Warning: The next 500 words will prove Mike Schmidt’s adage of Philadelphia being the place where you can experience the thrill of victoryand the agony of reading about it the next day.
First the thrill. The Eagles’ nail-biter win over the Jets Sunday saved the season. They’re a game behind the battered Cowboys, and someone will take the NFC East at 9-7. I saw enough positives to believe this team can squeak through an easy October schedule, find its stride in November and contend in December.
Now the, uh, less-glowing part. I spent Sunday afternoon wondering whatever happened to that genius of an offensive coach the Eagles hired, and why his chosen quarterback can’t throw farther than your average 12-year-old flag football hotshot.
Chip Kelly’s Eagles appear to have three offensive plays. There’s the wheel route pass that tends to work for eight yards a pop, and explains why the three running backs have more combined receptions than every receiver on the team, save Jordan Matthews.
There’s the handoff out of the shotgun, which generally coincides with a defender or two being in the backfield. The Eagles’ running game was much better Sunday, in that it averaged a lusty 3.2 yards per attempt. Give Ryan Mathews credit for bulling for 108 yards without many holes.
And third, there’s the play where Bradford fades back and immediately dumps the ball to the closest check-down receiver. Sometimes, he even hits the guy on the hands.
Who knew what we’d get from Bradford this season? I was a Nick Foles fan, but conceded Chip Kelly deserved the QB he wanted (if, indeed, it was Bradford over Marcus Mariota). That brief tease we got in the pre-season moved me toward believing the former top overall pick might resuscitate his career here.
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Nothing in the first three games merits confidence. Bradford threw for 118 yards on 28 passes Sunday – 4.1 yards per attempt. To be fair, the Jets have a great secondary, and two of his few long passes were dropped.
But, to be honest, Bradford appears to have no ability to move the ball vertically, no explosion in his arm, no presence or confidence to step into throws. More often, he seems content dumping the ball for a five-yard gain when down and distance warrant something more.
It’s worrisome, because if Bradford isn’t the answer, the Eagles will be back on the quarterback carousel they’ve been riding since Donovan McNabb left after 2009. Nothing is tougher to find, or more important, than a franchise quarterback.
In the short term, let’s hope that Check-down Sam finds whatever it is we saw in those few minutes of pre-season magic. While you’re at it, hope that his line solidifies (it played better Sunday), the receivers hold the ball and that Nelson Agholor fellow they spent a first-round pick on decides to actually show up.
Because they can still win the division. Yesterday’s game took me back to 2003, when the Eagles christened the Linc, and fell to an 0-2 start. McNabb, rumored to be playing through a hand injury, was actually worse than Bradford through the first few games.
They were 2-3 in October, when Brian Westbrook saved the season with an 84-yard punt return to beat the Giants – not unlike Darren Sproles’ 89-yard dash to the house Sunday. From there, they caught their stride, winning nine in a row and making it to the NFC Championship game.
So we’ve been here before. Seasons turn. Teams find themselves. And the Eagles can still win the division. Even at 9-7, that would be a thrill.