You never know what you are going to get in the NFL. Yesterday, we saw a team (Chiefs) climb to 9-0 by scoring 23 points, without an offensive touchdown. We saw two big comebacks by teams in playoff position, as Indianapolis came all the way back and Tampa Bay jump passed out to a 21-0 lead at Seattle.
Then, there was what Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense did in Oakland. Philadelphia averaged over 27 points a game in the first six games. Over the previous two weeks, though, the Eagles offense came to a grounding halt in consecutive division home games against the hardly formidable Cowboys and Giants defenses, scoring 10 total points. Foles was the starter for the first of those two losses, before leaving with a concussion.
He returned on Sunday, and the difference was stunning. Nick Foles against the Cowboys is almost unfathomable compared to the rest of the season. When I compared quarterbacks by opponents last week, Foles ranked favorably already (8th). He’s now up to 3rd, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. How he has gotten there, though, is equally baffling.
The Eagles offense, with Foles in the game, has been the best passing offense relative to the others facing the Giants, Buccaneers, and now Raiders. He has put up better numbers than Peyton Manning (2x), Cam Newton (2x), Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson, and Philip Rivers against those teams.
Then, there was the Dallas game. The Cowboys have hardly been formidable against the pass, but Foles looked inept. He came in well below the Ponder-osa line, and only exceeded teammate Matt Barkley. (And yes, a big reason the Eagles struggled for two weeks is that Barkley saw substantial time due to injuries to Foles and Vick).
At this point, with just how stark the difference between Foles against Dallas and the other three has been, I have to wonder if there was an earlier concussion than the one that ended his day in the third quarter. Here is a play on the first series of that Dallas game. Foles rolls out and throws it away as Bruce Carter takes him to the ground.
Foles bounced right back up after slamming down on his back. He then completed 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards and could not pull the trigger on open deep passes (he has completed 71% otherwise). Sheil Kapadia did a breakdown of that game, and concluded that an average passer would have thrown for 300 yards and the team would have scored in the 20’s. (That’s not an unreasonable estimate considering that Ponder threw for 236 yards and Stafford for 488 in the two games that followed). Foles did not make throws that were wide open, and when he did throw, they were off. Many of those same throws and concepts show up in the Raiders game, and Foles hit them.
Some of the touchdowns were brilliant; many involved errors and poor coverage by Oakland. Hey, when you get to seven touchdowns and tie Peyton Manning, some things have to go right. The Nick Foles that showed up on Sunday took advantage of the open plays that were missed against Dallas.
The first touchdown was a short goal line play that simply involved bringing a player (Celek) from the other side of the formation and down the line to the left until he came open. The second one came on third down, and there was no Chip Kelly trickeration on this one. It was straight man, with Riley Cooper beating D.J. Hayden. Hayden, the first round pick, had a very rough day. On this one, he peaked back and lost Cooper, who continued to the back of the end zone. It was one of Foles’ best throws of the day.
The second touchdown pass to Riley Cooper, meanwhile, was pure Kelly, forcing the defense to choose between various options, and having the quarterback make the proper decision.
Initially, this looks like a situation where a Kelly offense would take advantage of the numbers and run the ball with McCoy. Both safeties are out of this picture more than 15 yards off the line. The three cornerbacks are aligned over the receivers, with D.J. Hayden again on Cooper at the top. Six men in the box, against the Eagles’ six blockers plus Foles and LeSean McCoy. With the safeties back, this
Of course, Chip Kelly would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given, and he is not a great fool, so he could clearly not choose the handoff in front of him. The Eagles went with the play action hand off to McCoy sweeping left. Brandian Ross, the safety on that side, comes flying up to cover McCoy. Is it his designed coverage, or did he get too aggressive leaving the post open?
Cooper is circled at the top, already running past Ross. Hayden has turned and is running with Cooper and is in front, though the announcers note he is playing outside leverage, suggesting he was expecting help to the inside once Cooper turns it to a post.
From an initial six-man box and run look with two deep safeties, Foles now has Cooper deep, behind Charles Woodson and inside of Hayden. The last step for a big play is Hayden falling down.
The fourth touchdown of the first half came on a similar smash concept to one that Foles missed throwing to Celek against Dallas. Zach Ertz ran to the corner from the slot, while DeSean Jackson checked up short of the goal line. The only way that the Raiders stop this is if the cornerback drops to take away the deeper route, or if safety Ross gets out there quicker. It was wide open. This version of Foles did not miss the clear chance.
Before we get to the fifth touchdown, let’s take a quick break. This was the first play of the second half. Enjoy Foles running the “read option keeper/lateral to the outside receiver for 18 yards” play. The only thing that would have made this better is if Cooper would have lain down before jumping up to catch the lateral.
On the same drive, Foles hit LeSean McCoy for the fifth score. Before we get there, a quote from Chip Kelly, via Kapadia.
“It’s the matchup,” Kelly explained. “I think when people are going to play in man, who is going to cover your running back? I think when you look at it, one of the big plays in the Chargers game was the big play we threw to LeSean [McCoy]. When you can kind of try to free him up a little bit… we tried to do it with screen passes and other aspects of things, whether we have them running option routes or changeup and running the option route to run it down the sideline.”
The Raiders opted to cover McCoy with no one. Probably not the ideal decision, when McCoy runs that route down the sideline. When McCoy goes in motion to the right, no one follows him out. However, it’s pretty clear that the pass defenders to that side are in man coverage on the two receivers and the tight end.
Foles stands in against pressure, and gets it out to the wide open McCoy. Touchdown #5.
Touchdown #6 came on a deep throw to DeSean Jackson. You’ve seen him run fast before, right? The Raiders were in single high safety, and Jackson beat Mike Jenkins, who then fell down after unsuccessfully trying to hold Jackson.
It was another deep throw to Jackson that set up the final touchdown. It was also a great deep throw by Foles, as they again victimized the combo of D.J. Hayden and the safeties. The play was similar to the second touchdown to Cooper, except Hayden did not fall down. There was an initial run fake to the same side where Jackson was aligned. Jackson out jumped Hayden for the ball, and two plays later, Foles hit Cooper for the 7th touchdown pass of the day.
Going forward, this should be Nick Foles’ team. Vick is at the edge of his career and lasted a whole quarter before the hamstring flared up again. Is he the quarterback of the future? I don’t know, but that is ridiculous premise to begin with. He is young and cheap. The offense has averaged almost 39 points a game in three of his games where he has had the most pass attempts. He just tied an all-time record. Time to find out if that Dallas game-for whatever reason, was an isolated outlier in the Eagles offense with Foles at quarterback.
Whether he is simply a decent quarterback capable of taking advantage of open receivers in big games, or worth more, the Eagles don’t have to make that decision. There are worse problems than a quarterback on the cheap for two more years after this one, who can be put in an offense that can score more than 30 points.