Roob's Observations

In Roob's Eagles Observations: What the heck happened to James Bradberry?

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What’s going on with James Bradberry? A look at all the big-money free agents who fled the Eagles in free agency. And why we shouldn’t rush to judgment about Nakobe Dean.

It’s a bye week edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations and it starts with one of the biggest disappointments on the roster this year.

1. One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the Eagles so far this year is what happened to James Bradberry. The veteran cornerback played so well last year, was named 2nd-team all-pro, and in March pretty much every Eagles fan was relieved when they signed him to a three-year, $38 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed. But nine games in, Bradberry has been the Eagles’ biggest disappointment.

There’s no perfect metric that measures cornerback play, but if you take a look at a few different analytics, you get a pretty clear picture of Bradberry’s performance. Last year, among 68 cornerbacks targeted at least three times per game, Bradberry had a defensive passer rating of 51.6, 2nd-best in the NFL behind Rig Woolen of the Seahawks (48.7). Bradberry allowed completions on just 45.3 percent of targets – best in the NFL – and allowed just 4.4 yards per target – also best in the NFL. Pro Football Focus gave him an 80.0 coverage grade, which ranked 10th of 118 corners who played at least 200 coverage snaps. Let’s compare all those numbers to this year so far: Defensive passer rating has gone from 2nd-best at 51.6 to 62nd -best at 117.6 out of 71 corners targeted three times per game. Completion percentage has increased from 45.3 to 57.4, yards per target skyrocketed from 4.4 to 6.7. And PFF’s season coverage grade has plunged from 80.0 to 53.9. So he’s gone from 10th out of 118 corners to 101st out of 114 corners.

Over the last three weeks, things have gone from bad to worse as opposing quarterbacks have really gone after Bradberry. After allowing a passer rating over 100 in only three of his first 25 games with the Eagles, he's allowed three straight over 110 – 138.0 vs. the Dolphins, 111.1 at Washington, 129.2 vs. the Cowboys. He’s allowed four TDs in those three games after allowing just two all last year. And after picking off three passes last year, he doesn’t have any interceptions this year. He just doesn't look like the same guy.

Why is all this happening? Bradberry did turn 30 in August, and that does seem to be a magic number for a lot of corners. And obviously the Eagles have faced better quarterbacks this year than last. And he’s also shuttled between outside corner and the slot, which can’t be easy for an eight-year veteran. And then the entire secondary has been unsettled all year because of injuries, and that has to make things tougher for everyone. But however you add it up, Bradberry’s play has been shaky at best. With Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Brock Purdy and then Dak Prescott again looming after the bye, Bradberry desperately needs a bounce-back second half. 

2. Meanwhile, Darius Slay, who I was a lot more concerned about, has been OK. Not fantastic but OK. And he’s drawn the opposing team’s top wide receiver more often than Bradberry. But his numbers are also down from last year – 83.9 to 87.4 passer rating, 58.2 to 67.2 percent completion percentage, 6.7 yards per target to 7.7. All are middle of the pack. The Eagles have some promising young corners and 25-year-old Isaiah Rodgers should be eligible to play next year, but this year the Eagles are only going to go as far as Bradberry and Slay take them and right now that’s not a particularly comforting thought.

3. JALEN HURTS STAT OF THE DAY: Jalen Hurts has a 11-1 record as a starter when he rushes for 30 or fewer yards.

4. Yeah, it was a disappointing second season for Nakobe Dean. Big-time disappointing. He suffered two major injuries, lost reps to Nicholas Morrow when he wasn’t hurt and had just half a sack and two tackles for loss to show for 182 defensive snaps over parts of five games before this Lisfranc foot sprain. I don’t know what the future holds for Dean, but I would remind everyone he’s only 22 years old and there haven’t been a ton of Eagles 22 or younger drafted in the third round or later who’ve made a significant impact. Trott in 1998, Avonte Maddox in 2018, but who else? Al Nelson in 1965, Ben Hawkins in 1966, Randy Logan in 1973? Like everyone else, I found Dean’s play disappointing. But one thing I learned a long, long time ago is never give up on a 22-year-old kid. Dean has the tools and puts the work in. He’ll have other opportunities.

5. With four yards against the Chiefs, A.J. Brown will reach 5,500 career yards in his 70thgame and will (likely) become the 9th-fastest in NFL history to 5,500 yards. The eight fastest: Odell Beckham Jr. (54), Julio Jones (59), Michael Thomas (63), Jerry Rice (65), Randy Moss (66), A.J. Green (67), Torry Holt (69) and Anquan Boldin (68). Brown could actually become 10th-fastest if Justin Jefferson plays Sunday and has 104 yards. Jefferson has 5,396 yards in just 55 career games.

6. The Eagles are 10-1 against winning teams since the start of last year – that’s 7-1 last year and 3-0 this year (final record last year, current record this year). The only loss was the second Dallas game last year, which Gardner Minshew started. The only other teams with a winning record vs. winning teams over the last two years are the Chiefs (8-3), Bengals (7-5), Bills, Cowboys, 49ers (6-4) and Jaguars (6-5). The Eagles’ best record ever in a two-season span vs. winning teams not surprisingly came in 1948 and 1949, when they went 3-1-1 and 4-1 and went on to win the NFL Championship both years.

7. The Eagles and Titans have both had an NFL-high 17 defensive backs play in at least one game this year. Terrell Edmunds has played for both.

8A. HowieBall Part 1: Did you ever just stop and think what an incredible draft pick Josh Sweat turned out to be? Sweat was the 130th player taken in the 2018 draft and the 11th edge rusher, but he has 35 sacks – more than any of the edges taken ahead of him, notably 1st-round picks Bradley Chubb, the 5th player taken, and Marcus Davenport, the 14th player taken in 2018. Chubb has 34 ½ sacks, so he’s close, but Davenport has just 23 ½. How many Pro Bowlers have the Eagles found that late in the draft? The Eagles have only drafted two other Pro Bowl position players as late as Sweat since 1987 – Trent Cole 146th in 2005 and Jason Kelce 191st in 2011. And he keeps getting better. Barely played on defense as a rookie, then 4.0 sacks in 2019, 6.0 in 2020, 7 ½ in 2021, 11 last year and 6.5 already this year, on pace for 12. Sweat is a relentless pass rusher but also a willing run defender. Sweat is second in the NFL with 16 quarterback hits – two fewer than Myles Garrett – and he’s fourth with 10 hurries and eighth among edge rushers with six tackles for loss. Sweat is playing way more than he ever has – 75 percent of the snaps through nine games. 
Only six edge rushers in the league have played more snaps than Sweat and the only one with more sacks is Maxx Crosby. Maybe it’s Jalen Carter, maybe it’s Haason Reddick, but you can make a case that Sweat has been the Eagles’ defensive MVP this year. If you made a list of the Eagles’ best 4th-round picks ever it would start with William Thomas and you’d want to put Sonny Jurgensen on there and maybe Dennis Harrison. But Sweat is way up on that list and the crazy thing is he’s only 26. 

8B. HowieBall Part 2: There was a play in that terrible Bears-Panthers Thursday night game where Miles Sanders caught a short pass and was tackled by T.J. Edwards. You wonder what these guys are thinking out there, both just nine months removed from playing in a Super Bowl and playing for two of the worst teams in the NFL. They both got paid, so obviously there’s a lot of satisfaction there. They can take care of their families for generations. But from a football standpoint, here's Edwards, playing in anonymity for a 3-7 team and Sanders having just a terrible year (3.2 average) and barely playing at all for a 1-8 team. Then there’s Javon Hargrave, who had three early sacks but has now gone four straight games without a sack for a team that’s lost three straight games. Kyzir White has a couple sacks for the 1-8 Cards. C.J. Gardner-Johnson is out indefinitely with the 6-2 Lions with a torn pec. Marcus Epps is ranked 50th by Pro Football Focus out of 69 safeties who’ve played at least 300 snaps for the 4-5 Raiders, who already fired their coach. Isaac Seumalo has been OK with the Steelers but the Eagles already had his replacement waiting in the wings. Andre Dillard is rated 57th out of 64 offensive tackles who’ve played 300 snaps. Even Gardner Minshew was just adequate in his five starts for the Colts. Minshew left for the opportunity to compete for a starting spot, so he doesn’t really fit in with the other guys. But those eight departed free agents – Sanders, Edwards, Hargrave, White, Gardner-Johnson, Epps, Seumalo and Dillard – got a combined $210 million in free agency, with $104 million guaranteed. The Eagles could use CJGJ, but he’s not healthy. Hargrave is still a decent interior pass rusher, but he’s 30 and overpaid and the Eagles have a couple young powerhouses at his position who cost way less than $84 million. When it comes to deciding who to let go, Howie rarely misses.

9. With his sack Sunday at 35 years, 216 days, Brandon Graham became the 2nd-oldest Eagle ever with a sack and the oldest in 26 years. Hall of Famer Richard Dent recorded his final NFL sack, on Dec. 14, 1997, vs. Chris Chandler in the Eagles’ 20-17 loss to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Dent had turned 37 one day earlier. It was his 2nd-to-last career game. Graham is the 3rd-oldest player in the NFL with a sack this year. Calais Campbell of the Falcons, who turned 37 in September, has three, and Al Woods of the Jets, who turned 36 in March, had one on opening day vs. the Jets. The oldest player ever with a sack is Clay Matthews, who was 40 years, 282 days, when he had a sack in his last NFL game – a Falcons loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville on the last day of the 1996 season.  

10. After a slow start – just six sacks in their first three games – the Eagles have 24 sacks over the last seven games, tied with the Ravens for most in the league since Week 4. They’re actually ahead of last year, when they finished with 70 – 3rd-most in NFL history – but had 29 through nine games before going wild with 41 over the last eight weeks. The Eagles are on pace for 56 this year. The only time the Eagles had 55 or more sacks in consecutive years? That would be 1991 and 1992, when they had 55 each season.

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