Barring a significant setback, recently embattled and formerly concussed second-year quarterback Nick Foles will start in place of the injured Michael Vick and the even less effective Matt Barkley on Sunday as the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Oakland Raiders.
Foles has had two weeks to fix what ailed him in what was an embarrassingly bad performance in a Week 6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He was roughed up by the Dallas pass rush early and appeared rattled the rest of the way, completing only 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards before suffering a preventable head injury after holding on for far too long on the final play of the third quarter.
This is the biggest game of Foles' life. He has to prove now that what took place in Week 6 was an anomaly, and that he's still the quarterback who earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seven days prior.
The 24-year-old was lights-out against a very good Bucs defense in Week 5, completing 22 of 31 passes and posting a passer rating of 133.3 in an impressive victory.
Young quarterbacks have bad games. And like I said, that Cowboys defense seemed to get into Foles' head. Not to make too many excuses for him, but he was also reportedly dealing with an undisclosed groin injury, and it's also possible early contact had him shaken up before an actual concussion was diagnosed on a fairly innocuous play later on.
But maybe that was indeed an isolated incident. We're still talking about a guy who has a seven-to-zero touchdown-to-interception ratio this season. He's thrown only five picks on 355 career passes, which is phenomenal.
|Lowest interception % since start of 2012 (min. 350 attempts)|
|1. Nick Foles||Eagles||1.4||5|
|2. Aaron Rodgers||Packers||1.5||12|
|3. Tom Brady||Patriots||1.5||14|
|4. Alex Smith||49ers/Chiefs||1.8||9|
|5. Jake Locker||Titans||1.8||9|
|Pro Football Reference|
Regardless, obviously Foles' accuracy has to improve significantly from what happened two weeks ago.
In that game, only two of his 18 incomplete passes were dropped, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and 12 of the remaining 16 were simply over- or underthrown, according to ESPN Stats & Information, who found that he was 0-of-8 on passes that traveled 15 yards or more. Amazingly, ESPN S&I also notes that Foles entered that game with the highest completion percentage in the league on such passes.
|Lowest single-game yards-per-attempt totals, 2013|
|1. Nick Foles||2.8||Week 6 vs. Dallas|
|2. Blaine Gabbert||3.5||Week 1 vs. Kansas City|
|3. Brandon Weeden||3.6||Week 7 vs. Green Bay|
|4. Josh Freeman||3.6||Week 7 vs. Giants|
|5. Jeff Tuel||4.0||Week 5 vs. Cleveland|
|Pro Football Reference|
I don't think a lack of accuracy is something Foles suffers from, but things can change when quarterbacks begin to lose confidence. So Foles instead has to improve from a psychological standpoint. He has to have a short-term memory here. If that performance against Dallas is still in his head, he could be in trouble. If he can't shake what happened to him two weeks ago, he might squander this opportunity.
And there's a chance he'll never get a shot like this again.
He also can't let himself get rattled, regardless of the hits he takes. His pocket presence was strong during his rookie season, but he was extremely skittish against the Cowboys, detecting phantom pressure and reacting in panicked fashion. He was hit twice on the opening drive and was pressured on 35 percent of his dropbacks, per PFF. That's not ideal, but franchise-caliber quarterbacks have to be able to succeed under worse circumstances than those.
So essentially, it's time for Foles to prove to the football world that he isn't soft. The Raiders defense is sort of in a groove right now. They don't give up a lot of big plays and the pass rush has, surprisingly, been better than average. Logically, they should provide a bigger test than the Cowboys.
We'll probably know very early on Sunday if Foles has made the mental adjustments necessary in order to improve his accuracy. He'll have to be calm and cool, regardless of the support he's getting or what the Raiders are throwing at him. If that happens, he should start hitting his targets.
And if that happens, he'll have a fighting chance.