Moments after drafting Matt Barkley, Chip Kelly stole a line from former coach Sam Rutigliano to help explain why he liked the USC signal-caller.
“He used to say that with a quarterback, it’s like a tea bag, you don’t know what you have until you put it in hot water.”
Quarterback is a pressure-packed position, and there's no way to know what your guy is made of until he is tested in big moments. That is important to keep in mind as we continue to evaluate Nick Foles.
The city is anxious to know whether Foles is a long-term solution for this franchise; whether he can be the guy to lead this team to the top. The answer is that we don't yet have the answer. We might not even be close to having it. But the next-month plus should get us nearer to the truth.
For perspective, take a look across the league. Matt Ryan is a good example: The former No. 3 overall pick is in the midst of his sixth NFL season. He has started 88 games, has a record of 58-31, two Pro Bowl appearances under his belt and won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2008. This year he's fallen off, and the Falcons are 2-9. He has led Atlanta to the postseason four times but has only one win. Are we ready to make any definitive statements as to whether he is capable of leading his team to a Super Bowl championship? What about RGIII (25 starts)? Matthew Stafford (55 starts)? The jury is still out on a lot of quarterbacks in this league, many of whom have played significantly more snaps than No. 9.
Foles has started 11 games in the NFL. The first six were in the midst of a lost season for this franchise, the last five in the middle of what many consider a rebuilding year. He has a record of 5-6 overall and is 4-1 so far this season. The only conclusion we can draw at this point is that Foles looks like a competent NFL starting quarterback. Any proclamations beyond that are not supported by facts.
Several weeks back, Howie Roseman likened the quarterback position to a starting pitcher: The first time through the lineup, the opposition is going in largely blind because there is no book on you yet. But over time, they figure out your tendencies and begin to make adjustments. It's important to see what a QB looks like once you have reached that point.
What separates quarterbacks that have sustained success from those who flame out?
"Consistency," said Foles following his seven-TD performance in Oakland. "Defenses are going to adjust. They get the game film we just watched and they saw what we did well and they are going to try and take that away. I think it's the ability to play the game and adapt when the game is going on, to know that you studied film all week on this but they came out in a different coverage -- how are you going to react to it? Is it going to fluster you, or are you going to be able to flourish because you're prepared and you know where to go with the ball on time and in rhythm and accurately. It's all those little things, and that's where hard work, preparation and being a leader and having a great relationship with your teammates comes in."
Once you have established that your quarterback is capable of getting it done from September-November, Phase II is figuring out whether they rise to the occasion in December and January when the weather turns and your season is on the line. That's not something you can simulate; those answers come only through experience.
Truth be told, that's why the Eagles organization is tickled pink right now. They get to see how Foles, as well as the other young guys on this roster, react when the pressure is ratcheted up. Five games (at least) to dip your players and coaches in hot water and see how they respond. That's invaluable for an organization trying to shape a contender.
“It’s all for naught if we don’t continue to build from here,” Kelly said of the Eagles' three-game win streak and 6-5 overall record. “And I think they understand that too. There’s still a lot of football left. …We’ve got five games in December, but we’ve put ourselves in a situation where those five games in December are meaningful.
"We’re gonna pick our heads up on Dec. 29 and figure out where we are.”