March 5th 2015 14:46
When it comes to polarizing figures these days, the likes of Kim Kardashian, Mike Krzyzewski and his Duke Blue Devils, and Obamacare have nothing on one Nick Foles, especially in the Delaware Valley. The mere mention of his name on a radio talk show or on a Twitter timeline elicits strong and opinionated responses from fans on both sides of the argument, and there is seemingly no middle ground in this civil war that has divided Eagles Nation.
The Foles supporters have seen enough positives through 2 ½ seasons – the 14-4 record under Kelly’s tutelage, the 27 TD and 2 INT performance in 2013, the 119.2 QB rating that was the third highest in NFL history, the Pro Bowl MVP award – to believe that he is the right man to lead this franchise for the foreseeable future, and eventually lead the Birds to that elusive first Super Bowl title.
The Foles doubters, well, let’s just say they’re not nearly as impressed.
“What’s he do well?” is the common question I see thrown around in Twitter debates, just after the statistical points are made and shortly before the personal insults start flying.
So, let’s kick things off with a look at that…What’s He Do Well?
Well, for starters he wins – and has done so 77.8% of the time he’s taken the field since he relieved Michael Vick as the starter in 2013.
Since the start of the 2013 season (minimum of 16 starts), only Denver’s Peyton Manning and Seattle’s Russell Wilson have a higher winning percentage (.781, 25-7 each) than Foles, who bested the likes of New England’s Tom Brady (.750, 24-8), Arizona’s Carson Palmer (.727, 16-6), Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (.720, 18-7) and Indianapolis’s Andrew Luck (.688, 22-10) during that time span.
Now granted, he played in fewer games than everyone else on the list, but you can only go by the games he got the starting nod and/or was healthy enough to play. And for the sake of full disclosure, his record for his entire career is 15-10, which includes his six-game stint in the disastrous 2012 campaign that saw the Dream Team finally and mercifully crash and burn.
Secondly, he competes, and has shown a knack for fighting through adversity, rolling with the punches and finding ways to put the team in a position to win in the 4th quarter regardless of how things have gone during the course of the game.
Case in point: Foles battled through some early inaccuracy and compensated for a lack of a running game in the NFC Wild Card round against the Saints following the 2013 season to lead the offense on a pair of second half scoring drives, including the late 4th quarter march that ended with the Eagles ahead on the scoreboard, 24-23. While detractors are quick to point out Philadelphia ended up losing that game 26-24, he left the field for the final time with the lead and the defense and special teams coughed it up.
Despite an overall awful day against the 49ers in Week 4 last season, Foles again rallied the troops and made some sensational throws in marching the team into the red zone with a chance at reclaiming the lead as time wound down in the 4th quarter before a key Riley Cooper drop and some uncharacteristically dubious play calling stalled the drive just short of the goal line.
He also has earned the respect of his teammates, and it was never as clear as when left tackle Jason Peters sprang to his defense after Washington’s Chris Baker planted the QB with a blind side cheap shot and instigated a full-on brawl that led to Peters’ ejection.
And for those keeping score at home, he followed up that hit with a pair of scoring strikes for a key come-from-behind NFC East win.
Bear in mind, former Falcons’ head coach Mike Smith made a point during a coaching staff meeting that was featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in August about the team needing to be tougher, and his point was in reference to their franchise QB Matt Ryan getting drilled at the end of a scramble during the 2013 season and not one teammate coming to his defense.
During my research for this piece, I’ve also found that there seems to be a great deal of what I believe to be misinformation out there regarding Foles, so let’s take a closer look at some of the theories that are floating around.
One of the most common misconceptions is that the 4th year signal caller lacks arm strength. In reality, Foles has more than enough arm strength to make, as the draftniks love to say, “all of the throws”.
This is proven in a series of deep strikes in 2013 and especially in 2014 to Jeremy Maclin that were thrown on time, on the money, traveled 50-plus yards through the air and, in this case, thrown under duress.
Foles’s release in my opinion is the football version of Roy Halladay’s, as like the former Phillies’ ace his loose and effortless arm action belies the fact that the ball is coming out of his hand with plenty of steam, and like the former Cy Young Award winner he has the ability to reach back and put a little extra heat on his fastball when he needs it.
Now the naysayers are quick to point he throws an inordinate number of lobs and “rainbows” up for grabs, and it’s a valid argument – but it’s certainly not a reflection of his arm strength, or lack thereof.
Based on my film study it appears, especially during his rookie 2012 season, that he was trying to be too fine and put too much air under his throws in an effort to drop the ball perfectly into his receivers’ hands and just over the defense, instead of just letting it rip as we see here and letting his receiver go get the ball.
He also tended to do the same on some intermediate, seam and out routes that required touch throws, and while he, like all QB’s, had a few throws he’d like to have back, he’s also improved in that area as we see here.
Another knock on Foles is that he’s injury prone, and can’t be counted on to make it through a full season. There is some proof there, as he’s missed time in each of his three seasons with a broken hand (1 game in 2012), a concussion (1 ½ games in 2013) and a broken collarbone (8 ½ games last season).
Meanwhile, the afore mentioned Aaron Rodgers has suffered a pair of concussions, a broken collarbone and a torn calf muscle since 2010, and yet despite the striking similarities in their injuries, there doesn’t seem to be the same level of concern regarding his durability as there is with Foles.
The injuries he and Rodgers sustained are what I would consider to be football injuries, and aren’t repeated ACL tears like those suffered by the Rams’ Sam Bradford, a chronic back condition that afflicts Dallas QB Tony Romo, or a potential career-threatening neck injury that forced former Colts’ star Peyton Manning to the bench in 2011 and ultimately out of town to Denver in favor of a younger and healthier option via the draft in Andrew Luck.
Football players are going to sustain football injuries, and short of the sports science staff at NovaCare putting an extra shot of milk in his post-practice smoothies or developing some sort of bubble wrap pads, injuries from big hits like those that have sidelined Foles over the past three years are going to happen.
One thing that people on both sides of the discussion can agree upon is that he is inconsistent – maddeningly so at times as he’ll throw a few wounded ducks off of his back foot that has us screaming in disbelief at the television, and then deliver a laser beam through heavy traffic that hits his target squarely between the numbers that takes your breath away.
His numbers reflected from the past two seasons reflected that inconsistency as well, as after firing 27 TD and only 2 picks in his breakout 2013 campaign, he coughed up the ball more frequently, to the tune of 10 picks in 8 games to go along with 13 touchdowns.
But here’s the thing: it’s OK that he’s inconsistent! He’s only started 24 games, and in three seasons has had two vastly different offensive systems and is now on his fourth QB coach in as many years.
And as I touched upon last season, Foles’s 46 TD:17 INT ratio through 24 starts (28 games) stack up very favorably to the elder Manning (52 TD: 43 INT), as well as the Giants’ Eli Manning (30:26), Brady (46:16) and former Green Bay great Brett Favre (37:37) in their first two seasons of action.
And while there’s a good chance Foles won’t ever reach that level of “elite” status, because very few do, this just goes to show that for the most part young quarterbacks struggle with turning the ball over early in their careers, as Foles did in 2014.
Even with those 10 picks in 8 games last season, he still is among the top ten in league history in the fewest turnover per game category, and his 0.6% interception rate in 2013 was the 3rd lowest ever.
Another huge benefit of Kelly sticking with Foles over a new QB (Marcus Mariota, for example) is that in a league built on parity, this team is really not that far from being a Super Bowl contender with a few key additions in the defensive secondary – and a reported $50 million in cap space to do so.
Investing a large package of picks and players to move up in the draft while pinning this core group’s hopes on a rookie who many believe is a product of his college system – even if it is Kelly’s system that is still being run at Oregon – is a big gamble that could set the franchise back a few years.
And while there are many, many other layers to this argument, let’s cut to the chase now:
Is Nick Foles an elite QB at this point and a sure fire Hall of Famer? No.
Is he as great as his stellar 2013 season, or as shaky as his 2014 season? He’s probably somewhere in the middle at this point, and it’s reasonable to assume that he’ll be closer to the 2013 end of the spectrum as he continues to gain experience.
For me (at least in support of today’s side of the argument), the best way for Kelly and the Eagles to proceed is to stick with Foles at QB. In doing so they can use their draft picks that they would have to unload to move up in the draft for Mariota and next week’s free agency period to rebuild the secondary, add more talented depth in all areas, and continue building on the already solid foundation Kelly has established in two short years.
Now, I’m sure that based on the title of this article alone, the Nick Foles haters are loading up for bear for an all-out assault on the his deficiencies, and produce any and all reasons – some with merit – on why #9 is not a franchise QB, and why he should be shipped out of town for as little as a bag of deflated footballs to clear the way for Oregon’s Heisman Trophy-winning QB.
But don’t get too bent out of shape just yet if you’re a card carrying member of the anti-Foles contingent, because in the next installment of my series on the Eagles’ quarterback conundrum, I will be delving into The Case for Marcus Mariota.