All-22: Foles, the Deep Ball And the Offense

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Nick Foles’ response struck the right tone.

He knew he had gotten a little lucky. But throwing a 55-yard touchdown in the NFL, regardless of circumstances, is not easy. So he was not about to apologize.

“I need to throw it a little further, but it just so happened that the ball popped up the way it did, and that happens in sports,” Foles said when asked to describe the 55-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson against the Packers. “That happens all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t work out for you. That time it did. And I was very thankful it did.”

Here’s the pre-snap look.

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It’s one the Eagles are all too familiar with. Man coverage on the outside with a single high safety. The slot corner to Foles’ left is going to blitz.

Jackson is running a deep post. He’s got to get past the cornerback (which should be no problem), but Foles has to keep an eye on the deep safety as well.

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Jackson has the cornerback beat, and the safety isn’t in position to make a play if the ball’s out in front.

“Just went through my read and out of the corner of my eye, I saw DeSean shooting over the safety,” Foles said. “So I was trying to work the pocket. They brought a nickel blitz off the side so I stepped up and it was a little bit different weather so I tried to get it out there for him.”

The ball ended up being underthrown, and both defensive backs had a chance to make a play.

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Both Foles and Chip Kelly said the wind played a factor. And Foles admitted he needs to adjust to the cold down the stretch this season.

“I think y’all know I’m from the south, went to Arizona, spent a year at Michigan State, so I’m acclimating to it,” he said. “I’m getting more used to throwing in the cold weather. When you have cold weather and wind, it makes it a little bit more difficult and you’ve just gotta make sure the spiral’s tight and you’ve gotta judge the wind cause sometimes it’s hard to get that deep ball out there when there’s a gust of wind coming at you in the cold weather.

“So it’s really just getting used to it. But I feel like as I’ve been in Philadelphia, I’ve gotten better and better at throwing in the cold weather. And when you get good at throwing in the cold weather, it makes it a lot easier to throw in warmer weather. So it’s just something I’ll continue to get acclimated to.”

Overall, Foles’ numbers on deep throws are outrageous. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s completing 56.5 percent of his passes that travel 20+ yards from the line of scrimmage. That’s third in the league. And perhaps more importantly, he’s been willing to chuck it downfield – 16.9 percent of Foles’ attempts have traveled 20+ yards from the line of scrimmage. That’s second-highest in the league.

With teams continually gearing up to stop the Eagles’ run game, the offense has to make defenses pay with big plays over the top. And so far, they’ve done that with 50 pass plays of 20+ yards, tops in the league.

***

Did you ever play the game ‘500’ as a kid? There’s one thrower who launches the ball into the air to crowd of four or five catchers. And basically, everyone fights for the ball as it comes down.

I’m guessing Riley Cooper was probably pretty good at that game.

Take a look at the 45-yard touchdown from the third quarter. As the play develops, the throw here would usually be deep in between the cornerback, who has help to the inside, and the safety.

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But Foles decided to try something different.

“I think on the second one he saw him beat the safety, but he knew where the safety was,” Kelly said. “He was trying to lead him on the other side of the safety, which normally doesn’t happen.

“I think Nick was trying to get it onto the other side of the safety even though he beat him because with the ball in the air that long, if the DB was going to be able to make a play on it, if he can kind of offset the throw on the DB, then Riley would have a shot at it. Riley made a great adjustment to the football.”

The safety had to turn and run and had his back to the line of scrimmage when the ball was in the air. So did the cornerback to that side. Cooper, however, did an outstanding job of tracking it.

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The above shot shows just how strange a path Cooper took to the ball. For all the talk about good route-running in the NFL, sometimes it’s as simple as: Find ball, get ball.

“Riley is really, really good at tracking the ball,” Kelly said. “He was an outstanding baseball player. Kind of when you throw it up, he can make adjustments on it. You haven’t seen that much when he ran a post route and then had to make a hard right turn.”

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Take a look at where he eventually catches it, compared to where he was in the first frame when Foles was just getting ready to throw it.

“He’s got a great feel for the ball,” Foles said. “He’s got a baseball player background. And he showed that on that deep ball where I threw it to him. That’s not a traditional throw. You usually don’t throw that ball there. But we have some receivers that can really track the ball downfield so it makes it easier on me. If I throw a ball that’s not normally thrown there to where he can go around the safety and make a play, that’s huge. …Tracking a ball that’s going like that is tough, but he’s doing a great job.”

***

Lane Johnson tested out as the most athletic offensive lineman in last year’s draft and perhaps the most athletic since prospects started attending the Combine in Indy.

But even he has some trouble blocking defensive backs on the perimeter.

On the first drive, the Eagles showed a look they’ve used on multiple occasions this season with Johnson split out wide.

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Johnson’s goal here is to get between the defensive back and the boundary so that Jackson can take the screen to the sideline.

But he’s in poor position when it’s time to make the block.

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That allows the defender to get outside and stop Jackson after a 1-yard gain.

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Johnson undoubtedly got a talking-to from the coaches after this play. So when the Eagles went back to it in the second half, he made sure he did things differently.

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The problem? This time, the defensive back slipped inside.

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“I’m taught to go outside so if they come inside real quick, it’s kind of hard to go back and block ‘em like that,” Johnson said. “They are quick guys out there so it’s tough to move out there in space, but DeSean made a good play on the sideline.”

To be clear, of the two plays above, the second one is clearly the preference. Try to execute the block the way it’s designed. If the defender slips inside, he’s still chasing Jackson from behind, which is a scenario the Eagles will take on most occasions.

***

We went over a couple plays from the Eagles’ final 9 minute, 32-second drive in yesterday’s post. But one play we didn’t show was the lone pass: a screen to James Casey.

At first glance, this looked like the perfect call on 3rd-and-7.

“They called it at a perfect time,” Casey said. “They were blitzing off the edge so it’s perfect to run a screen into a blitz like that where you kind of just bluff and get it out.”

Casey did an excellent job of waiting, acting like he was staying in to block and then releasing. And Foles did an outstanding job of waiting for the rush to get to him before letting go of the ball. He actually ended up taking a hit on the play.

Birds 24/7 was able to obtain exclusive Kelly commentary (not really!) from this play. So we’ll let him take you through the screen shots.

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“Perfection! This’ll get ’em to stop nagging me about Casey’s playing time. Take it to the sideline, Big James, and we can warm up the bus. Cheese curds for everyone!”

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“Hey, Simms, you can take this bottom-five offense and shove it up your *&%! Once Kelce takes care of the linebacker, we’ve got a huge gainer and are back to .500. This may even make the reporters forget about that botched challenge earlier!”

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“Wait, what? What are you doin’, Casey? Why in the name of Ricky Santos are you cutting it inside? Play with emotion, don’t let emotion play with you… Play with emotion, don’t let emotion play with you…”

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“What’s that? He broke the tackle? He broke the tackle! I guess we don’t have to revoke his smoothie privileges. But he’s still sitting between Cary and Coop on the way home.”

As for Casey, here’s what he said about the play (Note: These are actual quotes.).

“I should have went outside and I’d have got a lot more yards, but I was just so focused on getting that first down because it was 3rd-and-7. And you’re trained as a tight end always to catch the ball and get straight upfield. Get upfield, get upfield, get upfield. And you never know what’s coming behind you. But I probably should have went outside and got a lot more. But still got the first down so I kind of redeemed myself.”

If you remember, Casey hopped up like a mad man and sprinted to the sideline after the whistle blew on the play. I asked him what the deal was.

“My work here was done,” he said, drawing a laugh from Cary Williams at the next locker over. “First down.”

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