“I would say so,” Fletcher said. “From that standpoint as far as with the run threat, I mean you all know what Vick can do with the ball in his hands if he keeps it as a runner. Again, he’s turned some runs when he keeps the ball, he’s had big gainers in this offense in the past. With Foles, a big gain for him may be 10 yards. With Vick, it may be 40, 50, 60 yards in some cases.”
Fletcher’s response caught some observers by surprise. Foles, after all, had thrown 16 touchdowns and no interceptions on the season. And the Eagles had scored 76 points in their previous two games.
But the veteran linebacker wasn’t trying to slight the Eagles’ second-year QB. He was simply making a couple of points clear.
Number one, Vick is more difficult to prepare for, although that obviously doesn’t make him the better option. And number two, while Foles had been playing well, the Redskins still felt their best option for winning Sunday’s game was to make the him beat them.
That was evident on the second play of the game. Eight men in the box. Man coverage on the Eagles’ three receivers. One safety back.
The Eagles kept seven guys in to protect, gave Foles a nice pocket, and he had three attractive options staring him in the face.
DeSean Jackson had the corner trailing at the top of the screen. Riley Cooper had the corner trailing at the bottom of the screen, and Jason Avant was running a crosser through the middle of the field. Foles decided to go to Cooper, the receiver farthest away from the safety.
If you remember, this was the play where Cooper wanted a flag and probably should have gotten one. Having said that, he lost track of the ball when he was looking for it over his shoulder because the pass landed nearby and could have been caught.
Still, the theme remained the same. All year long, when teams have tried to stop the run and load the box, the Eagles have tried to do damage over the top. Most of the time they’ve been successful. Sometimes they have not. On the season, though, they have 56 pass plays of 20+ yards. That’s 10 more than any other team.
After the game, I asked Jason Kelce if he’s surprised teams are still playing so much man coverage with a single high safety against the Eagles, given the way Foles has done damage through the air.
“No, I’m not because I think if they don’t play some man free, we’re gonna run it all over them,” he said. “I think that’s kind of what they’ve gone to to try and stop the run. Whenever a team’s come out and played us in zone, they’ve done pretty poorly. Really the only successful stuff that’s been on film is man coverage. So I would expect to see that the rest of the year.
“Luckily, Nick’s starting to really beat that. The coaches are having some great schemes for those [teams] that are gonna try and play us man, so we’ve been a lot more successful as of late. But I would expect to see that probably throughout the rest of the season.”
Earlier this week, I wrote that the one word I’d use to describe Foles’ play Sunday would be comfortable. After having watched the All-22, I stick by that.
For example, take this play during the first drive. Foles motions Jackson to the left, setting up trips to that side.
Jackson runs a corner route. The Redskins are in Tampa-2, meaning two deep safeties and the middle linebacker dropping back into the middle part of the field. There are four underneath zone defenders, the key one being rookie cornerback David Amerson at the bottom of the screen.
In this concept, if Amerson pushes down on Brent Celek in the flat, Foles will have a window to hit Jackson before the safety can close in.
That’s exactly what happens. You can see in the above photo that Foles has already released the ball as Jackson starts to make his break towards the sideline.
The timing is perfect, and it’s a 19-yard completion before the safety arrives.
The question that will continue to come up in the weeks ahead will be whether Kelly is sold on Foles going forward.
We’ll have more answers a month from now, but everything we’ve seen so far suggests Foles can have success with Kelly. All season long, Kelly has said he’s running the same scheme with Foles that he ran with Vick. He was asked Monday if that’s still the case.
“It is,” he said. “But I think when Nick takes off, it’s not 60 yards, but it’s 6. In critical situations, he can still do that. So that is the point I was trying to stress there. It’s not an entirely different package. But I think in everybody, there are subtleties in there that Nick may like this throw better than Mike [Vick] likes that throw. But overall we’re still running four verticals, double post concepts. We’re still running the quick game, still running our schemes. So I think that part is similar.”
The Redskins’ plan on the zone read, especially late in the game, was to crash in on the running back and turn Foles into a runner.
On this fourth-quarter play, the Eagles moved Lane Johnson to the left next to Jason Peters and left the edge defender unblocked. They went with two tight ends to the right side.
The edge defender pays no mind to Foles and crashes in on Bryce Brown.
Foles does what he’s supposed to do, keeps the ball and takes off.
But take a look at the other angle. With a different QB, this is a huge play, maybe even a touchdown. There are two defenders chasing Foles down, and he’s got one blocker out in front with Cooper.
Instead, Foles slides and picks up 11, which again, is exactly what he’s supposed to do. This is not a criticism of Foles. He can’t suddenly turn into Usain Bolt. But it’s an aspect of the Eagles’ offense we have to continue to keep an eye on in the final five games.
There are certain zone-read looks that are straight handoffs. When you have a quarterback that leads the league with a passer rating of 128.0, you don’t want him taking unnecessary hits, especially if the payoff isn’t going to be big.
Still, Kelly admitted there were other opportunities when Foles should have taken off.
“He’s missed a few and he’ll admit that,” Kelly said. “But a lot of that is through repetition. You’ve got to get a feel for how to do it. A lot of that is how much do we want to put him in those situations where if we hand it off, we get 3 [yards]. Yeah, we’ll live with that. We’re good with 2nd-and-7. But it’s an experience factor. You get a little bit more comfortable, little better feel of it. You get an understanding of what you can do and what you can’t do.”
If Foles keeps making good decisions, if he continues to take care of the football, if he takes advantage of downfield opportunities, the limitations on those zone read plays probably won’t matter much. But Kelly might get a little greedy and seek all those qualities, plus the ability to maximize returns through the running game.
That, however, will be a topic for February, March and April. Right now, Kelly’s seeing a second-year quarterback maximize his potential. And with the Eagles in first place with five games to go, that’s all that matters to the head coach.
“He’s got a really good grasp on what we’re doing, extremely accurate in his throws,” Kelly said. “Again, doing a great job of just making decisions and not putting the ball in harm’s way.
“It’s exciting to see him grow here.”