Chip Kelly may have named Nick Foles the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback for the remainder of 2013, but the first-year head coach didn’t promise anything beyond. One widespread belief maintains Chip is merely biding his time until the organization can draft its quarterback of the future this May—regardless of how Foles performs.
From the moment Kelly arrived in Philly, fans and analysts alike claimed Foles would not fit in the offense. Yet all the sophomore signal-caller has done this season is complete 63.6 percent of his passes for a league-leading 9.6 yards per attempt while throwing 16 touchdowns to zero interceptions.
That doesn’t quite cement Foles’ status as the face of the franchise, but it should put to rest any notion the Eagles require a so-called “mobile” quarterback.
Kelly himself tried to squash such tall tales himself from the very beginning. At his introductory press conference back in January, Kelly preached that perception was different from reality. After the front office chose another pocket passer in Matt Barkely in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, the head coach reiterated track speed is not a necessity, outlined in a report by Zach Berman of The Inquirer.
If the fact they have the ability to run, I believe that's an added bonus, but that's not the precursor to what we do. We've said it since day one. I want the quarterback that has the ability to run. I do not want a running back that can throw. We've never been that type of offense, and I think that's a misconception.
Having said all that, there’s little question the zone-read option—a staple of Coach Kelly’s system—is designed to force defenses to treat the QB as a threat to run with the football. And when we think of QBs who are a threat to run, the lumbering Foles is somewhere toward the bottom of the list.
In fairness to Foles, he’s demonstrated the ability to hurt defenses on the ground. No. 9 ran for 48 yards on eight carries against Washington two weeks ago (minus one kneel-down), so at the very least opponents have to respect it.
The simple truth of the matter however is Foles doesn’t need to run that much. People love the scintillating scrambling of a human highlight reel like Michael Vick, but what Foles lacks in speed, he makes up for in command of the pocket. Let’s break down some of the methods a true pocket passer uses to extend plays with his feet.
Trusting the Pocket
Sometimes the best way to make up for a lack of mobility is by not running at all. Too often, quarterbacks who can escape the pocket tend to do so at their own peril, when trusting the protection and delivering the football to an open receiver is the best way to go.
Take for example Foles’ 55-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in Green Bay. Notice how the QB is looking to pass to his left, but M.D. Jennings comes into his vision on a safety blitz. Foles sees it and understands the pressure is going to be in his face if he goes that way.
Foles trusts reserve left tackle Allen Barbre to steer the safety away and steps up into a pocket which is closing in around him. The QB doesn’t need much time to step up and fire a bomb down the field, and he correctly anticipates his offensive line providing just enough room to operate.
Sometimes it’s just as simple as going through the progressions. A lot of running quarterbacks will feel pressure when there is none and take off anyway. If Foles isn’t pressured, he’s going to calmly cycle through all of his options and eventually make a safe decision with the ball. A checkdown pass may not be a huge play, but it’s better than a sack or a fumble—or an injured field general.
There’s foot speed, and then there’s agility. The quarterback doesn’t have to run a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash to be elusive when one step is all it will take to create separation from the rusher.
Moments before heaving a 63-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper in Oakland, all of a sudden Foles is going to have center Jason Kelce pushed back into his face by a Oakland Raiders lineman. Pocket integrity has been compromised, and the QB is a sitting duck.
Foles doesn’t need a ton of space, though. He simply slides to his left away from the pressure, creating just enough room to release the ball without interference. The pass travels 55 yards in the air and hits Cooper in perfect stride.
You can see Foles’ slide step is subtle, yet the 24-year-old’s length and long stride buys roughly one yard in one singular motion—enough to get rid of the football.
There’s been quite a bit of debate over how strong Foles’ arm really is. It’s not elite. There are NFL quarterbacks who can throw the pigskin further. Regardless, the kid has more than enough to throw deep or outside the numbers even when he’s not really set up. There’s something to be said for that, too.
On the Run
Foles’ athleticism is underrated in general. People forget he played basketball at the University of Arizona for a fairly prestigious program. He can get out there and run around a little. Look how he evades another pass-rusher, only this time there’s a ton of field in front of him.
But the QB doesn’t take off, and instead, keeps his eyes locked down the field while running parallel to the line of scrimmage to extend the play. By the time Foles lets this ball go, DeSean Jackson is coming open for a 20-yard gain—and not pictured is this throw on the run—while the passer is getting hit in the mouth—being threaded flawlessly between three defenders.
Sure, Foles will keep some of those. Why wouldn’t he? On a conventional dropback, No. 9 taking off is the least of the defense’s worries. And when he does run with the intent to gain yardage, he does so while climbing the pocket rather than trying to reach the edge, maximizing the amount of ground he can cover. He’s decisive but understands his limitations.
None of this is to say the Eagles won’t be in the market for a quarterback this offseason, but it won’t be regardless of how Nick Foles performs. If he continues to execute at the current level of precision, he’ll be Philadelphia’s quarterback for the next decade. How fast a guy can run is completely irrelevant when he possesses this kind of command of the pocket.