Throwing deep used to land Nick Foles in hot water.
No, not because he was getting picked off. This was before safeties were a primary concern.
“It started when I was a kid throwing it in the yard. I always liked throwing it deep,” he said. “I threw rocks as a kid. I was always throwing stuff. You can ask my mom. I got in trouble breaking a lot of stuff. Throwing pillows at my sisters.”
Sunday, then, provided a familiar thrill.
“It was fun. I was excited to let a couple rip.”
No trouble for Foles this time around. He connected with Riley Cooper for a 47-yard touchdown strike down the left sideline early in the third quarter to put the Eagles in front, and later found DeSean Jackson for a 36-yard score in the fourth.
Foles is now 5-of-7 (71 percent) on passes of 20 yards or more on the season for 148 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, per Pro Football Focus. A small sample size, yes, but a big jump up from last year when he was 10-of-28 (36 percent) for 291 yards with four touchdowns and a pair of picks on passes that traveled 20-plus yards.
Some wondered if it was simply a deficiency in his game. Andy Reid, though, preached patience at the time, noting that Donovan McNabb went through similar growing pains his rookie season and turned out to be a fine downfield thrower.
“They doubted his deep ball. He wasn’t real accurate with his deep ball,” said Reid of McNabb. “You see that with some of these young quarterbacks where they put it up into coverage and sometimes guys make plays and sometimes they don’t.
“It’s footwork. It’s your footwork. Just getting used to the drops and then the pass rush lanes and all that. It’s a mixture of things; the secondary and the different coverages you are going to see, and getting yourself situated.”
Chip Kelly won’t touch any questions about a player’s performance before he arrived. He judges based off what he sees with his own eyes. And he hasn’t noticed any issues with Foles and the long ball since arriving in Philly.
“I’ve seen Nick throw the deep ball well since we’ve got here. I think that’s something he does a really nice job of. I think you have two quarterbacks that can launch it,” he said.
“It’s something as a coach you’re excited about because it’s something we work on every single day. It’s the first drill we do when the horn blows after centers and quarterbacks is we are throwing curl on one side, and deep ball ‑‑ we are not running 60 balls down the field. But we are throwing the ball up with trajectory and the receivers are trying to make sure that they are catching it over the shoulder so they can body position the defensive back.”
The Eagles entered the Bucs game with 42 offensive plays of 20-plus yards on the season, by far the most in the NFL. The big play continued with Foles under center, as the Eagles added four more plays to the total — all of which were gains of 35 yards of more. Half were short passes that the receiver turned into a long gain, and the other half were tied to the arm of Foles.
The second-year signal-caller is averaging 8.89 yards per attempt this season compared to 6.41 last year. Foles does not have enough throws to qualify for Elias’ statistical rankings. If he did, he would rank fourth in yards per attempt behind Peyton Manning (9.08), Michael Vick (8.98) and Aaron Rodgers (8.95).
His senior year at Arizona, that number stood at 7.7. Twelve of his 28 touchdown passes that season were from 20-plus yards.
“In college I had a lot of deep balls. I didn’t change anything [this season] to be honest with you. I just throw it. I feel it and I throw it, there’s nothing really to do to change it, I trust my throwing.”
He’s been doing it since he was a little kid, after all. Just fewer broken windows now.