One week ago in New Jersey, Nick Foles was so solid in relief of the injured Michael Vick that many Philadelphia Eagles fans wondered if a quarterback controversy was brewing for the second straight year.
And on Sunday in Tampa Bay, Foles was so spectacular in place of Vick that even head coach Chip Kelly, who in August named Vick the team's "starter for the season," was forced to leave the door open for more Foles starts.
"We’ll evaluate everything," said Kelly, according to CSN Philly. "We’ll go back and watch the film, see what he did, see where we are, see where Mike is."
Let's do that right now.
The sheer numbers made Foles the team's MVP in Week 6. The 24-year-old completed 22 of 31 passes and posted a 133.3 passer rating (a mark Vick has hit only five times in 107 career starts). It was his second consecutive turnover-free performance, and he was sacked only once as the Eagles scored 31 points against a defense that hadn't given up more than 23 all season.
He Was Superb in the Red Zone
This is a biggie. The Eagles entered this game ranked 30th in red-zone efficiency, with Vick completing just three of 19 passes inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
But Foles led the Eagles to two big red-zone touchdowns against the Bucs. One, which came in the second quarter, was particularly special. On a second-and-eight from Tampa's 12-yard line, he dropped back and saw Bucs safety Mark Barron biting in zone coverage with DeSean Jackson running a short post. And so Foles smartly pump-faked underneath to ensure that Barron would stay shallow before drilling a pass to Jackson in the back of the end zone.
Foles has now found Jackson for a pair of red-zone scores since taking over under center. Considering that he's the Eagles' most dangerous offensive weapon but that he has never been a major threat inside the 20, that's very encouraging.
The only time the Eagles settled for a red-zone field goal Sunday came on an 11-play fourth-quarter drive on which they ran the ball 11 consecutive times in order to keep the clock rolling. Hard to pin that on Foles, and he's created four red-zone touchdowns on the other six opportunities he's had since relieving Vick.
His red-zone passer rating is 104.2. Vick's was 57.1.
He's No Longer Captain Checkdown
Those who weren't convinced Foles was the answer based on what went down in 2012 often pointed to the fact Andy Reid's offense became much more conservative with Foles under center. Foles had better rate-based numbers than Vick in almost all areas, except he lost out in yards per attempt, averaging just 6.4.
But Foles averaged 9.5 yards per attempt Sunday in Tampa, and that average is now 8.9 on the season. In fact, he was a perfect 3-for-3 for three touchdown passes on attempts that traveled 20-plus yards, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The best example came on a beautiful fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Jackson. Two defenders were present, but Foles placed what was essentially a game-clinching touchdown pass right into the bread basket.
He Isn't Forcing the Eagles to Completely Transform the Offense
They're still running the read-option. Yes, the threat of Foles running is significantly less daunting for opposing defenses, but this system can work without an overly mobile quarterback. What the Eagles appear to be gaining elsewhere might make up for the fact that he's not the fastest quarterback in the league.
Plus, Foles still managed to score on a quarterback keeper Sunday. If you're able to turn this look into an untouched score, you're able to hold your own as a rusher:
On top of all that, Foles doesn't appear to have any issues running at Kelly's desired pace.
His Pocket Presence Is Much Better Than Vick's
We've been saying this for a while, but the Foles sample size has never been large and that reliance on screens and checkdowns may have skewed the comparisons last season.
But this year, Foles continues to look like the more cool, collected and comfortable quarterback in the pocket. Not only has he been less prone to mistakes, but also he simply gets rid of the ball so fast that it's tough to get consistent pressure on him.
On average, it took Foles only 2.41 seconds to attempt his passes in Tampa, according to PFF. That's extremely quick, especially when you consider that Vick is the only quarterback in football who has exceeded three seconds in that category.
He's a no-nonsense quarterback when it comes to getting to his second, third and even fourth reads, which is key in a super-efficient offense like Kelly's. A good example came on the first play of the game Sunday:
And here's an example of him hitting Jason Avant in less than two seconds in the third quarter. Avant was not the first read.
That set up a 47-yard touchdown bomb on the very next play.
Unsurprisingly, Foles has been sacked just twice on 63 dropbacks this season. The resulting sack percentage of 3.2 ranks him second in the NFL, behind only Peyton Manning. Vick has the league's seventh-highest sack percentage. And keep in mind that Kelly hates sacks.
The only time Foles was taken down Sunday, he stood no chance against the blitz. An unblocked Lavonte David had him wrapped up less than two seconds after the snap.
In the second quarter, he managed to turn this pressure situation into a first-down completion on a touchdown drive...
And on the next series, he was somehow able to get rid of it to avoid a sack here, while also keeping the pass out of harm's way...
He's Not Hurting the Running Game Very Much
That was the fear heading into this week, mainly because, last week, LeSean McCoy had 48 yards while averaging 4.0 yards per carry with Vick under center, but ran eight times for minus-two yards with Foles in the game.
But McCoy had no trouble finding room to run Sunday against the league's fourth-rated defense. Despite Vick's absence, he rushed 25 times for 116 yards (losing yardage only twice), while Bryce Brown chipped in with a respectable 20 yards on five attempts.
He's Been Much More Efficient
The lack of sacks is promising, but it goes beyond that. Foles has now generated seven touchdowns this season while going 63 dropbacks without a turnover. No picks, no fumbles. He didn't even come close to throwing an interception on Sunday.
Before injuring his hamstring, Vick had fumbled three times and thrown two interceptions on 179 dropbacks and/or runs. And among qualifying quarterbacks, he has the fourth-lowest completion percentage in the league (53.8).
But Does That Make Him the Starter?
Here's the problem: Vick won that preseason/training camp quarterback battle so emphatically that Kelly was pretty resolute about who his starter would be throughout the 2013 regular season. And it still sounds as though the guys in the dressing room are hung up on that. A lot of them have always implied that they're in Vick's corner, and that's not about to change.
"Mike is the starter," McCoy said after Sunday's victory, per ESPN.com. "Coach Kelly made that clear, but if he needs Nick to step in and make some plays, then he’ll do that. Mike’s the guy we go with, he’s the starting quarterback, no matter what the town says or what the outsiders want. It’s Coach Kelly’s call and that’s the call he’s made."
Kelly could become stubborn about this. He might be wary of the optics that come from making a 180-degree turn only six weeks into his first season.
Working in Vick's favor is that he's lost to two unbeaten teams, while Foles has defeated two winless squads. He's also probably a slightly better fit for Kelly's offense.
But as I mentioned, the Bucs defense is good despite that record. And while losing to the now-6-0 Broncos isn't something you can hold against Vick, keep in mind that he was only able to lead the offense to one touchdown that day against a D that surrendered 48 points to the Cowboys in Week 5.
As for the way he fits into Kelly's offense compared to Foles, there's only so far you can take that. Sometimes, when the talent gap is large enough, the slightly worse fit is still the better option. Foles has outplayed Vick by such a wide enough margin that he might have the edge here regardless of how well he suits the system.
Of course, none of this matters so long as Vick is less than 100 percent. Until that changes, Kelly will have an excuse to stick with Foles. Hamstrings can be tricky, and the 33-year-old is injury prone as is. He's talked about having a "long road back," so Foles could have more time to deliver on the upside that he possesses.
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