All-22: When Foles Holds On To the Ball

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Asked earlier this week why the Eagles’ passing game stalled in the second half against Dallas, Chip Kelly pointed to two factors – neither of which had anything to do with Nick Foles.

“They did a decent job generating the pass rush on a couple things, and there were a few times down the field where we just couldn’t get off of some jams,” Kelly said. “It was a combination of the two things.”

Kelly has not hesitated to criticize Foles in the past – when warranted. After the Vikings game, for example, he labeled the quarterback’s play inconsistent.

So was he protecting his quarterback here, or did he really feel like the breakdowns had more to do with protections and the receivers?

Based on the tape, it’s the latter. On most occasions when Foles held on to the ball, he didn’t have anywhere to go with it. For examples, let’s go to the All-22.

In the second quarter, the Eagles faced a 3rd-and-5 from their own 21. Picking it up mid-play, you can see no one is open.

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The Cowboys are in man coverage and have two help defenders as well. Because the Eagles only need 5 yards for a first down, Foles sees an opening and decides to take off.

“Always when you can’t make the throw on time, for whatever reason, whether guys are not open or they have done a good job on defense, you want to try to scramble if you can,” said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “If you can’t get anything done with your feet, then throw it away. And I think he’s displayed the ability to do both.”

Here’s the opening from the other angle.

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The problem was the two defenders began to squeeze the opening, and Foles tried to do too much. He actually stopped going forward, turned around and tried to improvise.

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In the above frame, his body is actually facing the opposite end zone.

Foles has been fantastic this season at taking care of the football, but plays like the one above can often result in turnovers. The better move would have been to go with the initial scramble, and if he had to slide before the first-down marker, so be it.

***

We’ve written a lot about the Eagles’ split-zone play where the tight end moves across the formation and sift-blocks the backside defender. That’s what this play looks like initially.

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But it’s actually a play-action pass. That means James Casey has to block defensive end Jarius Wynn one-on-one in protection.

Foles initially has a clean pocket, but Casey (who drew a tough assignment) gets beat.

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The Cowboys were once again in man coverage with a single high safety. This is probably one where Foles could have given one of his receivers a shot, as he did at other points in the game. He had DeSean Jackson running a deep crosser, Brent Celek angling towards the sideline and Riley Cooper on the go-route. LeSean McCoy had some room in the flat too.

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Initially, it looked like Foles wanted to go to Cooper, but there was some contact from the defensive back. As Derek Sarley of Philly.com pointed out, the refs allowed quite a bit of clutching and grabbing downfield in this one.

“Sometimes there was a guy open, he probably could have gotten it out of his hand a little quicker,” Kelly said. “There were some other times where he’s waiting for guys to get open and they didn’t come out of the jam.”

***

Sometimes, you have to give the other team credit or chock things up to bad luck. That was the case on the first play of the third quarter. This was one that Kelly referred to earlier in the week. The Eagles use a play-fake, while the Cowboys ran a twist up front. DeMarcus Ware crashes inside, while the linebacker loops around the edge.

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McCoy is responsible for the linebacker, but he runs right into Ware, which frees up the rusher.

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This play falls into the “missed opportunity” category because Foles had a couple guys open – most notably Celek, who had all kinds of room in front of him.

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Foles, however, didn’t have much of a shot.

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***

There’s not a whole lot to show from the final two sacks. One was just a breakdown in protection. Lane Johnson got beat on a twist, and even though Foles shook off the initial pressure, Jason Peters got beat too from the other side.

And NBC did a good job of explaining the final sack. Celek got blocked into McCoy, and Foles had nowhere to go with the ball, so he slid in-bounds to keep the clock rolling.

The Saints come into the game fourth in the league in adjusted sack rate and overall sacks (49).

The Eagles certainly have some things they can clean up, but the main issue last week on plays where Foles held the ball was that guys weren’t open. His play was certainly choppy at times, and there were some breakdowns in protection up front, but nothing that screamed “red flag” going into the postseason.

The other factor here is how Foles is being coached. With an average yards-per-attempt of 9.12 (tops in the league), he has taken plenty of shots downfield. But from Day One, Kelly and the coaching staff have stressed the importance of avoiding turnovers and giving the offense a chance.

As Kelly said: “Obviously you would rather take a sack than an interception. He does a good job of protecting the football.”

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