There is no denying that Nick Foles has established himself as the best quarterback on the Eagles’ roster. The question is will he be the long-term answer for Chip Kelly’s offense? Is Foles’ recent hot streak too small a sample size to judge? Did he just happen to come along at the right time and play against teams that are good matchups for the Eagles? Are his Peyton Manning-like statistics a true barometer of who he is as a quarterback? The film provides some answers.
Let’s start with this fact: the Eagles do not have elite receivers. DeSean Jackson is one of the fastest players in the NFL and has certainly provided his share of memorable moments. However, he is not a consistent, reliable receiver. He doesn’t make tough catches in traffic and often disappears for large chunks of games.
Riley Cooper is a solid route-runner with good physical skills, but he doesn’t win against man coverage consistently. Brent Celek and rookie Zach Ertz are decent pass-catching tight ends, but they’re not difference-makers. The only star power this offense has is in running back LeSean McCoy, who is fantastic as both a runner and pass catcher.
So how has Foles made a difference? The film shows that he has made each of these receivers better. His accuracy, timing, poise in the pocket and understanding of this offense have helped the Eagles improve drastically from where they were before he took the helm.
As we’ve talked about before, Chip Kelly’s system relies on tempo to control the pace of the game. By running no-huddle on practically every down, the offense is able to dictate matchups and wear down the defense. Opposing teams are not able to substitute, making it more difficult to show the Philly offense as many defensive looks. It also makes it difficult to matchup as well as they’d like to with Eagles’ personnel. This all allows the quarterback to decipher the defense more easily pre-snap.
During his recent string of great quarterbacking, Nick Foles has excelled at identifying the coverage and reacting to it quickly. Last week against a good Cardinals defense, Foles made the correct and accurate throw again and again. Not to pick on his predecessor, but Michael Vick was a quarterback who left too many plays on the field. Often times, he would wait until a receiver was clearly open before making a throw. At the NFL level, this is too late. This allowed the pass rush extra time to make a play, which often led to a sack or turnover. It also allowed the coverage more time to react to receivers and then the ball in the air.
Foles clearly understands that if he reads the defense correctly and gets the ball out of his hands on time, the short to intermediate plays will keep the offense moving and eventually turn into big plays. He makes his offensive line better because of his quick decisions and ability to get rid of the ball early in the down.
Another area that Foles has excelled is in his anticipation. He’s letting go of the ball when his receivers are ABOUT TO BE OPEN instead of AFTER THEY ARE OPEN. On a touchdown pass to Zach Ertz last Sunday, Ertz ran a seam route against Arizona’ s quarters coverage (4 defensive backs each responsible for a deep quarter of the field). As he ran directly at the safety covering his specific quarter, Foles knew that the safety would bite on a fake to the outside. As Ertz made his original move in that direction, Foles threw the ball to the inside beautifully, anticipating where his receiver would be for the score.
At another point in the game, on a third and 6, Foles noticed single coverage against Riley Cooper on the outside. Before Cooper even cut inside, Foles noticed that the defensive back had his back turned, so he threw the ball to where Cooper would eventually be. Again, this was an example of Foles recognizing the coverage and anticipating the route, something that sounds simple but only the best quarterbacks do on a consistent basis.
Other times, Foles has taken advantage of Jackson and McCoy’s speed by seeing their matchups pre-snap and then making throws in anticipation of their routes instead of waiting until they’re wide open. Foles has shown a great understanding of his own offense, the talent he has around him, and the defenses he’s facing.The Eagles still have a ways to go before they can be considered a contender. The defense is much improved from early in the season, but still has its flaws. However, going forward, the Eagles appear to have found their quarterback, which in the NFL is half the battle.