It was hard to know exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles offense was going to look like on Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons. With so many new pieces—including quarterback Sam Bradford—and that wacky, high-octane offense, it was unclear if all the new parts would mesh.
Well, the final score showed a 26-24 loss to the Falcons. After a shaky start, however, Bradford began to settle into the offense and gave Eagles fans a glimpse of why head coach Chip Kelly traded for him.
As all these parts meld together, Bradford is going to be in full control of one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.
With that said, things didn’t start out that way on Monday night. The first four Eagles drives netted zero points, 35 yards of offense and four punts. Bradford looked shaky, was under enormous pressure and was not responding well to it.
If you were on Twitter during those initial drives, the angry mobs were out in full force.
Charlotte Observer writer Jonathan Jones pointed out that Bradford’s poor play in the first half could be attributed to him not playing a meaningful game in two years:
Bradford looks like a guy who hasn't played in a game that matters since Fall 2013— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) September 15, 2015
Cheesehead TV's Aaron Nagler also noted that the hyper-accurate Bradford from preseason was nowhere to be found early in the game:
Bradford's amazing preseason accuracy isn't translating into amazing regular season accuracy...— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) September 15, 2015
By the time halftime mercifully came for Bradford and the Eagles, the Falcons were up 20-3, and Bradford was 15-for-27 for 117 yards and an awful interception.
Bradford was pressured all night, and on the pick, it was clear his eyes dropped, he focused on the pressure as opposed to keeping his eyes down the field and delivered a pass right to Falcons safety William Moore.
However, when Bradford came out of halftime, there was something different. It looked as if the coaches pulled him and his skill position players together and got them all on the same page. The jitters were gone. The rust brushed away, and the Eagles' passing offense started to hum.
For as bad as he was in the first half, he was that good in the second.
He started finding his top target, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, and electric running back Darren Sproles. The Philadelphia offense is predicated on tempo, and while the Falcons defense disrupted that rhythm in the first half, it couldn’t do much to stop it in the second.
Once Bradford got moving, there was little the Falcons defense could do to stop him. ESPN Stats & Info offered up a couple of excellent stats that really put his second half in perspective:
Sam Bradford is 7-of-7 for 71 yards targeting Jordan Matthews this half.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 15, 2015
Sam Bradford is 3-of-3 for 60 yards on passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield in the second half (1-of-7 with 1INT in the 1st half).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 15, 2015
The second tweet in particular is telling. A significant criticism of Bradford throughout his career has been his yards per attempt. Going into this season, his yards per attempt has been a woeful 6.3 yards. This was due in large part to playing on St. Louis Rams teams with below-average skill players.
So, when you look at tonight’s stat line and point to that same low yards-per-attempt number, keep in mind that much of that is a product of a Kelly offense. When things started clicking, his deep ball was much better.
Bradford overcame abysmal production by the ground game (3.9 yards per carry) to go 21-for-25 for 219 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
In his postgame press conference, Kelly attributed the second-half success of the passing game to the additional time Bradford had as well as recognizing the combination of man and zone looks the Falcons were showing.
Oh, and the tune on social media turned in the second half as well. NBCSN's Ross Tucker had this to say as Bradford was leading the Eagles back:
Bradford is a machine. Better than I ever remembered.— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) September 15, 2015
In the final analysis, the Bradford everyone saw in the second half is exactly what he can be all season for Philadelphia. Yes, the offensive line has to do better. And all those running backs have to be more than additional pass receivers.
If those two things can happen, Philadelphia will look genius for handing the offense over to him.