Eagles Mailbag: What If Foles Struggles?

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

With T-Mac off this week, I’m subbing in with the Eagles mailbag. Let’s get right to it.

Jack added in a third Tweet making it clear that this would be his nightmare scenario, but it’s a good question and one we really haven’t explored.

We know that Nick Foles has challenges ahead. Howie Roseman has compared young pitchers to young quarterbacks on several occasions. Pitchers may have an easy time their first go-around through the lineup; maybe even their second. But the third time veteran hitters get up, they have a handle on what’s coming, and reality sets in.

Foles started six games as a rookie, but the 2013 version might as well have been a different person from the 2012 version. Last year he was playing for a new coach in a new scheme, and maybe most importantly, he had a healthy offensive line to protect him. The results were far better than anyone could have expected, and the stats were some of the best the league has ever seen.

But let’s say Foles experiences a massive dropoff in 2014. Defensive coordinators figure him out, he turns the ball over, takes too many sacks and fails to build on the progress of last year. What do the Eagles do? To me, the answer is pretty simple. Foles is still under contract through 2015. In this scenario, the Eagles don’t renegotiate and extend him. Instead, they let him compete with a draft pick and/or a veteran for the starting job. In other words, it would be somewhat similar to the QB situation last offseason when the Eagles brought Michael Vick back.

The key point here is that the Eagles don’t have to decide on Foles after this season. If he plays well and convinces them he can be the man going forward, both sides should be able to get a long-term deal done. If Chip Kelly and the organization have doubts, they can see how 2015 plays out and move forward from there.

For the record, I think Foles will play well in 2014. The one aspect of his game that gets overlooked when we discuss his arm strength and athleticism is his decision-making. Kelly puts a premium on that and believes the offense will work if the QB doesn’t turn it over. To me, the most likely scenario is still that Foles plays well and gets rewarded at the end of the season.

Thanks for the question, Sean. Every year around this time, writers try to be bold and predict surprise cuts and surprise starters. And while things can change, the truth is a lot has already been decided.

But I know McManus would be upset if I dodged the question, so I’ll go ahead and answer it. Let’s start with the defense and one of the most impressive players during the spring: Nolan Carroll II. I think he has a legitimate chance to earn a starting job – potentially in place of Bradley Fletcher. Caroll has started 22 games the past two seasons and was brought to Philadelphia for a reason. If he turns in a strong training camp and preseason, he could unseat Fletcher.

It’s difficult to come up with a second one, but I’ll go with Zach Ertz. I know that won’t “shock” anybody, but the TE situation is a fascinating one to monitor. We won’t know until the season starts how much the offense misses DeSean Jackson. But if teams continue to play man coverage against the Eagles, and guys don’t get open, Kelly will have to feature Ertz more. He’s a superior option to Brent Celek in the passing game at this point.

If I’m putting money down, I still say Celek starts and plays more snaps – primarily because he’s a much better run blocker. But the TE situation is one to keep an eye on.

Paul: During the draft process we heard a lot about the Birds’ two-gap 3-4 and the difficulty in finding players who fit. We also hear that they play a hybrid and sometimes switch to a 4-3. Last year we learned about the 4-3 under. What are the Birds actually doing on D? Are they still in transition?

This was an e-mail, not a Tweet, but we’ll go with it anyway.

Last year there was a lot of guesswork involved with what the Eagles were going to run. You are right, Paul, in that they said all along they were moving towards a two-gap 3-4, but would only get there if the personnel fit.

At some point, they decided that the value of gaining experience in the scheme they ultimately wanted to run outweighed potential obstacles in Year 1. That’s why the defense struggled so much early on, but improved throughout the season.

I’m actually writing in-depth about the defense for this year’s Eagles Almanac. But yes, they do in fact run a two-gap 3-4 base defense. In nickel situations, that usually shifted to a 4-2-5. Sometimes the Eagles would play with four down linemen in nickel; other times they would go with three and try to disguise where the additional pressure was coming from.

The focus of the defense is to stop the run and limit big plays downfield. They played a lot of Cover 3 on early downs and tried to clamp down with man coverage on third down.

Of course, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The team was 24th in the league in third-down defense a year ago, and the pass-rush needs to get better. There’s no reason this can’t be a top-10 unit against the run, and once again, expect them to lean heavily on creating turnovers.

Whether there is enough talent is a fair question. The defense could potentially feature just one new starter (Malcolm Jenkins). The buzz word around NovaCare when it comes to the ‘D’ is continuity. And to a degree, that’s fair considering the massive scheme change this unit underwent last season. But there’s a chance we’ll be wondering a couple months from now why they didn’t make more moves to upgrade the personnel.