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October 20, 2015

Despite his QB's struggles, Chip Kelly stands behind Sam Bradford

Eagles NFL
102015_Bradford-Giants_AP Michael Perez/AP

Sam Bradford has nine touchdowns and nine interceptions through six games this season.

Sam Bradford has not looked like a former Heisman trophy-winning quarterback so far this season. Nor has he looked like a former No. 1-overall pick through six games in midnight green.

What he has looked like, however, is Sam Bradford, a guy with a twice surgically repaired knee (and a surgically repaired right shoulder) who has missed significant time in his young career; a guy who has never finished the season with a .500 or better record; a guy who is simply, for lack of a better term, just another guy.



Considering his numbers -- with the exception of his INTs -- are better than what he was able to do in Saint Louis, is there a chance this is as good as it's going to get for the 27-year-old Oklahoma product?

Since Bradford entered the league in 2010, he has the fourth-lowest passer rating (79.4) among quarterbacks -- there are 33 of them -- with at least 1,000 pass attempts. At 30th on the list, he's one spot ahead of his backup, Mark Sanchez (76.3), and one spot behind a 90-year-old Matt Hasselbeck (80.3). By comparison, former Eagles quarterbacks Nick Foles (91.9), who also has the fewest INTs of the 33 listed QBs, and Michael Vick (85.7) are 10th and 21st, respectively.

But some of the names on the list will just make you shake your head in disbelief -- Robert Griffin III (12th overall), Matt Schaub (14th), Kyle Orton (20th), Ryan Fitzpatrick (26th), Josh Freeman (27th), and Matt Cassel (28th) are all ahead of Bradford.

Furthermore, Bradford has the second lowest yards/attempt number (6.35), ahead of only Christian Ponder, and the third-lowest winning percentage (.391).

Many thought those numbers would change once the QB found a home in Chip Kelly's system that allowed Foles to post a 27 TD, 2 INT season in Kelly's first season in Philadelphia. Still, Bradford's 2015 passer rating of 80.0 is slightly above his career average of 79.4 and he is averaging more yards per game (260.2) than he's posted in any of his previous seasons, that has more to do with the fact that he's attempting more passes (38/game compared to 35.9/game with the Rams) this year.

There's an argument to be made that his increase in interceptions this season (nine in six games) is also a product of an increased number of attempts. However, Bradford is turning the ball over at a much higher rate (3.9 percent of his passes have been intercepted) than he ever has before. His previous career high in interception percentage was 2.4 percent, and that came in his rookie year.

Despite all this, Kelly does not seem worried about his quarterback.

"Sam's our quarterback," the Eagles coach said Tuesday. "We've got full confidence in Sam."

But Bradford knows he needs to improve.

“No, no. It’s not even a question," the Eagles QB said when asked if he was happy with his performance against the Giants Monday night. "It was just inconsistent, missing throws. There was some good, there was some bad. But I know for us to be where we want to be, I have to play much better.”

And after two games -- the Redskins and Saints -- in which Bradford played the best he had all season, Monday night's three-interception game was certainly a step in the wrong direction.

“I mean, if that’s the way you want to look at it then yeah, it wasn’t as good as the last two games," Bradford added. "There’s no doubt about it. But, like I said, I think everything that went wrong tonight is correctable. We will get in, look at the tape and see what corrections need to be made and try to get ready for next week.”

The question now becomes about how Bradford will correct these mistakes and, more importantly, whether or not he's capable of doing so.

"It's drill work, and a lot of the situations we do in training, like everybody, are controlled situations," Kelly said. "And when it comes to the game, it's an uncontrolled situation. So we need to simulate it as best we can. But we also can't go live, full-rush at him in practice because you're not going to lose your quarterback in practice."

The first step is identifying the reason behind the sudden rise in interceptions. Kelly said Tuesday that it's not just one thing, but rather something different each time. And considering his quarterback doesn't know what's causing it either, the problem suddenly becomes more difficult to fix.

“If I knew [what was causing the interceptions], I would stop throwing them," Bradford said. "It is something that I never really had a problem with in my career. I have never thrown a lot of interceptions, so this is kind of new to me. 

"But we’re going to get it fixed. I am going to get it fixed. And hopefully we are going to eliminate that from our offense.”

Bradford's right; he hasn't had a real problem with interceptions throughout his NFL career. The most he's thrown in a season is 15, back in his rookie year.

"I thought Sam -- you know, that's one of the reasons we liked him -- was really good at limiting [turnovers]," Kelly said, adding that he believes Bradford can return to that form.

Remember that list of 33 QBs with at least 1,000 passing attempts since 2010? Bradford ranks 14th on that list in terms of fewest interceptions thrown, two spots behind Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, although Brady has twice as many yards and attempts as Bradford.

But there's a flip side to that coin -- Bradford, who has never made the playoffs before, also never finished a season with more than 21 touchdowns. He's on pace to top that mark this season, as well as his career-high in interceptions.

Can the Eagles continue to win with that kind of production from the most important position on the team?

Not likely.

"He's getting more familiar, in terms of what we're doing, but we can't continue to do that against really good football teams," Kelly said after the game on Monday night. "We were fortunate that we did it and got away with it today, but in this league, you can't do that and sustain things and sustain winning. So, we've really got to clean that up on the offensive side of the ball."

Luckily for the Eagles, their defense was able to bail them out on Monday night against the Giants, but they'll need to execute on both sides of the ball if they want to hand the Panthers their first loss of the season on Sunday night.

At some point, however, we'll need to accept what Bradford is as a quarterback. He's not some hidden gem Kelly is going to turn into an All-Pro; he's not going to suddenly morph into Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning; he's not going to put the team on his back and carry them to a title. 

For now, he's just another guy. But if he can cut down on the turnovers, and the defense can continue to play as well as it has, maybe that'll be enough to help the Eagles to their first playoff win under Kelly -- and the first of Bradford's career.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin