How Cowboys Can Limit Eagles Quarterback Nick Foles in Week 17

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IDecember 26, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 20: Quarterback Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles is sacked by defensive end George Selvie #99 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half during a game at Lincoln Financial Field on October 20, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Cowboys defeated the Eagles 17-3. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Somehow, some way, the Dallas Cowboys defense was absolutely dominant against the Philadelphia Eagles in the teams' first meeting of the season. They played so well that they actually forced quarterback Nick Foles from the game after he turned in the worst performance of his young NFL career.

So how bad was Foles? Well, take a look at his yards per attempt in each of the 10 games that he's thrown more than four passes.

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That third game was against Dallas, and Foles totaled 80 yards on 29 attempts, good for just 2.76 YPA. Foles' longest pass on the day traveled only 16 yards. 

The Cowboys had such outstanding coverage that Foles was only able to complete a season-low 37.9 percent of his passes.

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That's so impressive because Foles has generated a combined 66.8 percent completion rate in every other game this year. With only 11 completions against Dallas, Foles was flustered from the start.

The Cowboys' overall domination of Foles and the Eagles offense is represented in Foles' passer rating.

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Amazingly, Foles has had only two games this season in which his passer rating has sunk below 100. One was against Dallas, and it was just 46.2. That's particularly incredible since Foles didn't throw any interceptions, which means he was just that much more inefficient through the air.

So how did Dallas stop Foles? Well, they were healthier at that time, for one. Cornerback Morris Claiborne looks like he'll suit up Sunday, according to the Dallas Morning News, but ESPN is reporting that linebacker Sean Lee won't play.

It was also just Foles' second start of the year. He played very well in the prior game with a 133.3 rating against the Bucs, but Foles certainly wasn't acclimated to head coach Chip Kelly's spread offense to the same degree as he is right now.

On the flip side, the Cowboys have more of Foles and Kelly's offense to study. It hasn't seemed to matter to Foles, who is coming off an impressive outing in Chicago, but Dallas should have a better idea of what Foles does well and what he doesn't.

The Cowboys aren't going to stifle Foles like they did earlier in the season, but I think they can still give him enough trouble to leave the door open for a surprise victory. To do that, let's break down how Dallas contained Foles in the first contest this year.


How Dallas Limited Foles

In my game plan for Dallas this week, I mentioned that I wouldn't press wide receiver DeSean Jackson because the risk is too high. If he gets off of the press, which is fairly easy for him since he's so quick and has a small target to jam, he could be off to the races.

One thing the Cowboys did well in Week 17 against Philly was play off Jackson and press wide receiver Riley Cooper, as you can see below.

NFL Game Rewind

With cornerback Brandon Carr pressing Cooper and cornerback Orlando Scandrick on Jackson, the Cowboys will have their best chance to limit the impact of the Eagles receivers. It will be particularly important to press Cooper in the red zone, where his size will potentially be an advantage over the Cowboys' smaller cornerbacks.

Another way the Cowboys stifled Foles in Week 7 was by not giving up many yards after the catch. Foles had to earn every yard that he tallied.

Limiting yards after the catch might be the most difficult on Jackson if the Cowboys don't press him, but Scandrick did a really good job earlier in the year. 

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Even when Scandrick played off Jackson (or Cooper), he was able to fight through blocks to corral the pass-catcher. He and the rest of the Cowboys secondary absolutely need to limit the Eagles' ability to provide Foles with yards that don't come through the air.

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That's so important because the Eagles have been a "catch-and-run" team this year. Of Foles' 2,628 passing yards, only 52.0 percent have been "air yards," or yards traveled by the ball through the air, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That's one of the lowest numbers in the league, suggesting Foles' stats will take a greater-than-average hit if the Cowboys can limit yards after the catch.

Finally, and most important, the Cowboys need to get pressure on Foles. They did that in Week 7 with three sacks and multiple quarterback hits. If you look at Foles' two subpar games this season against the Cowboys and Cardinals, you see eight combined sacks from the defenses.

Foles has just an 83.1 passer rating when pressured, according to PFF, compared to 133.7 when not pressured. If Dallas can't get in his face, it's game over.

One thing they did well in Week 7 was get pressure up the middle, forcing Foles out of the pocket.

NFL Game Rewind

Although Foles is relatively mobile, he's not Michael Vick, and he's not a better passer when he's forced to move out of the pocket.

NFL Game Rewind

The problem is that Dallas seems incapable of getting pressure with their front four. That means they're going to need to blitz Sunday night and hope that they get to Foles before he can torch man coverage. It's a better strategy than just sitting back and letting him pick apart the defense because he has a clean pocket.


Bringing It Together

The Cowboys shut down Foles once this year. He's a different sort of player now and the Cowboys aren't as healthy as they were back then, but it's not like they can't at least limit Foles enough to give themselves a shot to win.

To do it, they're going to need to accomplish three important tasks: press the right receivers, limit yards after the catch, and get in Foles' face. The latter point is the most vital. If Dallas can get semi-consistent pressure on Foles, particularly up the middle, without giving up an inordinate number of big plays, then maybe, just maybe, they can shock the world Sunday night.