Who Is the Real Nick Foles?

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterNovember 4, 2013

Nick Foles has many identities: franchise quarterback, awkward misfit, passed-over spare part, record-tying conqueror of worlds.

With his incredible seven-touchdown day against the Oakland Raiders, Foles emphatically answered the question of whether or not he can produce within head coach Chip Kelly's innovative offense.

With that same 22-of-28 performance, Foles' 406 yards and zero interceptions restored Kelly's reputation as an offensive mastermind. The Philadelphia Eagles offense had eked out just three points in the team's past two games, and Kelly's honeymoon period with Eagles fans seemed to be drawing to an end.

Yet even after his spectacular day, the 2012 third-round pick's future is anything but secure.

Starting quarterback Mike Vick was widely considered a better fit for Kelly's zone-read offense, which uses a quarterback's mobility to open up lanes for the tailback. Kelly didn't draft Foles, so he likely has no particular attachment to the quarterback—but he did take third-string rookie Matt Barkley in the fourth round.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com that finding a franchise quarterback is the Eagles' "No. 1 priority."

"We need someone to step up," Lurie said before Foles' incredible performance—and in Week 9, Foles certainly did.

What happens next week?

A Bumpy Ride

Before he tied the NFL record for most passing touchdowns in a single game, per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Foles' statistical record was wildly inconsistent.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles is sacked by Bruce Carter #54 of the Dallas Cowboys on October 20, 2013 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Foles had completed just 57.8 percent of his passes for averages of just 6.9 yards per attempt and 12.0 yards per completion. Vick completed passes a little less frequently, a 54.6 percent rate, but averaged 8.6 yards per attempt and 15.8 yards per completion.

The common perception, as shared by Vinnie Iyer of Sporting News, is Vick makes more big plays, but Foles runs the offense more effectively.

This is reasoning by resemblance: We know Vick is an explosive athlete; we've seen him make many highlight-reel plays. Foles moves more like a knock-kneed foal.

In an offense designed around the quarterback posing a threat to run, Foles had just nine carries for 28 yards and one short touchdown. Vick, meanwhile, had 34 carries for 308 yards and two scores.

Foles, though, hasn't been a Drew Brees-like wizard of distribution.

Before his outburst against the Raiders, Foles' career completion rate stood at just 60 percent. That's not great, considering he took small nibbles downfield—and his nibbling isn't great, considering the Eagles' explosive weapons like receiver DeSean Jackson and tailback LeSean McCoy.

For all the wizardry Foles displayed Sunday, he's also had miserable outings like last season's 31-6 debacle at Washington. Part of being a franchise quarterback is consistency, and going 21-of-46 for just 204 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions is hardly the kind of performance Lurie is looking for.

Catching Air

So, Foles doesn't wing it downfield like Vick, and he doesn't complete many more passes than Vick either. The offense on the whole has moved the ball more effectively with Vick under center. Why would the Eagles make Foles their quarterback of the future?

Big plays.

Not counting Foles' incredible Week 9 performance, he'd thrown six touchdowns and zero interceptions on the 2013 season. Per Pro Football Reference, his 6.7 percent touchdown rate trailed behind only Brees and Peyton Manning (though Foles hadn't had enough attempts to qualify for rate stats yet).

This truly elite touchdown-to-interception ratio boosted his NFL passer efficiency rating to 101.2. His 5.3 percent sack rate also compared very favorably to Vick's 9.6 percent and Barkley's 6.1 percent.

Then, Foles did this. And this. And this, and this, and this and this and this: 

Once the numbers from Foles' demolition of the Raiders are factored in, statistically he'll be head and shoulders above both of the other Eagles quarterbacks.

Should that make him Philadelphia's quarterback?

A Long Way to Go

When Lurie told Mosher a quarterback needed to step up, he didn't mean for one game. 

Ten of Foles' now-13 touchdowns have come against the hapless Raiders and winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Foles and the Eagles looked disastrously out of their depth against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5.

Foles should have the rest of the season to prove he can utilize the many weapons he has at his disposal and pick apart even the nastiest of NFL defenses. The Cowboys, ranked 17th in scoring defense going into Week 9, aren't among those.

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13: Quarterback Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks to pass in the 2nd half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers October 13, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Eagles won 31 - 20. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Get
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Foles will have to prove his passing ability is so good, his limitations as a runner are worth putting up with.

That's not as high of a hurdle as it sounds.

As I discussed in a preseason X's and O's breakdown of position battles, Kelly doesn't need a blazing-fast quarterback to run his offense. If he did, he would never have signed off on drafting Barkley.

In Kelly's offense, the quarterback only runs when the backside edge defender leaves home to chase the running back. Any NFL quarterback can pick up decent yards running where there are no defenders.

Better yet, as I wrote while drawing up the blueprint to a successful franchise, I found that avoiding interceptions is the first step toward perennial playoff contention. Even before Foles' flawless game against the Raiders, his 90 attempts without an interception were the most in the NFL, per Pro Football Reference.

Foles has a long way to go before he becomes the franchise quarterback of Laurie's (and Kelly's) Eagles. For now, though, he's giving the Eagles their best chance to win—and he's earned what will likely be a seven-game audition for the gig.


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