October 19, 2016
I doubt Sun Tzu had Sunday's matchup between the Eagles and Vikings in mind when he wrote The Art of War – and specifically one the book's major tenets, the one that states "if you know your enemy and know yourself, then you need not fear the outcome of a thousand battles."
After spending all of last season and, more importantly, the entire 2016 offseason in Philadelphia, Sam Bradford knows his opponent. On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson shrugged off the notion that Bradford's familiarity with his system would be a problem when the undefeated Vikings come to town this weekend.
To some extent, he's correct. Bradford knows the offense, but only as it was constructed back when he was slated to be the starting quarterback.
As Carson Wentz said on Wednesday, they're going to be mixing up some pre-snap looks. In fact, the offense began to change the minute Howie Roseman decided to pull the trigger on the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings in exchange for a first-round pick.
Whether or not Bradford decides to fill his defensive teammates in on what he does know, Wentz and co. face a tough test against the NFL's leading defense – it's not like they needed inside information on their previous opponents in order to jump out to a 5-0 start. Basically, if the offense struggles on Sunday, it probably won't have a whole lot to do with whatever tips Bradford was handing out in the days leading up to the game.
But when you might really see Sun Tzu's philosophy play out is when the Eagles defense is out on the field. You see, this works both ways.
Bradford will have to face a defensive unit that is very familiar with his strengths and weaknesses after practicing against him every day. Even while downplaying his former QB's knowledge of the Birds' offense, Pederson did make say that Bradford's understanding of the Eagles personnel could actually cause problems, a belief that Bradford seems to share with his former coach.
"I really don't know if it's that big of [an advantage] at all," Bradford said Wednesday during his conference call with the Philly media. "Obviously, it helps that I've been there, that I'm familiar with the personnel, but the system we're running here is completely different than we ran against [the Eagles] defense in training camp. Again, that was the preseason, this is the regular season. I think things change when you get into the regular season.
"Obviously, they'll have a gameplan specifically designed to stop us and what we do. So from that standpoint, I'm not sure how much of a help it is. I think, probably, just knowing the personnel over there, that probably helps a little bit."
Earlier in the day, Pederson pointed out that the same can be said for Jim Schwartz's unit and their familiarity with Sammy Sleeves.
"I think so," Pederson said when asked if the defense knowing Bradford's tendencies can help on Sunday. "I think they know the type of athlete that Sam is [and] the type of quarterback that he is. And it's hard to get to a guy like Sam -- as I mentioned -- because he gets the ball out of his hands so fast. And he utilizes the quick game and it's tough to defend sometimes from a pass-rush standpoint.
"We've got to do the best we can to -- our pass rush has got to show up this week, obviously. And we’ve got to match the intensity on their side of the ball. With any game in the National Football League, if you can disrupt timing from a quarterback, I think it's an advantage."
And that's where the real difference may be for the Eagles on Sunday: How will their defense play against Bradford and the Vikings offense, who despite their 5-0 record are 30th in the NFL in total yards, last in rushing yards (and yards per attempt), and is averaging less that two offensive TDs per game.
But when you've held each of your first five opponents to 16 points or less – and have scored four non-offensive touchdowns (plus a safety) – you don't need a lot from your offense.
If the Eagles defense is able to play at the same level it did during the first three weeks of the season (and in the second half against the Lions), the offense will at least have a chance to win the game. And while they may know their opponent better than most, they're preparing just like any other game.
"I keep a book on everybody I play with, everybody I play against," Malcolm Jenkins said when asked about Bradford's tendencies. "So those notes are already taken."
He isn't kidding. Jenkins added that, yes, he is talking about a real, physical notebook and not just using the saying. He also said that he has his notes grouped by team, with information on head coaches, coordinators, quarterbacks, and right on down the list of offensive positions.
And they'll need that on Sunday if they hope to get back on track and avoid falling to .500 after a surprise 3-0 start.