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The Underrated Brilliance of Sam Bradford’s Downfield Passing

The Underrated Brilliance of Sam Bradford's Downfield Passing. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford is a polarizing player.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford is a polarizing player. He has attracted criticism not just in Philly, but from numerous NFL fans, analysts, and media for his supposed spoiled attitude, and raw statistics.

In terms of stats and attributes, Bradford has been criticized for being afraid of throwing the ball deep. Or, at least, that’s what we’re told.

During the off-season, I studied the Eagles’ coaches’ film to see if this statement was true. I looked at every qualifying downfield pass thrown by Bradford (it has to travel 16+ yards in the air), and charted it. If you follow me on Twitter, you know what information I’ve gathered in my 2015-16 Deep Ball Project.

The Underrated Brilliance of Sam Bradford’s Downfield Passing

The results? The fact of the matter is that Sam Bradford’s deep ball narrative could not be further from the truth. While Bradford’s deep yardage (1,062 yards) does not rank all that high, his accuracy percentage was second in 2015. 63.1% of his downfield passes were accurate, only behind Carson Palmer’s 63.8%. This in turn led me to give Bradford’s deep grade an A.

Eagles Wide Receiver Drops

But this is all old news. Now is the time for visual proof, to answer the following question; why is Bradford’s accuracy percentage a 63.1% when his completion percentage was 42.1% downfield?

Drops. His receivers provided drops. Bradford lost 18 accurate downfield passes in 2015, behind only Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer (19 and 21 respectfully). 23.7% of his downfield passes ended up being lost accurate passes (dropped, or failed at the catch point by a receiver), the most in the league in 2015.

Below, I will show all of the dropped accurate passes (15 of them) Bradford threw downfield in 2015, while giving my thoughts on them. While 15 drops may not sound like a lot, it’s a huge chunk when you consider Bradford threw 76 downfield passes.

The Highlights

Bradford Drop #1

Bradford Drop #2

Bradford Drop #3

Bradford Drop #4

Bradford Drop #5

Bradford Drop #6

Bradford Drop #7

Bradford Drop #8

Bradford Drop #9

Bradford Drop #10

Bradford Drop #11

Bradford Drop #12

Bradford Drop #13

Bradford Drop #14

Bradford Drop #15

Now for the fun part: describing all 15 of these plays.

Breaking it Down

  1. Off of play action (notice how the running back provides an excellent block to protect Bradford), a perfect pass is fired to Miles Austin, who for some reason tried to catch the pass with one hand and drops it. Austin easily could have pulled the ball in then sealed it with his second hand too. (Week 1 at ATL)
  2. Again, Austin fails at the catch point, this time on a perfect jump ball that he clearly has the advantage over. Yet, he can’t haul the dime in. (Week 2 vs DAL)
  3. A perfect tight pass thrown to Riley Cooper, who can’t haul it in. (Week 2 vs DAL)
  4. Not the greatest pass ever thrown, but it’s an accurate, catchable one. This also occurred after Tony Romo went down, giving the Eagles a shot to steal momentum. Instead, Jordan Matthews can’t hang on to the pass, which would have given Philly excellent field position. (Week 2 vs DAL)
  5. The placement could have been a bit better (place it further for Nelson Agholor to make an easier catch), but Agholor actually had an excellent angle on this pass (tough to see on the broadcast) before having it broken up. (Week 4 at WAS)
  6. Again, we see a failure during the catch point from Agholor (injured on the play), as he is unable to haul in a sliding catch on a nice pass from Bradford. (Week 5 vs NO)
  7. This drop doesn’t sting quite as much, as the Eagles were already up 26-10 in the fourth quarter en route to a 39-17 win, but it still deserves to be mentioned. Bradford fires a perfect pass to DeMarco Murray that he is unable to haul in. (Week 5 vs NO)
  8. This perfect pass to Matthews ends up getting dropped after the wide receiver takes a hit from a Giants defensive back. Ouch (in more ways than one). (Week 6 vs NYG)
  9. This one really stings. The Eagles led the Dolphins 16-13 at the time this pass was thrown early in the third quarter. A catch from Miles Austin on this perfect pass would have guaranteed an instant touchdown or an eventual one with red zone field position. With the luck Bradford’s had thus far, Austin can’t hang on to the ball, and the Eagles are forced to punt. They end up losing the game 20-19. (Week 10 vs MIA)
  10. Riley Cooper fails to catch this excellent bomb from Bradford. (Week 14 vs BUF)
  11. Your eyes do not deceive you. This is the actual act of an accurate pass being snatched out of the receivers’ (Brent Celek) hands and being picked off. (Week 14 vs BUF)
  12. This is a low, yet accurate and catchable, pass that Jordan Matthews can’t haul in, forcing the Eagles to punt. (Week 15 vs ARI)
  13. Nelson Agholor appears again, dropping a touchdown pass that would have given the Eagles the lead (or tie the game up; it was 13-7 at the time). In a critical division matchup against the would be NFC East champion Washington Redskins, that’s painful. (Week 16 vs WAS)
  14. This should have been a highlight play from Bradford. First, he was able to escape pressure by climbing up the pocket. Second, while he’s running, he fires this incredible rocket to Riley Cooper. Naturally, Cooper is unable to complete the process of catching the ball. Philadelphia was down 16-10 in the third quarter when this drop occurred, and it would have been a huge play to get them back in the game. (Week 16 vs WAS)
  15. Mercifully, this is the last drop of the season. Bradford has to witness a perfect throw get wasted by the hands of Jordan Matthews, again.

Shouldering The Blame

Sam Bradford, along with former Philly head coach Chip Kelly, was blamed for the Eagles missing the playoffs in 2015, but as these plays illustrate, he was often on the short end of the stick. A significant amount of these drops occurred when the games were close, and would have helped secure (or further expand) the Eagles’ momentum, such as the Dolphins matchup, the Week 1 matchup at Atlanta, the Week 2 matchup vs Dallas, and the Week 16 matchup vs Washington. The Eagles lost all four of these games, and winning at least two of them would have clinched a playoff spot (a win against the Redskins would have helped matters going into Week 17). These failed catches would have been huge in getting the Eagles closer to much-needed wins, and no doubt would have changed Bradford’s reputation.

Chip Kelly’s Offense

If anything, plays like these proved Bradford was keeping the Eagles competitive. Chip Kelly is not known for being excessively aggressive downfield, but he was able to develop great routes downfield whenever he could. Philadelphia’s receivers, while solid route runners, simply could not catch a pass when it mattered most, hurting Bradford in the process.

The following could also be said about Bradford in general, but his downfield accuracy in general is consistent and precise. He is able to give his receivers a chance to make a play, and anticipates openings on the first read. Below, I’ll show examples of plays where Bradford’s receivers actually caught his passes.


Bradford dime to Matthews

Bradford Dime #1

Bradford dime Matthews

Bradford Dime Cooper TD

Bradford Caught

Bradford Dime Celek

Bradford Placement

One thing you may have noticed about almost all of these plays is that Bradford hit his receivers in stride (not forcing them to stop their route to make the catch), which is a trait that was common throughout 2015. The velocity on his passes and his footwork all improved as the season went on, allowing for more accurate passes and less glaring misses.

Eagles Future

Sam Bradford is a good quarterback in the wrong situation. Despite signing a two-year, $36 million extension with the Eagles, the team ended up drafting FCS star Carson Wentz with the number two pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. It was a move that Bradford allegedly did not take well, as reports of demanding a trade came out.

In this situation, Bradford is being fed to the wolves, being out on the field long enough for Wentz to learn how to play in the NFL, make the right throws, and what to say and when to say it. In other words, he’s basically a mentor, a mentor Philadelphia paid $36 million over two years for.

Pressure is being set up on the wrong guy. Bradford is infamous for “not producing when it matters,” but the reality is his receivers, in addition to other members of his cast, have not given him an adequate situation where he is able to do so. Often times, Bradford has made all of the correct throws while getting nothing but drops from his receivers.

When a big play ends up being nothing, it’s hard to adjust to that. Playcalling won’t be the same, and if it’s third down, that means that a first down/touchdown opportunity was wasted and the team must punt the ball away. That’s often what it was like to play quarterback for the Eagles last year.

Starter Quality

Eagles fans and the front office might not realize it, but with Bradford they have a quality starter that can thrive if given consistent receivers at the catch point. His accuracy is amazing for someone of his reputation, his footwork is top notch, and his arm strength on precise passing is a sight to behold.

And his deep passing in 2015 was one of those sights.

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