Like it or not, the quarterback debate will dominate over the coming days (at least). Michael Vick‘s injury allowed Nick Foles to creep back into the conversation, and the second-year quarterback did enough in his spot start Sunday to keep that conversation churning –right into Dallas Week.
Let’s try to get our heads around the situation before the madness sets in.
Where We Stand
LeSean McCoy's quote immediately following the Eagles' 31-20 win over the Bucs seems like a good jumping off point.
"Nick Foles can play. Mike is the starter," he said. "Coach Kelly made that clear, but if he needs Nick to step in and make some plays, he'll do that. He's shown that. Mike's the guy we go with. He's the starting quarterback, no matter what the town says or the outsiders want. It's Coach Kelly's call and that's the call he's made."
Kelly held a quarterback competition this summer and Vick won it. When he did, Kelly proclaimed that Vick was the "starter for the season." There is an understanding within the locker room that Kelly is committed to Vick. McCoy did not lose sight of that despite Foles' strong showing in Tampa.
If healthy, the starting job likely still belongs to the the veteran. But Vick is not 100 percent.
Who Starts Against the Cowboys?
I asked Vick at his locker on Friday if he could guarantee that he would be back for the Dallas game. He said yes. Vick mentioned that there are only so many opportunities to play the Cowboys and he didn't want to miss out.
It all boils down, of course, to whether the hamstring cooperates. Vick is still not all the way back and suggested to Comcast that "it's going to be a long road" to get to 100 percent.
It's a big game, no doubt, but it's difficult to picture Vick starting against the Cowboys unless he is playing without restriction. If nothing else, Foles' strong showing over the last game-plus gives Kelly confidence that he has a QB who can hold it down until Vick gets right.
By the numbers
Quality of Competition
Two of Vick's three losses were to the Broncos and Chiefs -- the only two remaining undefeated teams in the NFL. The bulk of Foles' work has come against the Giants and Bucs, who are now a combined 0-11.
New York's defense is one of the league's worst. Tampa's, though, was ranked fourth in the NFL in yards allowed coming in and was yielding 17.5 points per game. No team had scored more than 23 points against the Bucs this season before the Eagles put up 31, thanks in large part to Foles' four-touchdown day (three passing, one rushing).
"I don't think it would have mattered who started this game," said Jason Kelce. "I think we would have came out on top. I think Nick obviously did a great job, spectacular throws downfield. But I think Mike can make those throws as well."
Red Zone And Turnovers
Many in the Foles' camp will pitch their tents here.
Vick has thrown two interceptions and is credited with a pair of fumbles lost. Foles, in significantly fewer snaps, has yet to turn the ball over.
"If you do throw a pick you always have to come back firing," said Foles, "but I think it's just really understanding what's going on with the defense, going through the reads, not trying to force the ball and just being smart with it because turnovers, as you all have seen, can be a big determining factor in the game so just trying to be smart with the ball."
The Eagles entered Sunday's game ranked 30th in red zone efficiency but went 2-for-3 against Tampa. With Vick at the helm, the Eagles are 5 for 14 (36 percent) in the red zone. With Foles they are 4 for 7 (57 percent). But again, a much smaller sample size.
"It's tremendously important to be sharp in the red zone. You really want to get those points," said Foles. "I think the big thing is preparation; you see what they're going to do and you really have to take advantage of it. You have to be on time. You have to be sharp on your throws, precision, accuracy. And you can't hold onto the ball too long because that's when bad things happen down there because everything is faster."
DeSean Jackson, who has never been much of a factor inside the 20, has two red zone touchdowns over the last two games. Both passes were from Foles. Sunday was also Jackson's first two-TD performance of his career.
The organization was prepared to move on from Vick this offseason but all that changed when they landed Kelly. If Vick was to have a resurgence it would be in this offense, so they rolled the dice.
As hoped, Vick's athletic gifts allow this offense to hum the way its creator intended...at least until it unexpectedly clunks out.
Foles is not necessarily the most natural fit for this system (it 's still strange watching him run the read option from time to time) but there are elements that match his game. The up-tempo, quick strike approach appears to suit him just fine, for example.
Though the preference is to have a mobile quarterback run the show, the Eagles will take a franchise quarterback no matter what his style is. They don't know if Foles has what it takes yet. If they were convinced he was the guy, Vick wouldn't be here. If they were confident he wasn't a franchise player, he'd likely be in Kansas City right now.
As it stands he's in Philly, serving as the backup to the 33-year-old Vick. Kelly has left himself some wiggle room, but looks at Vick as his starter when healthy.
We have seen the best-laid plans go awry before. When you get hurt, someone else gets an audition. Sometimes the audition goes so well that the job switches hands permanently.
It doesn't feel like we're there yet. But if the audition continues and continues to go well, the powers that be will have more and more to think about.