Nick Foles achieved mythical status thanks to a crazy seven-touchdown game against the Oakland Raiders. Foles became just the seventh player to ever accomplish that feat and joined Peyton Manning as the only quarterback to do so since the 1969 season.
Foles was, on that day, one of the best. But there is no guarantee that Foles will be the Eagles' starting quarterback next season. Or even when this season ends. While Foles dominated and impressed in Week 9, the jury is still out on his long-term ability in head coach Chip Kelly's offense.
A major question in Philadelphia leading up to next offseason will be whether or not Kelly believes in Foles to run his offense and lead this team.
What does the film say?
The Spread-Duck Offense
Before you can judge Nick Foles' ability in the Eagles offense, you have to understand what they're trying to do. Upon Kelly's hiring, most fans and observers assumed that meant running quarterbacks and more than enough read-option plays to kick Dom Capers out of coaching. That's not been the case, though.
Contrary to what many assumed, Kelly's offense has been balanced compared to the rest of the league. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles have passed the ball 372 times and run it the other 269 offensive snaps—which is a normal ratio in today's NFL. What we haven't seen is a ton of read-option. That might be because of injuries to Michael Vick, or it could be that Kelly's offense isn't as option-heavy as so many assumed.
Kelly's offense does employ some read-option looks, as well as package plays off that read-option look that allow the QB several options based on the look the defense gives. Kelly's offense isn't about the read-option, but about giving the signal-caller options with the football.
Would Chip Kelly prefer a mobile quarterback? Probably, but not at the expense of accuracy and decision-making at the position. While you will see a quarterback execute a draw or read-option look, those plays are not the backbone of the offense. Rather, they're an extension of Kelly's belief in getting the ball to playmakers.
The Future and Nick Foles
How good can Nick Foles be? Pretty dang good.
One play in particular that sums up Foles' potential happened in the second quarter of his dynamite performance against the Raiders.
On 3rd-and-5, we see the Raiders in nickel formation—three down linemen, two standing edge-rushers, one middle linebacker and four cornerbacks in press-man coverage with one high safety.
After the snap, the Raiders are still staying true to their pre-snap look. Foles quickly sees press-man coverage on his slot receivers. The outside receivers both get a clean release, but the Oakland corners are in man coverage all the way. That single high safety is spying Foles and waiting to break on the movement of his eyes.
Foles holds the safety with his eyes just long enough for wide receiver Riley Cooper to get his cornerback turned. Once D.J. Hayden (No. 25) has his back turned, Foles trusts Cooper to finish the job of running past the rookie corner. With the safety in the middle of the field, Foles has time to throw the go route to the end zone.
The resulting throw is easy pitch-and-catch. Foles leads Cooper to the back of the end zone and lets his man go get the ball. Hayden is left in the dust, and the Eagles put their second touchdown on the board.
This series shows a few things about the second-year man out of Arizona. First off, he's not afraid to challenge a DB deep. Attacking Hayden in man coverage is a good call—you want to attack the rookie cornerback in that situation. But the way Foles held the safety with his eyes shows his understanding of the offense.
Oftentimes, quarterbacks fail not because they can't throw the football, but because they don't understand the intricacies of the position. Looking off the safety is something that takes time—and a certain next-level intelligence and preparation. For Foles to be making a throw like this so early in his career shows me that he's both well coached and coachable.
He didn't make this throw at Arizona, and he didn't make it last year under Andy Reid, either.
One area in which Foles must grow is in how he handles pressure. Against the Raiders, Foles was rarely asked to play under duress. I charted just one sack and no hits on Foles all day. The Raiders did apply some pressure, but it was easy for Foles to scramble away from it.
On the flip side, against Dallas in Week 7, Foles was harassed often, and he struggled, completing just 37.9 percent (11-of-29) of his passes. The difference is that when the Cowboys pressured, it was a balanced pass rush. They were able to generate pressure from the left, right and middle. Oakland couldn't do that, and Foles carved up their secondary (22-of-28, 406 YDS, 7 TD) as a result.
|Nick Foles vs. pressure|
|Game||Sacks||QB Hits||QB Hurries||Comp. %||TD:INT|
|Pro Football Focus|
Learning to play under pressure can take time, or it can be a trait never learned. Call it the Blaine Gabbert Syndrome. But for Foles to be the quarterback of Chip Kelly's future, he has to play better when defenders are in his face.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign has been his improvement from week to week. Against Dallas, Foles played poorly. He then missed Week 8 due to injury but returned with his record-tying day against the Raiders. For a young player making his ninth career start, Foles showed resiliency and pure talent in his play. That alone should give Eagles fans hope.
Is Foles the answer for Chip Kelly's offense? Yes, he is. Foles isn't a finished product yet—he's not even started a full season in the NFL—but he has all the tools and potential to be a starting QB in the NFL. And with good talent around him on the offensive line, at running back and at wide receiver, Foles is in a situation where he can excel.
While Nick Foles may never be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, there's no reason why he can't be an Eli Manning or Joe Flacco-type quarterback over the course of his career. And if you're the Philadelphia Eagles, that's a great return on a third-round draft pick.