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More to Sam Bradford’s struggles than it appears

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In Chip Kelly’s first season with the Philadelphia Eagles, back in 2013, Nick Foles was the toast of the league after throwing 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Foles regressed in 2014, splitting time with Mark Sanchez and throwing 10 interceptions to 13 touchdowns. That was enough for Kelly, who traded Foles to acquire Sam Bradford. Through seven starts, Bradford has just nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. What so ails the 2015 Eagles pass game, and how is it different than 2014’s struggles?

The Declining Efficiency Numbers

Touchdown and interception totals are very incomplete measures of a quarterback’s statistical production. Better numbers still tell a similar story. Two superior metrics are the simpler adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A), which takes sacks, touchdowns, and interceptions into account, and the more advanced Football Outsiders’ DVOA, which adjust for down and distance and also quality of opponent. Table 1 shows the declining production of the Eagles’ quarterback over the past three seasons.

Table 1. Philadelphia Quarterback Efficiency, 2013-2015

Year QB DVOA (rank) ANY/A (rank)
2013 Foles 35.6% (2nd of 45) 9.18 (1st of 38)
2014 Foles 1.8% (20th of 44) 5.93 (20th of 34)
2015 Bradford -16.2% (25th of 32) 4.88 (31st of 33)

The More Complicated Sack Picture

One of the hidden issues Foles had in 2013 was he was sacked at a very high rate. Among the 45 passers ranked by Football Outsiders, he had the eighth-highest adjusted sack rate (ASR), which accounts for down and distance and opponent quality. He did a much better job of getting the ball out quickly last year and had lowest ASR in the league. Bradford’s 2015 performance unsurprisingly comes out between those extremes, as the Eagles rank a respectable 13th in ASR.

Keep in mind, though, the sack numbers are already accounted for in both DVOA and ANY/A. Foles’ spectacular 2013 efficiency numbers came despite the high sack rate, and he was just average in 2014 despite the extremely low sack rate. Bradford would be even worse if he were being sacked at a higher rate.

Deep Ball Struggles

Early last season, I examined Foles’ problems on deep balls — those throws more than 15 yards downfield. That has been a continuing problem area for Bradford. The Eagles currently rank 29th by DVOA on deep passes. That is actually a downgrade from last year, where they ranked 23rd.

One of the particular issues for Foles was his inconsistency. By success rate, which I used last week in covering Peyton Manning’s early struggles, Foles ranked eighth-worst among the 32 passers with the most deep attempts. Bradford is sixth-worst this year among the 32 passers with the most deep attempts.

Bradford is actually doing better than Foles on particularly deep passes, those more than 25 yards downfield, but only 3.9 percent of his throws have traveled that far compared to 11.0 percent of Foles’ 2014 attempts. Meanwhile, Bradford has been abysmal on passes between 21 and 25 yards downfield. In that interval, he is 0-17 with two interceptions and one successful play, a pass interference penalty.

Bradford’s Strength-Short Passes

Roughly half of NFL throws these days are attempted no more than five yards downfield. Bradford comes out just barely better than average on those passes. Among the 33 passers with the most attempts, he ranks just 16th. Just average, though, is a significant upgrade on 2014 Nick Foles.

Last year, among the 33 passers with at least 100 such attempts, Foles ranked 32nd in DVOA, ahead of only Josh McCown. This area more than any other might have been where Foles’ struggles precipitated his departure, and the Eagles have improved here.

Bradford’s Other Struggle: Intermediate Passes

Though Bradford has been better on short passes, he has not matched what Foles did on just slightly longer throws. Bradford has been dismal on throws 6-15 yards downfield, ranking third-worst by DVOA.

This is in sharp contrast to Foles, who perhaps surprisingly given his struggles on very short passes was the most efficient passer in the league in this area last year.

Context May Matter Most

Bradford has been worse than Foles was last year on those short-to-intermediate passes. It is worth mentioning, though, that Foles is one of those two quarterbacks who has been worse than Bradford on those passes this year. Playing for the Rams is different than playing for Chip Kelly’s Eagles.

The 2015 Eagles offensive line and especially the run game are not the 2014 or 2013 Eagles offensive line and run game. DeSean Jackson was the gamebreaker for the 2013 Eagles passing game. The fall in the deep-pass game from 2013 to 2014 was partly the result of his absence, but Jeremy Maclin was a gamebreaker in his own way. It is not clear the 2015 Eagles have any such gamebreaker. First-round pick Nelson Agholor has just eight catches. Bradford’s most efficient receiver to date by Football Outsiders’ numbers has been Miles Austin.

Perhaps the Eagles can use their bye week the Broncos did, and fix aspects of their offense that have not been working. More offensive line consistency should help. So would another player emerging as a consistent player, whether the rarely-used Austin or Agholor or anybody else, as would a more threatening run game. Like Denver, a good defense, third-best per Football Outsiders, means the offense only has to be so good. But it has to be better than it has been or it will be too late to mount a playoff push even in the NFC East.

Broncos double-digit favorites on Sunday night vs. winless, depleted Giants

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The Denver Broncos head into Sunday night with the largest spread they have had at home after a bye week in at least 25 years. The Broncos are 11.5-point favorites against the winless New York Giants with a 38.5-point total for the Week 6 Sunday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Denver is 6-1 straight-up and against the spread in post-bye week games dating back to 2010. There’s a similar long-running trend of Denver being 7-2 SU and ATS in home games following a bye week since 2003. However, this is the first time since 1996 that Denver has been a double-digit favorite in that scenario.

The Giants, which are 0-5 SU and 2-3 ATS, had three wide receivers, including Odell Beckham Jr., sustain season-ending injuries last week. That has left QB Eli Manning with WR Roger Lewis (15 career catches) and WR Tavarres King as his main outside targets. Slot WR Sterling Shephard (sprained ankle) could be inactive.

While team performances tend to gravitate toward the mean with time, the Giants will need to show something new – with replacement-level personnel – in order to move the ball against a Denver pass defense which allows only 6.2 yards per pass, fifth-best in the NFL.

The Broncos’ top-ranked defense, led by OLB Von Miller, is also first in run defense and has every starter healthy. While NFC teams are a combined 1-10 SU on the road against Denver since 2012, the Giants are a solid 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games against the AFC.

Denver, 3-1 SU and 2-1-1 ATS, has been quietly efficient on offense. The Broncos, with QB Trevor Siemian, are in the middle of the NFL pack in yards per pass, but they are facing a Giants secondary that is minus CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (suspension) and has also had inconsistent play from CB Eli Apple.

Denver, 7-2 ATS over its last nine home games in October, has been good at opening holes for the tandem of C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, who are each capable of making things happen in the open field if the tackling gets sloppy. New York also won’t have DT Olivier Vernon drawing double teams up front and keeping blockers off MLB Damon Harrison.

Unless the Broncos stop themselves, they should be able to grind out a workmanlike win.

The total has gone over in three of the Giants’ last four games against the Broncos, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. The total has gone over in six of the Broncos’ last seven games as a favorite of 11.0 points or more.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Watch Indianapolis Colts vs. Seattle Seahawks live on NBC

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The Seattle Seahawks host the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football as both teams look to get back to .500.

Russell Wilson will be the focal point of the Seahawks offense after throwing for a career-high 373 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort vs. the Titans in Week 3. Wilson’s ability to avoid the rush and use his legs will be on full display as Seattle’s offensive line continues to struggle.

On the defensive side, the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” will look to get back on track at home in a raucous environment against Colts QB Jacoby Brissett who is filling in for an injured Andrew Luck.

If the Colts have any chance to pull off the upset on the road, Brissett will have to use his legs and connect on some deep throws to T.Y. Hilton.

Football Night in America

Start time: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app

Colts vs. Seahawks

Start time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app