's fresher as you go, then you get a little bit more out of him.
"We don't try to match the expectations outside the building. We just go put them out there, train them up and let them play."
Against the Bills on Sunday, Mathews got 13 carries for 38 yards, Murray had the ball handed off to him 11 times for 34 yards and Darren Sproles rushed seven times for 41 yards.
Game-Planning For Patrick Peterson
On the season, the Arizona Cardinals rank fourth in the league in interceptions with 18. And while four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson has accounted for just two of them this season, his presence has been key to his team's ability to force turnovers. Despite starting all 13 of Arizona's games, the 25-year-old has been targeted just 55 times on the year, which is fewer than 61 other defensive backs in the league. And among those who have been targeted as many times as he has, he's been beaten just 40.0 percent of the time, tied with Darrelle Revis of the Jets for the lowest rate in the NFL.
"I think he's playing as well as he's played in his career," said Shurmur of the shutdown corner. "He looks lighter to me, he looks quicker. He's much tighter in coverage, I think, than he was a year ago. We're very well aware of where he is. We know his name, we know his number and we're going to be well aware of where he's at."