Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly has refused to commit to Nick Foles as his starting quarterback, but it would certainly seem the starting job is Foles’ to lose after he completed 22 of 28 passing attempts for 406 yards and a league record-tying seven touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
One outstanding performance (against the NFL’s 25th-ranked passing defense), however, does not necessarily mean Foles has emerged as Philadelphia’s long-term answer at quarterback.
Foles’ record-tying performance should at least earn him the chance to prove he deserves to be the starting quarterback ahead of his competition.
While Foles lost the starting job to Michael Vick in the preseason, Vick has not played a full game since Week 4 due to a hamstring injury. When he has been on the field, he has struggled, completing just 54.6 percent of his passes.
Foles, on the other hand, has thrown for 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions in 118 passing attempts—much more impressive numbers than the five touchdowns and three interceptions Vick has thrown in 141 passes.
Each of Foles’ past two games may turn out to be anomalies of opposite extremes: While he is unlikely to duplicate his seven-touchdown performance anytime soon, he is also a better quarterback than he played to be in his previous start, completing just 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards in an Eagles loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
If Kelly is not even ready to crown Foles as the Eagles quarterback of the present after his last start, it is also too early, given his inconsistency, to throne Foles as Philadelphia’s quarterback of the future. Some who have followed Foles’ career closely, including Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and quarterback guru Benjamin Allbright, remain skeptical:
Of the quarterbacks currently on Philadelphia’s roster, however, Foles may be the best long-term bet.
Against the Raiders—and in his other starts as well—Foles has displayed the tools and potential to be a very good starting quarterback for the Eagles for years to come. But if he is going to be that, he still must become more polished and rhythmic in some areas of his game.
Why Foles Is Generating Excitement in Philadelphia
The easy answer to that statement would be Foles’ numbers: In addition to his impeccable touchdown-to-interception ratio, he has led the Eagles to three wins in the four games of which he has played the majority of Philadelphia’s offensive snaps under center.
Those numbers, however, are skewed by the fact that they have come against three teams (New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raiders) who have a combined record of 5-19. Even against some of the NFL’s weakest teams, however, Foles has made some plays that can hold up against any opponent.
The most noticeable aspect of Foles’ development this season from his rookie year last season may be in his deep ball. After ranking 24th in the NFL (among quarterbacks with 28 or more passing attempts of 20-plus yards) in deep passing accuracy in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he ranks fourth in the NFL thus far this season in deep passing accuracy and second in deep touchdown passes.
|Nick Foles' Statistics on Passing Attempts of 20+ Yards|
|Pro Football Focus|
While Chip Kelly’s offense is predicated more upon quick, efficient passing than shots deep down the field, Foles has made some huge plays, especially against the Raiders and Buccaneers, by driving the ball accurately as far as 55 yards down the field to hit a receiver in stride for a touchdown.
His final throw against the Buccaneers was a good example of his deep-ball ability.
Foles started out the play with a play-action drop, then set his feet at the 45-yard line. From there, he drove his weight through his throw—even with two Buccaneers defenders bringing pressure in his face—and delivered a pass that dropped over the head of a trailing cornerback perfectly and into the hands of DeSean Jackson as he played the ball in stride crossing the goal line.
Another example of his ability to rocket the ball deep came on a 63-yard touchdown pass to Jackson. While the catch angle is not as clear in these screenshots, what you should really pay attention is the yardage markers.
As you can see, Foles set his feet around Philadelphia’s own 24- or 25-yard line, then with room to step into his throw, he drove his weight through to his front foot and launched the ball downfield. He did not just put distance on it, but also accuracy, as he hit Jackson on a deep strike straight down the middle around the Oakland 15-yard line—approximately 55 air yards from the point of his throw—and ahead of a cornerback in coverage for Jackson to make the play and finish with a touchdown.
Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, preparing for his team to take on Foles Sunday, has taken notice of the second-year quarterback’s development as a deep passer.
Foles is, for the most part, a fundamentally sound quarterback, especially considering he has made just 13 NFL appearances to date.
He does a good job of switching reads and diverting his eyes from his intended target until he sets up to throw. He has clean footwork in his dropbacks, and does a good job maneuvering within the pocket. And as evidenced by his turnover-less season thus far, he typically makes smart decisions with the football, knowing where he is capable of making a play and when he should just throw the ball away or take a sack.
Physically, Foles should not be limited by his tools. While he does not have the quickest release or put terrific velocity on his throws, he has a sound-enough throwing motion and enough arm strength to make any throw on the field, as evidenced on the deep throws illustrated above.
One of the biggest misconceptions regarding Kelly’s offense, especially coming into the season, is that a quarterback like Foles, who does not have much speed or downfield running ability, would not be a fit for the Philadelphia offense. Although most of Kelly’s quarterbacks at Oregon were dual-threat runners with speed, his system is predicated more so upon the ability to do quick reads from the pocket as a passer than it is on the quarterback making plays with his feet.
While Foles may not be known for his athleticism, his movement skills are more than adequate for the Philadelphia offense. He does a good job extending plays with his feet, and by consistently keeping his eyes downfield when he scrambles, he has shown that he can make big throws on the run, such as the following five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Riley Cooper against the Oakland Raiders.
How Foles Still Must Improve to Be Philadelphia’s Franchise QB
While Sunday’s game against Oakland highlighted the strengths of his game throughout, his 80-yard passing performance against the Cowboys did the opposite. Even beyond that game, however, there are lingering inconsistencies in his game that he must improve upon to see long-term NFL success.
First and foremost, Foles must become more consistent with his ball placement. While he has shown he can place a deep ball on a dime, he has not been consistent with his accuracy in any area of the field, including on the short-to-intermediate throws required to be successful in the Eagles offense.
Specifically, one problem Foles has is with leading receivers properly. He has a tendency to place passes on the wrong shoulder of the receiver, forcing receivers to adjust back to the ball to make catches rather than catching the ball in stride. This has caused him many avoidable incompletions at every level of the passing chart.
While his deep ball has looked great most of the time, he has some issues with hanging the football up too much, causing underthrows or allowing defensive backs to come back to the ball and make plays.
The following example against the Cowboys was a badly missed deep ball by Foles. Foles had an opportunity to set his feet at the 30-yard line, where he had a huge pocket of protection as demonstrated by the ellipse in the screenshot.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Jason Avant got wide open going into the left side of the end zone. All Foles had to do was deliver a strong throw the way he did consistently against the Raiders and Buccaneers, and he would have had an easy touchdown completion. Instead, he let the ball hang up and fall short of Avant, who slid in an unsuccessful effort to adjust back to the poorly thrown pass.
The passing charts from Foles’ past three games also demonstrate the second-year quarterback’s inconsistency:
While Foles completed nine of 12 passing attempts of 20 yards or more against the Raiders and Buccaneers, he missed all eight of his deep passing attempts and completed just two passes beyond 10 downfield yards against the Cowboys.
One reason for Foles’ struggles against the Cowboys was their ability to bring pressure against Foles, but as shown above, there were also plenty of instances against Dallas where Foles had significant time to make a play, and simply missed a throw. Conversely, Foles did a good job against the Buccaneers and Raiders of using his footwork to extend plays away from pressure, and throwing confidently against pressure, like he did on the deep-ball touchdown against the Buccaneers demonstrated above.
One thing Foles will never be able to do, however, is consistently beat pressure by making plays with his feet. While he has shown he can gain a few yards if he has a clear lane to run through, his running is upright, slow by NFL standards and fully north/south with no moves to make defenders miss.
Foles’ limited athleticism should not preclude him from quarterbacking success, but it does take away one dimension of the game that an increasing number of modern NFL quarterbacks have. Without the ability to beat defenses with his feet, Foles’ ability to throw the ball more consistently with accuracy is truly imperative to his long-term success.
Should the Eagles Bank on Foles’ Future?
Foles has shown enough already to indicate that he could be a franchise quarterback. Will he be? Time will tell. The biggest question as it pertains to the Eagles is how long they should give Foles the opportunity to prove himself as one.
Foles is not going to put up earth-shattering numbers every week like he did against the Raiders, but if he can avoid games like he had against the Cowboys and play as solidly, for the most part, as he did against the Buccaneers, he can be a successful NFL starting quarterback for years to come.
As long as he can avoid collapses like he had in Week 7, the Eagles should continue to ride Foles as their starting quarterback this season.
He has significantly outperformed Vick, whose career is seemingly in decline as injuries have taken their toll on the 33-year-old. Between this season and last season, Foles has a 19-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 94.0 quarterback rating, while Vick has a 17-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 80.5 quarterback rating.
The first deciding factor in what the Eagles decide Foles’ standing is beyond 2013 will be his success in the final seven games of the 2013 season. At 4-5, the Eagles are one game behind the Cowboys in the NFC East. If Foles remains the starter the rest of the way, his ability to quarterback the team to wins will go a long way in determining the confidence Kelly and the rest of the Philadelphia brain trust has in Foles going into his third season.
Regardless of what happens the rest of this season, however, the Eagles should plan to at least give Foles a shot at establishing himself as a franchise quarterback in 2014.
Even if Vick overtakes Foles at some point this season, he is not the long-term answer for the Philadelphia offense.
The more significant long-term competition for Foles will be Matt Barkley.
Barkley’s performance has been very uninspiring this season, as he has thrown four interceptions in just 49 passing attempts. That said, Barkley is a rookie who has the mental acumen to bounce back as he gains experience. Barkley does not have the deep passing ability that Foles does, but he has the skills to emerge as a better short-to-intermediate passer.
What the Eagles should not do, after selecting Foles in the third round of the 2012 draft and Barkley in the fourth round this year, is draft another quarterback early in 2014. While the potential of adding a player such as Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel may be an enticing opportunity for Kelly, the Eagles should stick with the young investments they have already made, especially given Foles’ intriguing progress, and give at least one of them the chance to materialize into a long-term starter in 2014.
All screenshots were taken from NFL Game Rewind with all illustrations added by the author firsthand.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.