If you’re like me, you probably didn’t watch a lot of Nick Foles after he left Philadelphia.
You knew him as the guy who threw 27 touchdowns and two interceptions in 2013 and led the Eagles to the playoffs in year number one of the ill-fated Chip Kelly reign.
Or maybe you knew him as the guy who came down to Earth in 2014 because he was playing at an unsustainable level during the year prior, or maybe because opponents started to figure out Chip’s offense. I’d say it was a combination of both of those things.
Chances are, you forgot about all of that pretty quickly when the Eagles traded up for Carson Wentz last April. Any memories of Foles, Kelly, Sam Bradford, and DeMarco Murray were sort of wiped from existence when the Eagles made a shrewd move for a stud franchise quarterback.
Now we’re sitting here at 11-2 after Wentz tore his ACL and “Nicky 6” is back under center for the NFC East champions.
When the Eagles signed Foles back in March, you probably thought something along the lines of, “okay, he’s a veteran, he knows Doug Pederson, he knows Philadelphia, he’s an upgrade over Chase Daniel.” I thought similar things and was happy to have him as a backup, but now that I’ve had 36 hours to sleep on the Wentz news, I’m not as down on him in a starting role as others might be.
2012 to 2014 – Eagles
Foles was a third round pick in the 2012 draft and sat on the bench until Michael Vick had to leave the week 10 loss to Dallas with a concussion. The rookie wound up being named the starter for the rest of the season, then broke his hand in week 16 and Vick started the finale in New York, a 42-7 loss to cap off the Andy Reid era.
In seven games as a rookie, he threw for 1,699 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. Reid went to Kansas City and Chip Kelly was hired.
Vick won the starting job that summer and played a few games before going down injured again. That resulted in a bit of a back and forth, with Foles starting a few games while Vick was in and out of the lineup. Matt Barkley even had to be called on. Foles was eventually named the starter, but not until Week 13.
I don’t know if many people remember all of that. 27 and 2 sounds like a fairy tale when you think about it, but both quarterbacks dealt with injuries that season and nothing was fluid or consistent. Vick was hobbled with a nagging hamstring issue and Foles suffered a concussion against Dallas. The Eagles started 3-5 and didn’t really climb into playoff contention until they ripped off a five-game winning streak from November into December. They disappointed in the playoff loss to the Saints, but Foles went to the Pro Bowl on the strength of his ridiculous touchdown-to-interception ratio.
He was the day one starter in 2014 and led the Eagles to a 5-2 record before breaking his collarbone in Week 8 and going on season-ending injured reserve. Foles didn’t have DeSean Jackson that season, but Jeremy Maclin came back from injury to be a prominent figure in the Birds’ offense. Nick finished with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in that half season and his completion percentage was down by more than four points, while his yards per completion decreased by about 25%. He kept throwing bad interceptions, but had the Eagles on track for a playoff berth before the injury. Most of the discussion back then was people arguing about whether or not Foles was a franchise quarterback. Chip didn’t think so.
Foles’ overall career numbers are obviously highlighted by 2013:
2015 – Saint Louis Rams
11 games, 11 starts, 2,052 yards, 7 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 56.4 completion percentage, 69.0 QB rating
Foles was shipped to the Rams in the Sam Bradford debacle of 2015 and was benched midway through another 7-9 Jeff Fisher season.
This team didn’t have close to the offensive talent that Foles was working with in Philadelphia. No Jackson, no Maclin, no Shady McCoy. No Riley Cooper! Todd Gurley was a rookie and injured to start the season, the receiving corps was underwhelming (even Sean McVay doesn’t know how to use Tavon Austin), and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke were both in year number one in their respective roles. Cignetti lasted only three months before he was canned and now has the coveted distinction of being the New York Giants’ QB coach.
They finished dead last in passing offense that season and 29th in points per game (17.5), but ran the ball well enough when Gurley got healthy in October and November.
Another thing to point out is that the NFC West was damn good back then. Seattle and Arizona had two of the toughest defenses in the league. The Niners were shit, but still had some good defensive pieces as well. It’s strange, then, that Foles actually went 3-1 against the division that season, throwing for five touchdowns and one interception in those games.
But he struggled in almost every other game. He never had a 300 yard passing game and crested 200 only three times, falling apart entirely after a 4-3 start. The Rams scored just 23 points in his final three games that year.
Foles made a lot of bad decisions that season, like this one, where he decided to throw across his body near the goal line for an easy pick six:
2013 Foles tucks that ball and runs for five yards before sliding.
He threw six interceptions before his week 10 benching for Case Keenum, then reclaimed the starting role only to throw four more picks in the next two games. He was benched for good and then was released in the offseason.
That year was a shit show, but every so often, Foles would do something reminding you of 2013 like this:
Hmm.. movement in the backfield? Misdirection? Standing in the pocket and taking a hit? Looks a lot like the Nick Foles that I know.
Unfortunately those moments were few and far between. He only threw seven touchdowns that season – one of which was a shovel/sweep to Austin – and had a ton of clunkers, highlighted only by a Week 4 win against the previously unbeaten Cardinals:
I’ll chalk up a lot of 2015 to the leadership of offensive guru Jeff Fischer and a nascent staff, but Foles didn’t do anything to help his case, looking out of sync with his receivers and forcing passes that reminded me of the 2014 Nick and not the 2013 Pro Bowler.
2016 – Kansas City Chiefs
3 games*, 1 start, 410 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 65.5 completion percentage, 105.9 QB rating
Foles rejoined Andy Reid in Kansas City as Alex Smith’s backup.
Ah, much better, a playoff contender with playmakers like Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Foles’ former teammate, Jeremy Maclin.
Smith led the Chiefs to a 4-2 start before suffering a concussion in Week 7 in Indianapolis. Foles came in to finish 16 for 22 for 223 yards with a pair of touchdowns and zero interceptions. The 135.2 QB rating was his highest since the Eagles’ 2013 win in Green Bay. He led drives of 80 yards and 75 yards in the 30-14 win.
Foles started the next weekend and led the Chiefs to a 19-14 home win against Jacksonville. It was a very “game manager” type of performance, as he only threw for one touchdown in the win but protected the football and didn’t make any 2015-esque mistakes. Kansas City knocked in four field goals while the defense shut down a mediocre Jacksonville offense en route to a 6-2 start.
Smith came back to lead the Chiefs to a one-and-done playoff appearance.
2017 – Eagles
That brings us back to Philly, where Foles has been fortunate to have some reps at the end of blowout games in October and November. A lot of it was just mop-up duty and handoffs, but any time spent on the field with the first unit is better than standing on the sidelines.
Now, people say, “Nick Foles is no Carson Wentz!” as if that’s some sort of epiphany.
Most people aren’t Carson Wentz. Most NFL starters aren’t Carson Wentz. Tom Savage, Mitch Trubisky, and Jacoby Brissett are not Carson Wentz. Where, then, is Nick Foles, a backup, in relation to those three players? He’s not any worse than those guys. I’d roll with Foles anyway day of the week before trying one of those quarterbacks.
The way I see it:
- huge arm
- knows Doug Pederson
- knows the offense
- knows Philadelphia
- playoff experience (at Lincoln Financial Field, no less)
- 5+ years in the NFL
- probably rusty, hasn’t played a ton since 2015
- not as mobile as Wentz*
- fewer reps with first team offense
- average footwork
- history of throwing interceptions
- recently thought about quitting football
I put an asterisk on that bullet point above because it’s something that came up in Doug Pederson’s press conference yesterday:
Q. Foles has that track record of success, but he is a different quarterback than Wentz, obviously not as mobile. How much work do you have this week tailoring the offense to Foles’ strength?
DOUG PEDERSON: Well, that’s the other thing that’s interesting from the standpoint of you say ‘mobile.’ When was the last time we did an RPO where Carson ran the football on a run? When is the last time that, outside of a scramble, that we designed a run for Carson Wentz? We haven’t done that many times at all. So going forward, there’s not much we have to do. It’s more or less just what is he comfortable with? What is Nick familiar with? I’ve known him for a lot of years and we’re going to continue to have the same communication that Carson and I had during the weeks. Carson’s going to be a big part of helping Nick get ready too. So not much going forward is going to have to change.
This question was asked a few minutes later:
Q. You mentioned the RPOs specifically. You guys lead the league in RPOs by a significant margin. That doesn’t change at all with Wentz’s skillset versus Foles’?
DOUG PEDERSON: No. When you say RPO, you mean when he runs? When is the last time he ran on a designed run? It usually comes on a scramble, our RPO game is much different than it was in the beginning of the season. Even in the game yesterday, some of the RPOs we did, if you pay close attention, they’re down the field throws and they’re quarterback-pocket throws. So we’re not asking our quarterback to expose himself, necessarily, on a designed QB run.
There’s some confusion there with the “RPO” designation, or run/pass option. It doesn’t necessarily mean the quarterback has the option to run the ball himself or throw it. A lot of what the Eagles do is read the defensive end, then Wentz will decide whether he wants to hand the ball off or throw it instead. The option isn’t for HE HIMSELF TO RUN THE BALL.
The Eagles do a lot of this with their RPO looks:
There’s no quarterback run built into that play. It’s just Wentz reading the end then pulling the ball back and throwing it to Alshon Jeffery instead. They weren’t designing runs for Carson Wentz and they’re not going to be designing them for Nick Foles either.
Now, on a play like this, an Andy Reid special, Alex Smith can hand the ball off, run it himself, or dump it off to the receiver:
That’s an example of RPO where there’s a QB run built into the play. Smith has to make multiple reads in one sequence.
The Eagles don’t do that. I think every Wentz run this season, aside from the 4th and 1 sneaks, were scrambles off of called pass plays. That’s the main reason why I think the “Doug Pederson is to blame for the ACL tear” is a jabroni narrative.
Going back to 2013, Chip Kelly’s offense had a lot of concepts that aren’t dissimilar from what you see in Doug Pederson’s designs. You saw it in Week 1, when they were using RPO looks without a QB running option even when Michael Vick was on the field:
Remember that dumbass clock they kept running at the bottom of the screen to show how fast the Eagles were calling plays?
Anyway, that play is easy. Read the defensive end and/or slot corner, hand it to Shady, or throw it to the flat. Vick makes the right read:
And they ran similar looking plays even when Foles was on the field:
Easy read, pull the ball out, roll to your right and find a wide open receiver streaking down the field. Foles had a field day running stuff like this:
I think we’re way off base when were throwing out takes like, “opponents won’t respect the Eagles RPO with Nick Foles,” since the Eagles don’t really do that anyway. Doug Pederson said as much on Monday afternoon and looked visibly annoyed when reporters were asking him about it.
So there you have it, 2,225 words on Nick Foles, who isn’t Carson Wentz but also isn’t Ryan Leaf.
This squad is 10 times better than anything Chip Kelly or Andy Reid/Howie Roseman gave us from 2012 to 2015, so keep that in mind when thinking about Super Bowl chances post-Wentz ACL tear. You can be a mopey loser and cry on local sports radio, or you can man up and throw your support behind the team.