Nick Foles Far from Perfect During Amazing Midseason Stretch

Andrew KulpContributor IDecember 6, 2013

Dec 1, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA;  Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) is sacked by Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (91) during the third quarter of the game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won the game 24-21.  Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The hype surrounding Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has reached a fever pitch. In a matter of weeks, the 24-year-old has embarked on a meteoric rise from a player nobody truly believed in to MVP candidate.

The view might be a little different right now though if Foles was sitting on 19 touchdowns and one interception instead of zero. A questionable defensive holding penalty wiped away what would’ve been his first pick of the season against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, a mistake that could’ve cost the Eagles a win and a ton of ground in the playoff race.

Foles was under duress when he floated a pass up for grabs over the middle for about the easiest INT the defense will ever have. At the very least, the Cardinals likely should’ve been able to tie the score with the football at Philadelphia’s 43-yard line, down by three and four minutes remaining. The way the Birds’ offense was going, a touchdown there might have sealed the club’s fate.

The Eagles managed only two first downs without the aid of officials over their final six possessions against Arizona. During that stretch encompassing all but the first drive of the second half, Foles completed one of seven attempts for nine yards while taking three sacks for a loss of 22—a net total of minus-13.

Then there is the interception. Officially, it goes down as a no-play, but it remains a terrible decision. Had the Cardinals been able to convert a turnover into six points, they likely would’ve won game.

Foles may get the benefit of the doubt from many fans and analysts right now because he leads the league in passer rating and has turned re-writing the history books into a weekly occurrence. That being said, he’s still a second-year signal caller who’s enjoyed more than his fair share of fortuitous breaks this season.

That wasn’t even the first time a turnover by Foles in his own end nearly came back to haunt the Eagles this season. His fumble on Philly’s 13-yard line at Green Bay in Week 10 nearly breathed life into the Packers in the fourth quarter. But the defense was able to keep them out of the end zone.

While decision-making is generally considered Foles’ strong suit, he doesn’t always arrive at those decisions quickly. Via Pro Football Focus (subscription only), few NFL quarterbacks are holding on to the pigskin longer in the pocket than him at 3.09 seconds—among starters, only Houston’s Case Keenum and Seattle’s Russell Wilson are back there a greater amount of time. They practically invite pressure.

Not unrelated, Foles was sacked a season-high five times last Sunday. Per Pro Football Reference, he’s been sacked on 8.0 percent of his attempts this season, and that, according to Sporting Charts, would rank as the fifth-highest mark in the league.

Just like any quarterback, with the fumble and would-be interception and numerous plays before that, Foles is prone to mistakes when the pass rush gets there.

Believe it or not, Foles’ passer rating actually rises from 117.5 when he throws in 2.5 seconds or less to 127.9 when his release is longer, a function of his success throwing the deep ball this season. Those routes naturally take time to develop. The split is unusual though, and likely headed for regression—especially the way he tends to hang the ball up in the air when he bombs away down field.

Underthrown passes down field are begging to be picked off, not unlike the 55-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson that was in and out of a Green Bay defender’s hands. Jackson wound up making a circus catch instead, but we’ve seen those fluttering deep attempts from Foles before.

Not that the Eagles should stop going long, just that the numbers are a bit deceiving. Between Foles’ penchant for holding on to the ball too long and his occasionally underwhelming deep ball, it’s only a matter of time before some of these imperfections come back to bite him and the Eagles.

The only question is how does the kid respond when that happens? We’ve seen bouts of sporadic play from Foles before, most infamously against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7 when he could only complete 38 percent of his passes. His next game back in the lineup, Foles tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes.

He’ll probably be fine. Whether or not he’s a franchise quarterback or even an MVP candidate though, Foles still has plenty of room left for improvement.