Interim starting quarterback Mark Sanchez continues to perform better than regular starter Nick Foles was before getting injured, which could put Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly in an awkward and difficult position when Foles is ready to return to the lineup.
It's hard to believe we could actually be looking at a late-season quarterback controversy considering that, in 2013, Foles set a new single-season record with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 27-to-2 while also leading the NFL in yards per attempt (9.1) and posting the third-highest passer rating in league history (119.2). Plus, the historically mistake-prone Sanchez threw multiple interceptions in three of his first four games in relief of Foles.
With just that information at hand, this would appear to be a no-brainer. But look beyond that and you begin to see why Sanchez deserves strong consideration.
The Eagles have won four of Sanchez's five games. He's started only four, but it was 7-7 when he took over for Foles one quarter into Philadelphia's Week 9 matchup with the Houston Texans. Philly went on to win that game, 31-21.
Here's an in-depth comparison of the two as we enter Week 14:
|Mark Sanchez vs. Nick Foles, 2014|
|Comp.% under pressure||44.7||39.8|
|Acc.% throwing deep||38.1||35.6|
|Time in pocket||2.45||2.73|
|Avg. rank of defenses faced||24th||19th|
|*Based on common sense, not starts (Pro Football Reference/PFF/NFL.com)|
The bottom number indicates Sanchez has faced slightly worse competition, but that probably doesn't account for the discrepancies elsewhere. Foles benefited from a ridiculous seven non-offensive touchdowns during the first six weeks of the season, but the Eagles offense has averaged almost an extra touchdown per game on offense with Sanchez under center.
Under Sanchez, the offense has put up 29 or more points four times out of five. Foles reached that mark only twice and was in somewhat of a rut before suffering that broken clavicle. In fact, he too had thrown two picks in three of four games before getting hurt.
|Nick Foles, Week 4-8|
|*Min. 50 passes (ranking out of 33)|
On top of that, Sanchez ran Kelly's uptempo offense like a boss in his latest performance, leading a near-flawless no-huddle attack against a good Dallas Cowboys team. According to CSN Philly's Reuben Frank, the Eagles averaged a snap every 19.1 seconds during their first two possessions against Dallas, which—per Football Outsiders—was nearly three seconds faster than their league-leading season average of 22.07.
So yeah, Sanchez appears as comfortable as Foles ever did, especially with read-option plays, which says a lot considering how fresh he is. Chip Kelly sees it, per PhillyMag.com's Tim McManus:
I think he’s just getting more comfortable. I said it earlier in the week: he missed an entire year of football. There’s no substitution for playing. He played well in the preseason but then sat until the Houston game, so I think he’s just starting to get more comfortable, starting to recognize the looks he’s getting and sometimes getting to a second receiver, a third receiver, keeping things alive.
The good news—at least when it comes to that impending decision—is that Foles is still probably a few weeks away. According to Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News, a four-week follow-up CT scan revealed that his collarbone injury is healing at a normal rate, which would put him on pace to return in late December.
His supporters will certainly argue that he doesn't deserve to be Wally Pipped because Sanchez has played weaker defenses and has benefited from a more stable offensive line.
And that's fair, because Foles was forced to make do without stud interior offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis and young right tackle Lane Johnson for long stretches during the first half of the season. Foles had less support from LeSean McCoy and the running game, and he was pressured 14 percent more often than Sanchez has been, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Despite that, he had a lower interception rate and a substantially lower sack rate.
Confused? You're not alone.
A lot could still change between now and whenever Foles is medically cleared. In fact, that's an inevitability. Sanchez will have his biggest challenge yet Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, who possess the league's top-rated defense.
By the time they've played the Cowboys again in Week 15, we'll likely have a lot more clarity on just how far Sanchez has come from his butt-fumbling days in New York. But if he's able to avoid another multi-interception game and has Philly on the verge of clinching a second consecutive division title, it'll be extremely hard for Kelly to make the switch back to Foles.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.