All-22: The Education Of Nick Foles

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On Tuesday afternoon, Nick Foles stood behind the podium at the NovaCare Complex and was asked what it’s like.

What it’s like to throw for 428 yards, complete 62.5 percent of your passes and be labeled as inconsistent by many observers, including your own head coach.

“I agree with it,” Foles said. “We didn’t win. I missed some throws that didn’t give us an opportunity to win. And I’m a firm believer that as an offense we have to score more points than the other team no matter how many points they score. And I didn’t put us in a good position.”

Foles has now started 14 career games, two short of a full season. But as the quarterback, he sets the tone for accountability when things don’t go well. And he’s consistently accepted responsibility regardless of his individual performance.

Despite the 30-point, 475-yard output against Minnesota, the truth is Foles and the offense left too many plays on the field. With the Bears and Cowboys coming up, there’s a pretty good chance the offense will have to put the team on its back if it wants to play in the postseason.

And that starts with the quarterback. So let’s go back and take a look at some of the things Foles showed against the Vikings – both good and bad.

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Foles has played 575 snaps and turned the ball over just three times (two interceptions, one fumble). The INT against Minnesota really wasn’t a big deal. When you throw the ball 48 times, chances are you’re going to get picked off once.

But in a read-offense especially, decision-making is more than just taking care of the football. The 4th-and-1 call where Foles threw the illegal block on the double-reverse has been a popular topic of discussion this week. But in reality, the Eagles should have never been in that spot.

On 3rd-and-1, they ran one of their most popular packaged plays: stacked receivers to either side with the inside zone read. Foles can hand it off, pull it and run or throw a screen to one of two receivers. There are four options in one play.

Right defensive end Jared Allen is left unblocked.

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In past weeks, the edge defender has been crashing down on LeSean McCoy pretty consistently. But here Allen slow-plays it. He puts himself in position where he can tackle McCoy if the running back dances at all behind the line of scrimmage. But he doesn’t commit totally and can still make a play on Foles if he keeps it.

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“He played it well,” Foles said. “He sort of came down the line, just sort of stopped, and I pulled it because I thought he would more likely go for the running back as [opposed to] me running.

“But he stayed on me. I guess he was scared [of me running],” Foles joked. “He played it well.”

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“Sometimes, the defensive ends were crashing on the running back and it left it open for Nick,” Chip Kelly said. “But in a critical third-down situation, they didn’t.

“If we had just handed off, we would have got it, and that put us in the fourth-down situation where we ended up going for it again.”

Added Foles: “Maybe next time I’ll try to hand it off and go right at him to where Shady can get a couple more yards and keep that thing alive. It was just a bad read by me to be honest.”

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When asked to characterize Foles’ performance as a passer, Kelly said: “I think Nick was inconsistent compared to where he had been in the last five games. That’s something that we’ve got to get in the film room with him and see what he is seeing. We’ve got to get a chance to see him. There was a thought process where we had guys open, but weren’t 100 percent accurate with the ball.”

Accuracy is sometimes tough to gauge because it can be there one snap and  gone the next.

All game long (and all season long), the Eagles have done a great job of getting DeSean Jackson in favorable matchups. On this third-quarter play, they motion him inside and stack him behind Riley Cooper. The Vikings are in man coverage, but have linebacker Audie Cole patrolling the middle of the field as a help defender.

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Cornerback Marcus Sherels is playing 7 yards off the line of scrimmage. Jackson runs a shallow cross, and Sherels has to get around traffic in the middle of the field to stay with him.

That leaves Cole (a linebacker) essentially trying to track Jackson.

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Lane Johnson gives up some pressure on Foles’ back side, but he still is able to get rid of the ball cleanly.

The problem?

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Foles’ throw is behind Jackson. What should have been a big catch and run ended up being an incompletion.

“Sometimes you just miss ‘em,” Foles said. “I wish I could say I’d be perfect every time, but that’s not reality and I missed a few. I was a little high on a few, but you can count on me to bounce back and I’m gonna deliver a strike somewhere and I’m gonna keep fighting through it.”

That was true in this game. Foles was far from perfect. And his accuracy was not as good as we’ve seen throughout the season. But he did make some big-time throws, specifically when the Eagles cut the lead to 27-22.

Foles went to Jackson 16 times in the game. Later in the third quarter, he found his No. 1 receiver on a deep out.

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The corner is draped on Jackson by the time the ball arrives, but Jackson does a good job of going up to get it. Foles does not have a cannon, but he can still be successful on passes like this if he throws with accuracy and anticipation.

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Kelly talks a lot about situational football: knowing when to take a risk and when to be cautious.

With the Eagles trailing 17-9 at the start of the third quarter, Foles connected with McCoy for a 6-yard gain on first down. But on second down, he had trouble finding a receiver.

Let’s pick it up mid-play.

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The Vikings only rush four. They’re in man coverage with two help defenders. Foles has nowhere to go with the ball.

He buys time and escapes to his left, but the only receivers to that side of the field are Jackson, who is covered, and McCoy, who assumes Foles wants to scramble and tries to lure his defender out of bounds to create space.

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At this point, Foles has to either tuck it and run or throw it away. Instead, he holds the ball for more than six seconds and takes the sack.

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“The first one was a completion for six and we’re in a 2nd-and-4,” Kelly explained. “If we can just throw it away on the next down and not take a sack, then we’re in 3rd-and-4, and we’re in a workable third-down situation. Those are things we need to continue to work on as an offense and understand playing situational football.”

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One of the positives to take away from Foles’ performance is that he continues to be willing to stand in the pocket, take a hit and deliver even when protection breaks down.

In the second, the Vikings send six and find themselves with an unblocked rusher in Cole.

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It looks like McCoy is probably supposed to pick Cole up, but when he notices the linebacker blitzing the B-Gap on the opposite side, it’s too late.

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Foles shuffles to his right, gets crushed, but connects with Jackson.

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Not a check-down either. Foles hits Jackson on a 16-yard comeback route near the sideline.

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“You’ve gotta move in the pocket, see the D-Line and everything like that,” Foles said. “But that’s one of those things I’ll just continue to work on, and if a guy’s coming through and I’ve got to step into it and take the shot, I just really gotta step into it and throw an accurate ball.”

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Foles is accountable after every game. If the Eagles’ defense sputters down the stretch, they’ll need him and the offense to be crisper than they were against Minnesota.

The Bears’ and Cowboys’ defenses rank 22nd and 31st, respectively. One way or another, we’ll continue to learn more about Foles in the final two games.

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