Even if Michael Vick has a bionic hamstring transplanted into his cranky leg before next weekend, it’s time for Chip Kelly to stop equivocating and name Nick Foles the team’s starting quarterback.
Further, even though the second-year passer isn’t perfect for the coach’s scheme, Kelly should give serious thought to making Foles the man heading into 2014, the better to use the draft to address other issues on the team. Foles has proven capable of running an NFL offense during his season and a half in the league, and just because he looks like a giraffe on ice skates when he takes off from the pocket doesn’t mean the Eagles should jettison someone who has thrown 16 touchdown passes and no interceptions this season.
Chances are, Kelly is thinking the same thing, and that’s good, because it will demonstrate that the stubbornness that characterized his performance during the first half of the season has been replaced with a realization that perhaps His Way can’t work 100 percent in the big leagues. One way he has done that is by fitting Foles’ talents into the Eagles’ offense. Another is by using the ground game – and milking the clock between plays – to run out the final 9:32 (9:32!) of the game, rather than try to score three more times and in the process give the staggering Packers new life.
Despite Foles’ performances in his past two games — a combined 34-of-46 (73.9 percent) for 634 yards, 10 TDs and 0 interceptions — there is no guarantee that we are seeing the birth of the next Tom Brady. He could well be more like Brady Quinn over the long haul. For now, Kelly should give him the reins, no matter how healthy Vick becomes, and build the Eagles offense around Foles for the final six games of the season. That will provide the continuity necessary to help the Birds become even more efficient than they have been the last two weeks, if that’s possible, and will allow the offensive unit to come together around a leader.
One would have to believe Kelly has learned that the key to success in the NFL is having a passing, rather than a running, quarterback. Vick is tough to stop when he pulls the ball out of LeSean McCoy’s stomach and takes off around the end, but that isn’t the preferred way of travel in this league. Successful teams throw the ball, and even the most strident advocate of the zone read has to admit that Foles’ recent play, while a small sample size, has shown that he is a far more reliable passer than Vick, he of the 54.6 completion percentage.
That’s the NFL. No matter how great a runner Colin Kaepernick may be in San Francisco, it is his passing that will determine whether the Niners win a Super Bowl. The same goes for Robert Griffin, who’s on his third ACL. Sure, Kaepernick was a dynamic runner in the playoff win over Green Bay last year, but that can’t, and doesn’t, happen every week. This year, Kaepernick has averaged 24.8 passes and 6.1 runs per game. Trolling the mediocre crop of college quarterbacks for a savior is a bad idea, also, especially when the first round can be used to grab another receiver, a safety or someone to augment the ever-improving front seven.
A lot was made this week about Kelly’s play “packages,” which offer multiple options from every formation. (A personal favorite is the set that has beefy tackle Lane Johnson split out as a receiver.) Foles seems to understand the opportunities available in each instance and has exploited them extremely well the past two weeks. It was one thing to tear apart the Raiders, who appeared to have bet the Eagles — and the over — last week but quite another to carve up Green Bay for a ridiculous 11.3 yards/pass attempt at Lambeau Field. Not only is Foles getting more comfortable running the attack; Kelly seems to be gaining confidence calling plays for him. Oh, and for those who worry about a QB’s mobility, know that Foles averaged 4.8 yards on his eight carries against Green Bay. Sunday, in a home loss to Carolina, Kaepernick averaged 4.0 on his four.
If Kelly’s offense continues to be as diverse and potent as it has been the past two weeks, then we could be seeing an excellent meshing of coach and quarterback. Foles is comfortable in the attack, and Kelly is gaining a greater understanding of how to use him. It’s imperative the coach allows that to continue to blossom, even if Vick is healthy.
As for the future, Foles has six more games to prove that he is better than Johnny Interception, Marcus LoseToStanford or any of the other members of the 2014 QB class, which gets more mortal every week. He has already proven superior to Terrell Pryor, whom some devotees of option football would like to see in Philadelphia. Given his recent performances, Foles should earn the chance to be the incumbent next season, and Kelly should continue to grow with him in order to maximize the Eagles’ offensive potential.
And if either could ever find out a way to win a home game, things would be just dandy.
• How about those first-place Sixers and all that excitement they have created around town? Maybe GM Sam Hinkie shouldn’t have picked Brett Brown to coach the team. He’s too good. Perhaps Brown can take a sabbatical, and Johnny Davis could leave the Laker bench and come back for a year. Whatever the case, the losing had better begin soon, and in earnest, or the Sixers’ 2014 draft class could feature a Croatian shooting guard, instead of a blue-chip collegian.
• Right now, it’s impossible to tell what’s true in the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin imbroglio, especially now that Incognito has mounted a P.R. campaign that included an interview with Fox Sunday. The one thing that can’t be disputed is that trying to apply another work environment’s rules and behaviors to an NFL locker room is ludicrous. It’s a completely different world, and those who attempt to put themselves in Martin’s position simply can’t do it. Incognito is a boorish person, and his use of a racist term in communicating with Martin shows poor judgment — at best. But be careful not to think you know what goes on in an NFL locker room, unless you have been there or have spoken to people with that experience.