All-22: The Struggles Of Nick Foles

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Anyone watching Sunday’s game could see that Nick Foles was off, to steal the term Chip Kelly used to describe his quarterback.

He overthrew receivers and undthrew receivers. Threw behind them in some instances and was too far out in front in others. Foles’ accuracy was quite possibly as bad as you’ll see from an NFL quarterback this year (11-for-29 for 80 yards overall).

But beyond the misses were the plays where Foles failed to see the entire field or simply hesitated to pull the trigger. Coming off a strong performance the week before against the Bucs, it’s difficult to come up with an explanation for why the second-year QB was so bad.

And clearly, the head coach didn’t have an answer. The truth is, Kelly called a good game. Pass protection held up well for the most part. Receivers got open. An average QB performance likely would have yielded 300+ yards and a score in the 20s. Foles showed his A-game in Tampa and his F-game against the Cowboys. Had he gotten up to just a C, the Eagles would have had a great chance to win the game.

Below is a look at what went wrong.

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With 9:46 left in the first, the Eagles had a chance for a huge play. Early on, they tried to get their running backs matched up against the Cowboys’ linebackers in coverage.

“It’s the matchup,” Kelly explained. “I think when people are going to play in man, who is going to cover your running back? I think when you look at it, one of the big plays in the Chargers game was the big play we threw to LeSean [McCoy]. When you can kind of try to free him up a little bit… we tried to do it with screen passes and other aspects of things, whether we have them running option routes or changeup and running the option route to run it down the sideline.”

Early on, they had a chance to hit on a big play to McCoy, who ran a wheel route down the left sideline.

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The Cowboys are in man coverage. McCoy is going to be Bruce Carter’s responsibility.

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But Carter gets picked by Jason Avant, leaving McCoy wide-open down the left sideline. Foles is even staring right at him at one point.

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But he hesitates and doesn’t pull the trigger, instead inching up in the pocket and throwing off-target to Zach Ertz on the shallow crossing route.

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Here, you can see McCoy with his hand up, calling for the ball. That will soon become a running theme. If the ball goes to McCoy, it could very well be him against the safety with a chance for a 60-yard touchdown. Instead, it’s a missed opportunity.

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One of the keys to the Eagles’ success on offense this season has been their efficiency on third down. Going into last week’s game, they converted on 45.9 percent of their third-down chances, good enough for fourth-best in the league. But against Dallas, they went just 4-for-18 (22.2 percent). During the joint press conference last week, Michael Vick said that Foles was more athletic than people give him credit for.

Maybe Foles took that to heart, because it’s difficult to come up with another reason why he made the decision to take off on a 3rd-and-10 play with 3:50 left in the first.

Riley Cooper is matched up against second-year corner Morris Claiborne. He gets an outside release and runs a comeback route north of the sticks.

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Cooper does an excellent job of selling the fade, and with no safety to that side of the field, Claiborne is careful to not let Cooper get behind him.

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Here, you can see the clear separation. If it looks like Cooper is making a catch with his hands in this image, that’s because he’s clapping, as if to say, “Over here! I’m open! C’mon! I’ll cut my hair! I’ll wash your car! Whatever you want! Just throw me the ball!”

You can see Foles has left the pocket in the above shot, which is fine. But he fails to keep his eyes downfield. That’s a trait that Andy Reid pointed out as a major positive with Foles when he first flashed some ability during the 2012 preseason.

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The line of scrimmage is the 22. In this shot, Foles still has 7 yards to work with in terms of throwing the football on the run. But he isn’t even looking at Cooper and instead decides to take off. The defensive lineman catches him from behind and tackles him after an 8-yard gain. Instead of a first down to extend the drive, the Eagles are forced to punt.

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Through the first six weeks, the Eagles’ offense had 34 pass plays of 20+ yards, tops in the league. But against Dallas, Foles failed to connect on even one.

In the second, this missed opportunity led to one of many scowls from DeSean Jackson.

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Jackson’s the lone receiver to the right in a 3×1 set and is going to run a “sluggo” route against Brandon Carr. It’s 3rd-and-5, so Carr has to respect the slant. That allows Jackson to get behind him.

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Jackson often creates separation when the ball’s in the air. Here, he’s already got a couple steps on Carr, who is trailing. Sean Lee is lurking, but as athletic as he is, a linebacker’s going to have no chance against Jackson, who is already at full speed. You can see Jackson has his hand in the air and is calling for the ball.

But instead, Foles targets Jeff Maehl over the middle. To be fair, Maehl was open, but the ball was thrown behind him. And protection was not an issue. The offensive line did a great job on this play (and really held up well for most of the game after a couple hiccups early).

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Another incompletion, another blown opportunity for a big play.

That made for an unhappy Jackson. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles’ wide receiver had six scowls on eight targets.

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Here, the Cowboys defend Jackson differently using a Cover-2 look. Jackson gets an outside release on Carr and finds space between the corner and the safety.

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Again, Jackson’s got his hand up. There’s plenty of space to loft a throw in front of the safety. Foles instead fires incomplete to Avant over the middle.

It’s worth noting that Todd Herremans got called for an illegal hands to the face penalty here, but Foles still had time to find Jackson.

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We’ve covered misses to McCoy, Cooper, Jackson and Avant. Don’t want Brent Celek to feel left out.

This is a pattern the quarterbacks threw to the tight ends every single day at practice over the summer. Celek is set up in-line and gets matched up with rookie safety J.J. Wilcox. He’s going to run a corner route and get as wide open as you’ll see him all season.

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What’s the opposite of a tight-window throw? That’s what we have here. A giant area of the field with no Cowboys defender. As long as Foles doesn’t overthrow Celek, it’s a minimum 15-yard gain, with a chance for much more.

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But he did overthrow him, and the Eagles failed to capitalize on what could have been another big play.

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The above images show the what, but the why is still a bit foggy. The previous week, Foles played his best game as a pro. Was there an injury? A personal issue? A lack of confidence? Something else? No one’s saying. The company line is to just chock it up to one bad day.

And the point of this piece is not to pile on Foles. He knows he played poorly before suffering a concussion late in the third quarter. But the tape shows the Eagles had clear opportunities – many for big plays – which could have potentially led to a different result with even a competent performance from the quarterback.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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