What Chip Kelly Has to Do to Keep Nick Foles Firing on All Cylinders
Foles has started three games in a four-week span for Philly, and two of those starts have been spectacular. The first earned him NFC Player of the Week honors, and the most recent gave him a spot in the all-time record books.
Wedged in between those starts, the 24-year-old former third-round pick struggled mightily against the Dallas Cowboys, but it didn't appear as though that had much to do with the circumstances created by Kelly or anyone else. Foles was just wildly inaccurate that day, leaving handfuls of plays on the field.
Remember, this is a quarterback who looked out of his element in Kelly's offense in training camp and the preseason less than three months ago. Michael Vick crushed Foles in their quarterback competition in August, as the Arizona product failed to impress in four exhibition opportunities. In the preseason finale, he completed only six of his 17 passes for 63 yards, and he finished the preseason with zero touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of 72.6.
But teams don't really game-plan in August. Kelly wasn't necessarily trying to accommodate Foles; instead, they were just going out and throwing the ball around. That didn't work for the young quarterback, but it might have been that the guy was learning his third different offense in a three-year span.
So what has changed? Nothing, really.
"We called a lot of the same plays we called the last two weeks. We just executed them. That's the thing," Kelly said after the game, per Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Everything we called today, we've had in before."
The difference is that Foles is executing now, along with the rest of the offense. It looks as though he needed that extra time in September and October in order to fully acclimate himself.
How does Kelly ensure that the magic won't disappear now? A few thoughts...
Methodical Starts with LeSean McCoy as the Focal Point
Foles was given an early lead Sunday, making it easier to operate as the game wore on. It wasn't as though the Eagles trailed Dallas by a large margin early two weeks ago, but the Cowboys defense was still able to pounce in a close game in the first half.
For the Eagles to be successful going forward with Foles, we'll need to see plenty of LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown early so that Philly can set the tempo. Keep in mind that McCoy is still the centerpiece of this offense. If Kelly and the Eagles lose sight of that, especially on early drives, they could run into problems.
Despite the fact that Foles had over 400 yards and seven touchdowns, he wasn't really asked to do a lot during the first quarter on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
"I slowed everything down," Foles said, via the Eagles' official website. "I just understood what we were trying to do. I wasn't trying to make too big of plays. Obviously there are going to be times where big plays need to be made, but I was trying to do what I did all week during practice and just carry that onto the field."
The Eagles' first two plays from scrimmage Sunday resulted in a scramble and a penalty, giving them 2nd-and-16 deep in their own territory. The play that followed set the tone for the rest of the game. It was a 42-yard pass from Foles to Riley Cooper. But the reality is that it was a short screen that didn't reach the original line of scrimmage:
FOX analyst Tim Ryan noted that the Foles-to-Cooper catch-and-run was "almost an extension of the running game," and that's the key.
We saw that later on the same drive on this 13-yard "pass" to McCoy:
And this eight-yard "pass" to DeSean Jackson:
Foles' second touchdown pass, a 17-yarder to Cooper, was legit. But it came directly after the Eagles had run three straight times prior to a single screen pass, which, again, is an extension of the running game. They were keeping things at or around the line of scrimmage with runs and screens, resulting in this nice, clean pocket on the touchdown throw:
I'm suggesting "methodical" starts, but what I'm getting at as well is that Foles should dictate the early tempo in the same way Kelly more broadly proclaims that personnel should dictate schemes. If he wants to slow it down early, that should be his prerogative. The goal is to make sure No. 9 is as comfortable as possible.
Keep the Pocket Clean
Foles was flustered early against Dallas. The Oakland defense is better, and this was a more hostile environment on the road, but the guy was barely touched Sunday. Now, he's mobile enough to escape and has good pocket presence, but Kelly and the Eagles have to structure game plans to ensure that Foles is kept out of harm's way early.
This is somewhat psychological. He was detecting pressure where it didn't exist against Dallas, probably because he was hit twice in the first few moments of the game.
Kelly can't pass-protect for Foles, but he can run the types of plays we looked at earlier. They neutralized that Raiders defensive front by utilizing quick passes and plenty of designed runs, which not only allowed them to set that tempo and give Foles a lead, but also allowed Foles to operate the rest of the way without skittishness.
That won't always be as easy, though, which is why Kelly should be prepared to give Foles extra blockers as often as needed.
Give Him as Much Riley Cooper as Possible
Foles and Cooper have one hell of a connection. In the three games Foles has started this season, Cooper has caught 15 of the 19 passes he's been targeted on for 347 yards. The rest of the year, he's caught only 10 passes on 23 targets for 106 yards.
But Cooper still played only 37 snaps Sunday, whereas Jackson played 46, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Jason Avant and Jeff Maehl had a combined 51 snaps. If Kelly wants to keep Foles comfortable and happy, he might have to introduce more plays designed for Cooper to be the first read.
On a macro level, Cooper's contract expires after this season. Considering that his stock is rising as he becomes Foles' favorite target, that's scary. If Foles continues to flourish, Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman might want to think about signing him to a new deal in the next few weeks.
Pro Football Focus
It's probably a given that Foles will start Week 10 in Green Bay. He's already torched two Top 10 defenses in Tampa and Oakland, so as long as Kelly gives his sophomore quarterback the right amount of support, there's no reason to think he won't keep rolling.
And even if he does come back to earth a tad, the Eagles have to be stubborn about this. Foles might still need some time to become consistent, but he's the best option this team has. We know how much Kelly hates it when his quarterbacks make mistakes, and we're talking about a young dude who rarely turns it over, even when he's at his worst. Foles has thrown just two picks in his last 374 attempts, dating back to last season.
If Kelly remains disciplined, so too should his new quarterback.
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