What to Expect from Chip Kelly's Offense with Nick Foles Under Center

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 7, 2013

Hamstring injuries are about as unpredictable as Michael Vick is as a quarterback. And now that Vick is dealing with one, it looks as though Philadelphia Eagles fans are going to be exposed to a lot of Nick Foles in the short- and possibly long-term future. 

ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted on Monday that Vick is expected to miss Philly's Week 6 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If indeed Vick does get ruled out this early, that could mean #FolesTime lasts quite a while.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly insists that Vick is still the starter when he's healthy, but the veteran has already been injured three times in five games. It was only a matter of time before he had to sit, and it'll happen again. In other words, get used to Foles.

From Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer: 

If Kelly is committed to learning everything he can about the NFL and how his system fits it, he should give Vick the luxury of a week off, just to make sure the hamstring is healed and won't become a chronic problem. He should give himself the learning experience of designing a game plan for Foles, who brings a different set of advantages and disadvantages to the field.

Speaking of those advantages and disadvantages, how much of an offensive transformation are we talking about here? Kelly said that Sunday's game plan didn't change with Foles under center in relief of Vick, but it sure looked and felt different. Just ask Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara:

When Michael Vick went out, their whole game plan changed. Now, there’s not two runners in the backfield. It was more passing. All week we prepared just for them to run the read-option.

We prepared a little bit for No. 9 (Foles), but it was just different. We were going in Foles was a precise passer and a pretty good quarterback, but we were more focused with having Michael Vick back there and the read-option, and when Foles came in, it was a whole new game plan.

Vick and Foles are very different quarterbacks. Or, more precisely, Vick is a very different quarterback. He's an extremely mobile southpaw with a highly accurate missile attached to his left shoulder. It's all very extreme. The highs are really high and the lows are in the rock-bottom range. 

Foles probably has a much lower variance. He's not as fast and doesn't have Vick's accuracy, but he appears to be less prone to making mistakes and his pocket presence is superb—at least for a second-year quarterback.

Vick is special; Foles is not. That doesn't mean Vick is better. It just means that there's no way things won't change when a player as unique as him is suddenly removed from the equation. What changes?

They Gain Pocket Presence

Vick holds on to the ball for too long. We say that so often it's become a cliché, but that doesn't make it any less true. He's the only quarterback in the NFL who has averaged more than 3.0 seconds before attempting to pass this season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

Last year, Foles got rid of the ball 24 hundredths of a second faster than Vick, which is not insignificant. As a result, Vick was pressured 10 percent more often. 

Thus far in 2013, Foles has unloaded 23 hundredths of a second faster than Vick, proving further that last year's gap wasn't a fluke. 

Even when Foles did face pressure last season, he was a better passer than Vick. Under pressure, he completed 50 percent of his passes, per PFF, while Vick was at 41 percent. Sunday, Vick completed zero passes on five dropbacks under pressure, while Foles was 3-of-9 with a dropped pass in those situations. 

"It definitely changes the dynamic of the game when he is not out there," said DeSean Jackson of Vick, per PhillyMag.com "but I think as you saw with Foles he does a great job of making a decision and really letting the ball come out early and just giving the receiver an opportunity to just go out there and make a play on the ball."

But They Lose Most of a Dimension

Not all of a dimension, but part of one. 

"I think in the run game, you want to take me out for sure and Mike Vick, you want to stop him, too," LeSean McCoy said, according to the Inquirer. "I think it's always something different when Mike is in the game. You see the spies they have on him, and the defensive ends are slower to rush when Mike is in there. I mean, it's Michael Vick, and he can take off at any given time."

Vick ran for 79 yards on seven carries before leaving in the second quarter. McCoy had 48 yards and was averaging 4.0 yards per carry with Vick in the game, but he ran eight times for minus-two yards with Foles under center. 

It seems what Kelly values about Vick more than anything is that ability to keep defenses wondering, especially on read-option plays. 

Here, I circle a Giants defender who is essentially frozen as Vick fakes to McCoy. There are so many possibilities at this moment:

That would result in a 12-yard completion. And on the very next play, you can see defenders thinking twice before committing to McCoy on what winds up being a standard handoff. 

That would result in a 17-yard gain. 

Here's Foles in the same situation, but now the D doesn't have to concern itself with the quarterback's legs:

That would result in an incomplete pass.

Plus, with Vick on the sideline, Kelly's playbook is certainly restricted. Designed runs like this 11-yard gain fall completely out of the picture:

On Sunday, Vick scrambled for 34 yards on a 3rd-and-20. That is something Foles probably couldn't do, and it is a play with game-changing potential. We don't have all-22 footage yet, but the coverage looked pretty good on television. That point is that there's a very slim chance the Eagles would have converted that third down with Foles at the helm.

However, it's important to consider that not every Vick run would automatically have been an incomplete pass or a sack with Foles at quarterback. That, plus the fact that Foles isn't completely immobile, is why the Eagles don't lose an entire offensive dimension.

Maybe Foles gets sacked on this play in which Vick picked up 13 yards on a scramble...

Or maybe he gets rid of the ball half a second earlier (which is the norm) and completes a pass to Riley Cooper before the pressure has even arrived...

Here's a five-yard first-down run (the black line) for Vick that probably would have been a first-down throw into the flats (the red line) for Foles...

Here, you see Foles using his legs to escape pressure on a 3rd-and-long...

That resulted in an 11-yard completion. Raise your hand if you think Vick would have passed in that spot.

This 22-yard Foles completion might have been a 15-yard run for Vick...

And I'd imagine he would have run for this first down, too...

The point is that a lot of Vick's runs might actually be Foles completions. 

They Become a Little Less of a Deep Threat

This is probably debatable. Both were 2-of-3 Sunday on deep passes, per PFF, and Vick's 56-yarder to Jackson should have been picked off:

Plus, Jackson completely dropped what would have been another deep completion from Foles:

Still, Vick has three touchdowns, zero picks and a solid accuracy percentage of 47.6 on deep balls this season, according to PFF. Last year, he averaged 0.3 more yards per attempt than Foles, and it's clear the Eagles are more open to taking shots with him than with Foles. 

That certainly deserves to be a factor, for now.

But They Gain Some Consistency and Stability 

Again, highs and lows. Vick might be a home-run hitter, but his batting average is poor. Over the last three weeks, he's completed just 46.5 percent of his passes, which is unacceptable in 2013. Foles, who had a much lower turnover rate than Vick last season, completed a solid 64 percent of his 25 throws in relief of Vick Sunday in New Jersey.

Vick is also just 3-of-19 on red-zone throws, but Foles looked good inside the 20 Sunday. 

They might not be losing out in the accuracy department, at least based on those numbers. I mean, look at this perfectly placed touchdown strike from Foles to Brent Celek:

And while Vick has a longer history with this core, Foles has already gained enough chemistry to ensure that everyone's comfortable and working together. 

A nice example came on Jackson's touchdown catch. Foles is releasing before Jackson even starts to execute his stop-n-go move:

There's No Way the Door Is Closed

I know Kelly probably prefers Vick because of his skill set, but if Foles continues to prove that he's a significantly better passer and can limit his mistakes, it'll be hard for him to rationalize going back to Vick. 

Yes, it's easier to defend a quarterback like Foles than it is Vick, but the Giants defense didn't make dramatic changes Sunday. They continued to run press-man coverage with a safety typically devoted to Jackson, regardless of who was at quarterback for Philadelphia. 

Going to Foles changes the mentality on both sides of the ball, but there can definitely be some advantages gained that way, too.


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