BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s been quite a while since Sam Bradford’s played football this deep into a season. The last NFL game Bradford played in December was during the 2012 season, when he was with the St. Louis Rams, and they traveled to CenturyLink Field and nearly toppled the Seattle Seahawks in their regular season finale. They fell 20-13 that day to end the season 7-8-1, but they gave the Seahawks all they could handle.
It’s been a roller coaster of a career for Bradford since then. His 2013 and 2014 seasons were cut short (2013) and completely wiped out (2014) because of ACL injuries, making what was once a promising career a spotty one at best for him.
Bradford’s since moved onto the Philadelphia Eagles, and he’s done quite well, thanks to him being healthy for the majority of the season. The Eagles have won five of their last six games and six of their last eight in which Bradford’s started and actually finished.
“It’s really big,” Bradford said. “I think missing the past couple years and not being able to play, it’s been really frustrating. But for us, with our division, to be in the playoff hunt, to be healthy right now, I don’t think you can ask for a whole lot more.”
The Eagles are in a fierce fight for the NFC East title, along with the Washington Redskins and New York Giants. All three teams are 6-7, and facing tough competition on Sunday.
Singling out the Eagles: They’re playing host to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football. A few weeks ago, this game was just another one on both teams schedules, with the Eagles in a miserable three game losing streak. However, after the Eagles upset the world champion Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., then won a close game over the Bills last Sunday, the NFL decided to “flex” this contest to primetime, with both teams all of a sudden fighting for really important things.
“It was huge (the win in New England),” Bradford said. “Obviously, the two weeks prior to that had been frustrating for everyone here. Going up to New England and getting that win, I think it just gave us the confidence and a little bit of a kick start to get this thing going and try to finish the year the right way.”
It took some time for Bradford to get a feel for the way Chip Kelly likes to run his offense, because it’s really different than anything he’s ever seen, at the high school, college or pro level, but he feels he’s got a handle on how to run it, which is evidenced by him throwing for 898 yards and five touchdowns to one interception in his last four starts.
“I think, for me, it’s just gaining more confidence and just growing more comfortable in the system,” Bradford said. “I think, obviously, after not playing in a year-and-a-half, it took me awhile to get comfortable and just back on the field and in the pocket. I feel like in the past month, things kind of slowed down and I just feel much more comfortable with what we’re doing.”
“In St. Louis (with the Rams), we were a lot more under center, power run game, play-action, whereas here it’s almost all primarily 11 and 12 personnel from the shotgun,” Bradford said. “So, it is a little bit different than what we were doing there.”
Bradford’s got some familiarity with the Cardinals, during his time with the Rams. He won four of their seven matchups, and completed 132-of-227 pass attempts for 1,543 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. His last game against them was actually Bruce Arians’ first game as Cardinals head coach (9/8/2013).
Even though it’s been a minute since Bradford’s faced the Cardinals, in watching film on them, he sees a lot of things in their defense now that he saw back then.
“Some of their schemes are still the same,” Bradford said. “I remember some of them. But, I’m still preparing this week like any other week and like I haven’t seen this defense before.”
“They’ve got some elite cover guys in that unit (secondary), but I think another thing that their defense does is that they change personnel groups quite a bit,” Bradford said. “There seems to be a different number of DBs (defensive backs) on the field quite often, and I think just getting those guys identified and knowing what position they’re playing and where they’re at on the field, I think that’s one of the challenges of going against these guys.”
The Cardinals have made their way onto the national stage in a big way this season. With Sunday’s game against the Eagles getting “flexed,” it’s their fifth primetime game in a span of eight games.
Arizona’s working hard to be in the same breath nationally as the Patriots and the Panthers are. When Bradford was asked about how the Cardinals are perceived in Philadelphia, he responded quite favorably toward them.
“They’re (Cardinals) really good,” Bradford said. “I think you look at this team, offensively and defensively, they’re very talented, across the board. Obviously, I spend a lot more time looking at their defense, but it’s just one of those things. You look at it and you try to identify what their weaknesses might be. With this group, it’s hard to find what they are.”