DURING AN eight-minute chat with reporters after practice, Sam Bradford twice used this phrase: "The ball goes where it's supposed to go."
Bradford was being pressed yesterday on why the Eagles' passing game hasn't produced big plays or very much yardage, not to mention touchdowns, heading into the fourth game of the season, Sunday at Washington.
People who rewatched last Sunday's 24-17 victory over the New York Jets, in which Bradford completed 14 for 28 for 118 yards, saw a quarterback standing in a clean pocket, usually, often facing receivers who seemed to be open deep - and then repeatedly throwing underneath. Often not really throwing very accurately underneath. Not getting the ball to outside receivers.
Bradford's response yesterday seemed to be that he is running the offense the way the coaches are calling it. He said he would like to go deep more, but at no point did he evidence a belief that he is the one keeping that from happening.
"I think a lot of it is the way we're trying to attack defenses right now," said Bradford, whose figure of 5.8 yards per pass attempt ranks 37th among 41 passers charted by the NFL. Bradford's longest completion of the season, 32 yards, ranks him 33rd in that category. "The ball goes where it's supposed to go . . . That's what we've been calling and that's what's been given to us."
Bradford, whose 0-for-5 figure on balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield is the NFL's worst, according to ESPN, said he certainly wants to get the ball to, say, first-round rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who was targeted four times against the Jets without recording a catch. But that's going to have to happen naturally, Bradford said, he can't force it.
"Listen to the play call. Take what's there. You can't try to force anything," Bradford said. "When you try to force it to someone, and you make an extra effort to get someone the football, sometimes you run yourself into problems, because you skip over progressions trying to get . . . someone the ball. I think you've just got to stay disciplined in your reads. The ball goes where it's supposed to go."
But to another question about getting the ball to wideouts, Bradford said: "It's a good question. I don't know. Maybe it's the way we've been calling the game, maybe it's the way defenses have been playing us. Obviously, we feel really good with the matchups that we've had inside. With (tight end Zach) Ertz and Jordan (Matthews, the slot receiver) and (running back and slot receiver Darren) Sproles, we feel that any time we can get those guys matched up inside, whether it be a safety, a 'backer or a nickel, those are usually matchups that we like.
"Hopefully, this week, you'll see everyone involved."
That is a possibility, with the second-ranked Redskins defense missing starting cornerback DeAngelo Hall (toe), and the other starter, Chris Culliver, sitting out yesterday's practice with multiple leg issues. Another corner, Justin Rogers, is on injured reserve. But the Hurricane Joaquin-influenced weather forecast for Sunday could turn air attacks soggy and make this a mudbath.
Earlier yesterday, Eagles coach Chip Kelly was asked what the problem is with Bradford getting the ball downfield. He said: "It's a combination of everything. We've had some drops, but there's been some times when guys are open and we didn't put it on them at appropriate times."
Bradford said that in the Jets game, "I missed some opportunities. I think they covered us a few times, and I think there obviously were some plays we left on the field, and we'd like to have a few of those back."
Maybe the larger issue has been the Eagles' overall lack of offensive flow. The second half of the Atlanta game has been the only time the running and even the underneath passing game have looked at all crisp and productive.
"Obviously, it's really frustrating," Bradford said, when asked about consistency. "That's our goal every week, is to come out and play four quarters to our ability . . . We've shown that we're capable of it, we just haven't been able to put together four quarters. I think, obviously, there's some things we can build on, there's some things we did do well" against the Jets.
"You just look at the tape from the last couple of weeks - I think there's small mistakes, all over the place. We've got to do a better job . . . of being more consistent . . . Unfortunately, there just haven't been enough times where we've all been doing the right thing."
In this contention, Bradford found support from Ertz.
"I think we are very close. Guys aren't stressing about it," said Ertz, who has only eight catches for 93 yards through three games. "We know we have a very formidable offense when we get this thing going. But, at the same time, we've got to go out there and execute."
The Eagles don't seem to have the downfield juice they had when DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin were the starting wideouts. Sproles seems to be the only explosive weapon. When Nick Foles was the quarterback, Ertz deep down the seam was a teasing, tantalizing possibility that never quite happened as often as it might have. So far this season, it isn't happening at all.
"I hope so. I think it's coming, I think the opportunities are going to be there more and more as the season progresses, Sam gets more and more comfortable with me, I get more and more comfortable with him," Ertz said. "Sam and I didn't have a true training camp - he wasn't really out there for most of OTAs, when (the receivers) were out there," then Ertz missed much of training camp with abdominal surgery, "so we're learning on the fly together."