The chances of quarterback Sam Bradford suiting up for Philadelphia were slim heading into the week and reports continued coming out Thursday saying it’ll be Mark Sanchez getting the start Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Either way, Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said the game-planning concern when the Eagles show read-option looks starts with containing running backs DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews (concussion) and Darren Sproles. Something Smith said he isn’t worried about much is an Eagles quarterback tucking and taking off, which limits the threats facing a defense.
“I think it’s an offense that can lean heavily on the read-option if you had quarterbacks that were more suited for that type,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t say their quarterbacks now are exactly like that. At any given time you can put in some read-option plays, so we have to be ready for that. They’re having success based on them running the football, their tailbacks running the ball [and playing] up-tempo. And when you commit to the run, of course, they have a typical drop-back, NFL passing game. That’s what we’re defending.”
Sanchez entered in the third quarter last week during Philadelphia’s 20-19 home loss to Miami after Bradford suffered a concussion and separated shoulder on a hit by Dolphins linebacker Chris McCain. Sanchez took 38 offensive snaps and the Eagles ran or threw out of a read-option look on 21 of those plays, which is no deviation from the offensive flow while Bradford was behind center.
Even though Sanchez only decided to run twice for four yards last week, Murray said he thinks the backup adds that dimension more than Bradford. According to a report by Eagles reporter Matt Lombardo on NJ.com, Philadelphia’s feature back said defenses will have to “respect the pull” more with Sanchez.
In nine games and eight starts last year, Sanchez rushed 34 times for 87 yards and a touchdown. In nine games this season, Bradford ran 17 times for 31 yards and no scores.
Neither represent dangerous threats but supporting Smith’s focus on Philadelphia’s overall rushing attack are recent results. When the Eagles began the season 1-3 they averaged just 70.0 yards on the ground and exceeded 100 just once. In five games since, Philadelphia is 3-2 and rushing for an average of 155.2 yards. Miami is the only opponent to hold the Eagles under 100 during that span.
With the ground game finding its footing, Philadelphia’s offense appears to be operating head coach Chip Kelly’s system as it’s designed. During the 1-3 start, opposing offenses ran more plays than the Eagles’ offense in all four games and by an average of 15.3 per game. That trend flipped in the last five games, with Philadelphia out-snapping four of its five opponents and by an average of 14.8 per game. The Eagles ran a season-high 97 snaps last week – 30 more than the Dolphins.