There is a tremendous amount of skepticism surrounding Nick Foles heading into the 2014 season, but what exactly is the criticism? All the guy did last year was post the third-highest passer rating in NFL history while guiding the Philadelphia Eagles to an 8-3 record in 11 starts, including a playoff appearance.
Sure, Foles needs to prove he isn’t a one-hit wonder (I guess), maybe navigate his team deeper into the playoffs—although the Eagles led the last time their offense was on the field in a meaningful game. Yet what is it specifically about this quarterback that some observers just don’t trust? He has prototypical size, is accurate and his arm strength is good enough.
Well, it might sound like nit-picking, but I can think of at least one aspect of Foles’ game that could use some polish. If the third-year player hopes to one day be viewed as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady’s equal, much less the unquestioned franchise quarterback in his own city, the next step is learning to get the football out of his hand faster.
Foles’ internal clock is perhaps the only measureable red flag from an otherwise unbelievable 2013 campaign, but it should not go overlooked.
Of the 42 signal-callers to start and win at least one game, only 11 were sacked more often per dropback. And according to the game charters at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), just three—Terrelle Pryor, Michael Vick and Russell Wilson—literally held onto the ball longer.
|Sampling of QBs Sacks Pct., Release Times in 2013|
|GMS||SK%||Time in Pocket||RAT|
|Tony Romo (median)||15||6.1||2.76||96.7|
|Pro Football Focus, Pro-Football-Reference.com|
On average, it took Foles 3.11 seconds to attempt a pass, take a sack or scramble across the line of scrimmage. The league median was 2.76 seconds. Brady had the fourth fastest time at 2.46 seconds. Manning was the best at 2.36 seconds.
Obviously, some plays take longer to develop than others, particularly shots downfield, which is why many quarterbacks actually have a higher passer rating when they wind up waiting. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that mobile QBs have a tendency to keep the ball longer while they try to create plays with their feet.
Generally speaking, though, getting the ball out faster reduces the likelihood of the passer taking a drive-killing sack or penalty, or worse, suffering a pressure-induced fumble or interception.
Two weeks into the preseason, Foles’ penchant for waiting has done more harm than good so far in 2014.
Here we have 3rd-and-8 against the New England Patriots and be sure to note the time in the upper left-hand corner—it will come into play in a moment. Also, keep an eye on Jordan Matthews highlighted in the slot.
Now, check the clock again. It’s not exact, but let’s say we’re approaching three seconds. Granted, Allen Barbre is getting beat by his man at the bottom of the screen, but the ball needs to be on its way out. And while we don’t have the All-22 coaches film as a resource during the preseason, it appears Matthews is running open toward the sideline. A pass short of the sticks seems relatively safe, anyway.
Foles doesn’t like what he sees, so he decides to bail, except that’s a tough jailbreak for even the fleetest of foot.
It’s a sack for a two-yard loss, which as poor results go, wasn’t the worst-case scenario here. However, with Barbre in the lineup at right tackle in place of the suspended Lane Johnson for a minimum of four games, Foles has to be aware that some of the escape routes that were available to him the previous season might not be there.
To be fair, that was on third down, so you might be thinking it’s move-the-sticks or bust. This time, let’s dissect a 2nd-and-4 that very nearly ends in disaster.
Again, we don’t have the All-22, so there’s no way of knowing for sure, but this time there aren’t any receivers open whom we can see during the broadcast. Furthermore, we can’t easily make the case Foles has held onto the ball too long based on the amount of time off the clock from the time the ball is snapped.
Peters gets bowled over at the bottom of the screen, and Foles winds up in the defender’s arms.
The only thing that saves this from becoming another sack is a desperation spike at Celek’s feet—something of a dangerous play in itself. The the ball could’ve been knocked loose, been wildly off-target or potentially resulted in an intentional grounding penalty. The official even could’ve ruled the passer in the grasp and awarded New England the sack.
But what was Foles to do? Let’s assume nobody was open, and to be fair, the protection did break down rather unexpectedly.
Foles still had enough time to make a better decision than that. At worst, he could’ve chucked the ball out of bounds over a receiver’s head if nothing was there, at least ensuring the offense would still have four yards to go on third down. He was fortunate that play didn’t leave the Eagles in a far more difficult spot.
Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of knowing the situation.
On his first series of the preseason against the Chicago Bears in Week 1, Foles was backed up in a 3rd-and-17 following a penalty. He had plenty of time when he dropped back, but the secondary is playing deep to prevent the first down.
Rather than check the ball down, punt and live to fight another day, Foles hangs in the pocket. By the time he goes to release, the ball is tipped and winds up getting picked off.
It was the first possession in the first quarter of a scoreless game. There was absolutely no reason to try to push the ball downfield in that situation, and it resulted in a costly turnover that started the opponent in Philadelphia territory.
For what it’s worth, Foles apparently is aware of this flaw in his game. As the field general informed Zach Berman for The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier in training camp, he is trying to be sharper with his decision-making. Foles said Monday:
This year, I really want to not take as many sacks, get rid of the ball faster, dump it down to the back earlier. That's something I'll continue to work on the next few weeks.
There's times I could have gotten the ball out. I held it a little long. There's sometimes when there's no one open, and you've just got to eat it because if you throw it out there, a bad play can happen, and a guy can pick it, take it the other way. So sacks do happen.
Foles is right: Sacks do happen. They’re certainly better than turnovers that result from forcing passes.
On the other hand, sacks or pressure from holding the ball too long can cause turnovers, too. Clearly, Foles could stand to improve in that department. He may have to if he wants to be considered on that elite level with some of the game’s greats.