The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Bears
When Nick Foles and the Eagles’ other signal-callers take a seat Tuesday morning inside the quarterbacks meeting room at the NovaCare Complex, they are handed a copy of Bill Lazor’s game report.
The document contains play-by-play grades broken down by category: accuracy, decision-making, pre-snap checks, footwork, carrying out fakes on run plays and so on. Some plays have questions next to them because even for a quarterbacks coach who knows the calls and has reviewed the coverages, there are times when he’s not sure exactly what happened.
“I question, ‘Why did you do it this way?’ ” Lazor said. “Because it’s not always just a clear-cut answer. So they have that in front of them as they start watching the game. We start at the beginning and we go through. We try to not only talk about what happened at the time but why. We have the notes that the quarterbacks take during the game – the backup quarterbacks take notes. …And so as we sit in the room now, you hope you treat it more like a laboratory setting where you can really go back and dissect.”
For Lazor, it’s usually the fourth time he’s looked at the film. After away games, like last week’s loss to the Vikings, the first viewing happens on the plane ride home. Lazor then takes part in a film session with the entire coaching staff back in Philadelphia. And he watches the tape a third time to pick out specific plays for training/teaching points later in the week.
Players get Mondays off, although Foles usually shows up to the team facility anyway to get a workout in and review the tape on his own. Tuesdays are for corrections. The players meet as a team in the morning and then split up into offensive and defensive meetings. Finally, Lazor sits down with just the quarterbacks.
The 41-year-old has seven years of NFL coaching experience. He was the Atlanta Falcons’ quality control coach in 2003. He spent 2004 to 2007 with the Washington Redskins, splitting time as an offensive assistant and then the quarterbacks coach. In 2008 and 2009, Lazor coached the Seattle Seahawks’ quarterbacks. And he spent three seasons as Virginia’s quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator before joining Chip Kelly’s staff.
Throughout all of his stops, Lazor says there’s been one common theme to the weekly film reviews: they’re no fun for the quarterbacks.
“I’ve never been with a quarterback who enjoys Tuesday because when you get to in-season, now there’s one guy in the room who’s getting critiqued on every play,” Lazor said. “Not that he does something wrong on every play. But sometimes when you’re doing training camp and guys are sharing the reps and learning from each other, or preseason games, it spreads out. But even the most veteran guys I’ve ever dealt with, some squirm and some just accept it. They kind of get through it because there’s always a mistake here or there even on great games.”
For Foles, there have been a lot of great games this season. He leads the NFL in passer rating (117.0) and yards per attempt (9.02). Foles has 23 touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s completed 62 percent of his passes.
Lazor, however, is not interested in the numbers. There may be a play where Foles completes a pass that draws praise from the announcers and the fans in the stands. But the QBs coach may notice an issue with Foles’ mechanics.
“We spend just as much time on plays that were completions that maybe his footwork wasn’t just right,” Lazor explained. “We coach every play. It isn’t just a completion or incompletions. It’s, ‘Did I do it exactly right?’ ”
Added Foles: “It’s one of those things where you close the door and you try to get better. There’s gonna be things to work on. Coach Lazor’s gonna try to point out the stuff that we did well and he’s gonna point out the stuff that we need to work on. That’s what a coach does. And he’s very detail-oriented with what he does. So I always get a lot out of the film sessions.”
Lazor and Kelly know they don’t have to worry about Foles responding poorly to criticism. A day after he threw for 428 yards and posted a passer rating of 103.5, Kelly described the QB’s play as inconsistent. Foles later agreed with the head coach’s assessment and said he didn’t make enough plays even though the offense scored 30 points.
“Nick’s a guy that his feelings aren’t gonna get hurt if he feels like a coach is saying, ‘You’re not getting it done,’ ” said center Jason Kelce. “He’ll welcome that and then be able to say, ‘What can I do better to correct these things?’ You can’t have a guy who’s always just saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.’ You’ve also gotta have that little thing in your head that’s like, ‘Well, why? That doesn’t necessarily make sense.’ And I think he’s got that too. He’s very coachable and also gonna make the coach explain it to him if he needs to.”
Added Lazor: “I think Nick does a great job of being critical of himself. He spends time when he’s watching the video of really critiquing how he did things, along with why.”
While the larger corrections session takes place on Tuesday, the Eagles (like every other NFL team) try to make adjustments in-game. Backup quarterbacks are tasked with taking notes: plays, coverages, things they see that can be helpful when Foles returns to the sidelines. That’s why when TV cameras show the offense in between possessions, Foles, Lazor and the backup QBs are almost always looking at pictures.
“It’s really important that a quarterback can come to the sideline and tell you what he saw,” Lazor said. “And so we work really hard on the sideline on gameday with the backup quarterbacks of getting in that groove with the pictures. …We just try to get through a lot of it there so that the better we do on the sideline Sunday, the less we have to go over probably Tuesday.”
Everything is done with an eye on the future. For example, if Lazor notices a single-high safety who’s playing shallow, during Tuesday’s session he and Foles will talk about how to attack a similar look in the next game.
If Michael Vick, Matt Barkley or G.J. Kinne have suggestions or feedback, they are encouraged to chime in as well.
“One of the important things for me in that room when it’s just the quarterbacks in there is to have a very open dialogue with them,” Lazor said. “I want them to feel comfortable speaking their minds. And they may not agree with everything that I say or we say as coaches. They may want to be able to discuss, ‘Hey can we think of it this way or do it differently?’ But if they don’t feel comfortable at least speaking their mind, then I don’t always know why they did things or what they were thinking.
“It’s a relationship that doesn’t happen right away. You have to build it over time. They have to trust me. If they tell me what they think and it’s different, I’ll work with him. And sometimes I take their suggestions to Chip and Pat [Shurmur]. Sometimes I say, ‘No, that’s not what we’re doing.’ ”
The Eagles are guaranteed two more Tuesday review sessions. Their ability to correct mistakes during the week and execute on Sunday will determine whether the laboratory stays open in January when the postseason begins.