Part of the Philly narrative is well known: Chip Kelly's explosive offense scheme extends defenses horizontally, vertically, and in terms of preparation and conditioning. However, the offense has taken its lumps, notably going two straight games without an offensive touchdown in October. Some context: Philly was using its 3rd string quarterback, Matt Barkley, who is wholly unqualified to play in the NFL (watch his USC tape - he is terribly inaccurate and relied on great receivers to make catches outside of their frames).
The man who put an end to that ignominious scoreless streak? Nick Foles has not only ascended as Philly's starting QB, but has set league records in the process. This is the same Nick Foles that was repeatedly passed for the Eagles' starting job, including for Week 1 of this season. So how good exactly is Nick Foles? Is he the QB that two separate coaching staffs benched for a washed-up Michael Vick? Is he the guy that tied an NFL record with 7 touchdown passes in 1 game? I think the real answer is somewhere in-between. First a look at the numbers through Week 14 (as always, from Pro-Football Reference):
The first thing that jumps off the page is Nick's interception rate. As of Week 13, he actually had not thrown a pick the whole season (about 7.5 games). He's since thrown one a week the last two weeks, so it's an epidemic, right? Well on the season, he has still thrown 11.5 TDs for every pick, that sounds pretty good.
Next, his Yards/Attempt. 9.0!!! He basically throws for a 1st down every time he drops back. Step aside, Shady McCoy, the Eagles should never run again. Usually, QBs achieve high marks in Yards/Att. by holding onto the ball for a long time, and while Foles' 7.2% sack rate isn't fantastic, it isn't a catastrophe. Goodness gracious, he's even shown something as a runner, amazing for a quarterback who's mobility was seriously questioned going into the 2011 draft. But these numbers can't be right: he can't be 21% better than Drew Brees when measured by Adjusted-Net Yards/Attempt, can he?
Here's Football Outsiders' chart of the top 10 passers by defense-adjusted value over average:
Number 2! If Peyton weren't having a ridiculous season with his robotic arm, Foles would be the best QB per throw in the league (in other news, Marc Tressman has turned Josh McCown into the league's 6th-best passer. Marc Tressman may be from the future). Of course, he doesn't have as many yards above replacement (DYAR) since he's played ~7.5 games. But he still ranks 10th on that list. Think about it. In 7.5 games, he has generated more value than 22+ other starters, including:
- A 2-time Super Bowl winner: Ben Roethlisberger
- Another 2-time Super Bowl winner: Eli Manning
- A number 1 draft pick: Andrew Luck
- A Heisman winner: RG3, who's generated negative 56 yards on the season
- A number 1 draft pick who won the Heisman and the college national title game that year (only 2 people have done this): Cam Newton
But in his effort to turn back to his left, Nick has inadvertently opened his hips too wide.
4. Forced to roll right, throws the ball away.
2nd Half: Again, I'll only include tape of notable passes.
21. Nobody open, scramble for 6 yards. Immobile!
22. Levels read to the left, well thrown ball to a receiver that ran a fake post to corner. 12 yard pass was dropped.
25. Easy pass to a crossing DeSean off play-action.
26. Designed pass to McCoy in the flat. Got the ball around a defensive end that got a nice jump.
27. Nicely thrown slant in the red zone.
28. Play-action, nothing was open though, sack.
29. Checkdown to RB, took too long, batted.
30. Wheel to McCoy, short on 3rd and 11.
31. Buys time in the pocket, good throw to a wide-open receiver on a comeback route.
32. Another good throw on a comeback, tighter coverage forces it incomplete.
33. Trying to run clock on 3rd down. The throw isn't there so Foles doesn't force it; instead he rushes forward and is 1/2 a yard short of the first down. Good situational awareness to realize they need to keep the clock running.
- Reads: Foles has improved dramatically since the Dallas game in terms of reading defenses and progressing through his receivers. He missed some important opportunities in that game, but for the most part made good decisions in this one. It's still unclear how much of it is coached on a play-by-play basis, like look to the right before your real read to the left, versus his innate ability to read the defense and know what coverage it is playing. What is clear is that he makes quick, correct decisions, and handles Philly's run/pass option/package plays very well.
- Interceptions: It's clear why Foles didn't throw a pick in this game: there just weren't many bad decisions. In 34 passes, I didn't count a single one that was thrown into traffic. There were some balls thrown to well-covered receivers, but all were delivered so that only his guy could get it. RG3 benefited from some interception luck in this game, with guys dropping a couple. Foles needed no such luck.
- Mobility: Foles showed decent pocket awareness and was able to keep some drives alive with his feet. Philly averages just under 22 first downs per game; by giving the Eagles an extra one the would not have otherwise have, Foles creates an extra 5% of value.
- Footwork: Despite some mobility, Foles knows he's not going to run away from everyone. Instead, he stands strong in the pocket and exhibited good footwork on really all but one pass.
- Not much. Honestly, there wasn't that much bad from Foles this game. He did miss his first pass, and it would have been a big play, but settled down from there. One thing he can get better at: pre-snap adjustments at the line. I didn't see a lot from him in this regard, and it's unclear whether he can't do it or if the Philly system just doesn't call for a lot of these adjustments. There just were a few blitzes were it seemed like no one was hot, but nothing deplorable.
- Pocket presence. Part of this has to do with pre-snap reads. Sometimes when teams bring pressure from creative sources, Foles looks a little lost back there.
rugby-styled jukes (rugby players call them "steps") where a player gets both feet in the air, allowing him (or her) to dynamically position his hips and feet in mid-air, often with violent, ankle-breaking results. This is not really taught in American football and for the life of me I cannot understand why. Lots of American runners chop their feet trying to decide which way to juke. Rugby steps are quick, decisive, and lethal, though they require a high level of anticipation and tremendous reflexes.
The Washington Defense
This defense is horrible. Both Cooper and Jackson were getting free releases off the line seemingly effortlessly. And the coverages were very basic looks; NFL defenses frequently feature two or three different man/zone combinations on the same play, but the Redskins seemed to have a very vanilla scheme.
The missed tackles against McCoy are forgivable, but Shady wasn't the only one running free through tacklers. Foles took a few sacks but his line is much better at run blocking than pass blocking. The linebackers were frequently overmatched in coverage and you saw what happened in the run game.
Overall, I think Nick Foles has proven worthy of being the franchise QB for the foreseeable future. He's only 24 years old, a year younger than Matthew Stafford (and 6 years younger than Brandon Weeden), and as his understanding of defenses grows, he could get even better. His arm isn't as special as say RG3's, but he certainly does more with it than Griffin can at this point. I don't think a 11.5:1 interception ratio can continue, but I have no reason to believe it will balloon simply because Foles stays out of trouble. And while the skill position players are very good, the Eagles are missing arguably their second best receiver (Jeremy Maclin) and the offensive line is in flux. Watch out, league. The Chip Kelly and Nick Foles Eagles offense is just getting started.