What We’ve Learned About Nick Foles
Andy Reid admitted earlier this week that while he’s impressed with Nick Foles, it’s important to acknowledge that the rookie is not going to see the looks in the preseason that defenses would throw at him when the games count.
“Everything’s so vanilla right now from an offensive and defensive standpoint, so people aren’t going to blitz you like they do [in the regular season],” Reid said. “At least the exotic blitzes, you’re not going to get [those] in the preseason.”
But that isn’t going to temper the enthusiasm from fans around the Delaware Valley who have seen Foles complete 24 of 38 passes for 361 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Before we look ahead to Foles’ start tonight against the Browns, let’s take a quick look at those 38 pass attempts to see what the rookie has been up against and how he’s really performed.
Reid was right that Foles hasn’t been blitzed a lot. But the Steelers and Patriots did send extra pressure his way nine times. On those plays, Foles went 4-for-8 for 48 yards. He also ran once for 24 yards. Foles ran a 5.14 40 at the combine, but he doesn’t look like a statue in the pocket.
Here are some notes on what we’ve seen from Foles so far against the blitz:
* Most of his passing yards against the blitz came on a 40-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson. The Patriots sent six defenders at him after a fake handoff. It looked like Foles barely got to step into his throw, but he still launched it 50 yards in the air. It wasn’t perfect, but he let Jackson make a play.
* Most of the time, Foles’ default has been to dump the ball off when a blitz is coming. Against the Steelers, he recognized a blitzer coming unblocked up the middle and got rid of the ball to Bryce Brown, who was stopped near the line of scrimmage. On another blitz by the Steelers, he recognized pressure was coming and got rid of the ball to tight end Brett Brackett in the flat. And against New England, he dumped the ball off to LeSean McCoy when he recognized extra pressure was coming.
* The Steelers sent an eight-man blitz at Foles, He recognized single coverage on the outside and let one fly down the left sideline to Elvis Akpla. The pass was incomplete, but Foles knew what he wanted to do on the play.
Again, not a ton of different looks thrown his way, but Foles has been decisive when blitzed. He has yet to be sacked on 38 dropbacks.
LETTING IT FLY
I’ve argued for months now that the reason Mike Kafka concerns me as the backup is that the Eagles’ offense is based on getting the ball downfield to playmakers like Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Arm strength is the one area where Kafka is constantly questioned. And that’s the one area where Foles has the edge for the No. 2 job.
The rookie has not been shy about showing off his arm in the first two preseason games. On throws that have traveled more than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, Foles is 6-for-10 for 215 yards.
Some notes on his arm strength:
* The 70-yard touchdown to Damaris Johnson against the Steelers traveled 43 yards in the air. That’s even more impressive when you consider Foles was on the move, rolling to his right when he hurled it downfield.
* He showed good touch on the 44-yard touchdown to Mardy Gilyard that traveled 46 yards in the air down the left sideline.
* He rifled a 13-yard pass to Maclin on a comeback route on the right sideline vs. the Patriots.
* In terms of other throws, Foles is 11-16 for 64 yards on short throws that are within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. And he’s 7-for-9 for 82 yards on throws between 6 and 15 yards.
On the surface, Foles has completed 63 percent of his passes. But consider that he spiked the ball once, Eagles receivers have dropped three of his passes and he’s thrown the ball away twice, and his accuracy numbers are even better.
In other words, Foles has thrown 35 passes he intended to complete, and 27 of them have either been caught or were dropped.
Some notes on his accuracy:
* He’s fit the ball into tight windows on several occasions: an 8-yard completion to Chase Ford against the Steelers; the completion for 13 yards to Brent Celek in the red zone against the Patriots; and the 3-yard touchdown to Clay Harbor, where the tight end had a defender right on his back.
* Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have talked about Foles being a “natural” player. My guess is they’re talking about him doing little things like throwing to Ford’s left shoulder for a 6-yard gain when he had a linebacker closing in from the other side against the Steelers.
* Analyst Greg Cosell always talks about yards-after-the-catch being a result of good quarterback play more than good receiver play. On a shallow crossing pattern to Jackson, Foles put his throw on the money and allowed the wide receiver to pick up an extra 9 yards.
* Foles’ best throw so far might have been the 11-yard completion to Jackson in the red zone. He squeezed the ball past two linebackers and fit it in front of a safety. But most importantly, he threw it low so that Jackson could catch it, get down and avoid contact.
* I mentioned above how he’s looked good throwing on the move. On the touchdown to Harbor, Foles had a defensive lineman at his feet, was rolling to his right and put the pass on the money in the back corner of the end zone.
It’s definitely important to remember this is just the preseason. With a rookie, you’re just looking for signs of what he can become and what his limitations are.
He’s still had his share of errors. He threw an interception at the end of the first half against New England. He’s missed on a couple throws – like a slant he threw behind Marvin McNutt and a 17-yarder he fired high to Jackson. And when he felt pressure on a different play, he dangerously flipped the ball up to seemingly no one to avoid a sack.
Sometimes, Foles might trust his arm too much. Against New England, he avoided pressure, rolled to his right and fired a pass about 24 yards in the air to Jackson down the right sideline. It was nearly picked off, although as Jon Gruden pointed out, Jackson probably should have done a better job of coming back to the ball.
But overall, the results have been impressive. Foles now has two weeks to prove he’s good enough to be the backup and jump ahead of Kafka on the depth chart.
Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.