In week two, the Cowboys rode into Lincoln Financial field with fans hoping that the Eagles would dominate them and send them home walking. But after four quarters of disjointed and embarrassing play it was the Cowboys who rode away on those same horses..unphased and with a win under the belt. DeMarco Murray had a terrible game rushing for just two yards but most of the criticism was aimed at Sam Bradford. This time however, the Cowboys are preparing to face a very different threat.
Bradford posted the following stats in week 2:
Now this was hardly the worst performance we have ever seen from a Quarterback but this was also not the product we were promised. Fans were slamming him down by calling him a “Deer in headlights” and that he has no leadership over this team with some already calling for Mark Sanchez.
But whilst the stats aren’t that much better in recent weeks (despite a 71% completion rate against the Saints) his overall play has been. In fact, I wrote an article the day after the Panthers loss claiming that this was Bradford’s best performance as an Eagle, not in statistics but in his comfort level in the pocket and confidence he was showing.
Since week two, Bradford has only really had one worrying performance and that came against the Giants where the Defense were able to bail him out so to speak and guide the team to a win. But a no interception game against the Jets, a huge win against the Redskins and a solid outing against the Saints were all promising.
In Carolina, Bradford came up against a Secondary with the likes of Josh Norman who’s a turnover machine and Luke Kuechly who is well…Luke Kuechly. Not only that but he was without the protection of Jason Peters and instead was playing behind a line that was consistently crumbling around him with blockers often completely losing their assignments and crucial penalties setting the team back.
There has been a lot of analysis on Bradford and how he missed some easy targets as he chose to throw on his first read..but could you blame him?! From his eyes you can just see a Wildebeest in terms of Kuechly charging towards you and the pocket collapsing from all angles..the line of vision is minimal and you have to trust your gut.
But interestingly, Bradford has rushed eight times in the last two games, more than every other game combined this season. Now Sammy B is hardly Marcus Mariota or Johnny Manziel but the instinct to escape the pocket and run (very slowly) for extra yards shows two things:
- He is NOT worried about his previously torn ACL
- He is confident enough to escape danger.
Now number two doesn’t sound like a big deal but in the opening weeks this was a completely different story. If the pocket were to collapse on Bradford and a tackle was incoming, he would often just brace for it by curling his body up or even worse lean into it to protect the ball. Now that’s fine, but surely a sign of weakness..bracing for the impact long before it arrives as opposing to trying to get out of trouble.
This is what we have seen from Bradford recently as a weakened Offensive Line is struggling to offer the same level of protection it did between weeks 4-7, Bradford is now moving in the pocket. His footwork is a lot lighter, his throws are more accurate (even if the receivers are dropping them) and he’s able to scramble out of danger and actually SLIDE..(take note Mr Foles) adding another layer to his progressing game.
If you compare Bradford’s form against the Panthers to Bradford’s form against the Cowboys it’s like comparing the 2012 Eagles and the 2013 Eagles. Two very different products that have shown tremendous signs of improvement. The stats say that Bradford is just mediocre and that he’s throwing too many Red Zone touchdowns and that’s fine, but the Cowboys are facing a very different beast to what they did in week 2.
If we were to be really basic and list the improvements since week two, the list would look something like this:
1. Utilising the deep pass
2. Increased pocket presence
3. Mobility is now a threat as the Cowboys can’t pin him down in the spot he took the snap
4. His reads whilst minimal are much more accurate
5. He’s no longer targeting Jordan Matthews 75% of the time and is actually spreading the ball around resulted in sustained drives.
6. Screen passes are now played as such and not just quick bullets that hit the floor.
Bradford comes into Dallas having already earned the teams respect after a shower team talk recently, having learned to move around in the pocket..to stand taller, to give gestures in the pocket and physically interact with his teammates after a play as opposed to being an Aaron Rodgers sideline sort of guy.
This is a Quarterback who is not only running out of time to prove himself but vastly needs the support of his receivers..if he had wideouts who could catch 3/4 balls thrown their way then maybe we wouldn’t even be needing to defend him. Perhaps that changes this week.
We’re not saying he’s worthy of MVP status or even that he should be our long term Quarterback, but this is a man who hadn’t played a game in close to two years before this season and has grown much more than people think. People are expecting the run game to be prominent due to the Offensive Line woes and the Dallas pass rush, we’re expecting Bradford to give them hell, to attack the seams and finally show the world what he and this Offense are capable of.
Photo credit: AP Photo-Adam Hunger