Nick Foles’ Shaky Start to the Season

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Coming into this season, I was expecting big things from the Eagles right off the bat. Of course some of this is silly optimism founded in seven months’ deprivation of football. But I felt my hopes were based in some fact. For one, Chip Kelly may actually be an angel sent from the heavens to save our souls. Secondly, the Eagles opened the regular season against the Jaguars, a team that hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in recent times. I also trusted that in his second year in Chip’s offense, Nick Foles would become even more dangerous. Of course I didn’t expect a 27:2 touchdown to interception ratio again. Those things just don’t happen. But I did hope to see a more comfortable Foles, one with a better grasp of the offense and where to go with the ball.

Well…we saw how that turned out. The Eagles sputtered out of the gate, turning the ball over three times in the first half, with all three turnovers involving Foles. Number 9 fumbled away the ball on the Eagles’ first two possessions, and in the second quarter he drove the team the length of the field…before throwing an interception in the end zone. So, what happened to the Eagles’ Texan savior?

Well, a variety of issues crept up. He was uncomfortable in the pocket, he missed on some throws and most importantly, he failed to identify open receivers. They don’t mean that Foles is destined for mediocrity; they simply mean that Foles was having a rough go of it on Sunday. We’ve seen Foles have a bad game before, such as the Eagles’ first game against Dallas last year. Remember how he responded the next time he played? Even while playing poorly for one half, Foles ended up going 27/45 for 322 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. Granted, if the Nick Foles we are used to seeing had shown up, he could have eclipsed 400 yards quite easily, but we should still appreciate that he put it together enough to lead the offense to 27 points in the second half. With that in mind, let’s look at some plays!

This first play comes from the first quarter. The Eagles are in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) and have two receivers on each side of the line. At the bottom of the screen, James Casey and Jeremy Maclin run a switch concept, with Maclin coming inside and streaking down the seam. You see that white shirt flying past everything and open by about three light years? Yeah, that’s Mr. Maclin. Unfortunately, Foles doesn’t see the blown coverage. Foles then doubles down on his mistake by not stepping up in the pocket. Instead he rolls out and receives a lesson in the form of “YO, THERE ARE GIANT HUMANS TRYING TO MANGLE YOU, MAN.” Yeah…that was his second fumble of the game. I said some curse words after this play, and I didn’t even realize how open Maclin was in real time. If Foles can find the blatantly open man on this play, that’s another 75 yards and a touchdown right there.

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The next play we’ll look at is also from the first half. Here, we have the Eagles in 11 personnel once more. This time, however, the tight end is lined up by himself while the three wide receivers are lined up in trips to the top of the screen. The Eagles are running the greatest play in the history of football, four verticals, with a play action fake in there for funsies.

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The play fake gets the linebacker to bite, making life simpler for Jordan Matthews, the Eagles’ rookie slot receiver from Vanderbilt (still technically SEC!). Matthews, who lit up training camp all summer, thus has an even easier job of climbing over the linebackers and getting open downfield.JM3

 

Ah, yes…look at that. Matthews has done his job quite well and has acres of real estate to work with. Look at that open space! There’s nobody there! Go, Nick, do it for the Vine! Just loft it over the clearly beaten ‘backer and give Matthews a chance to run onto it!

 

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Unfortunately, after getting pummeled early on from some nice pressure by the Jaguars, Foles looked hesitant for a while. In this still, Foles is actually pump faking. He doesn’t manipulate any safety it seems, as Foles pumps once and then immediately releases (phrasing!) without setting his feet again.

 

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The result is a throw behind Matthews and sad rookie tears. You were so perfect and innocent before this throw and now you’re callous and cynical and please don’t become like T.O. OH NO JORDAN MATTHEWS HAS THE SAME JERSEY NUMBER AS T.O. AND NOW HIS GOOD, LOVING SOUL HAS BEEN CORRUPTED. SOMEBODY CALL AN EXORCIST AND GET THIS DEMON TERRELL OWENS OUT OF JORDAN’S SOUL A$AP.

Later in this game, though, Foles came back and hit Matthews on the same play, earning 30 yards with an extra 15 tacked on due to a late hit flag. He also threw behind Matthews again, so there were ups and downs. The important thing is that Matthews was getting open consistently on this play. I think Foles will do better at hitting him in the future.

After halftime, the Eagles started to put up points, and Foles played a key part in that. Here we can see the score that put cut the Jaguars’ lead to three points, a touchdown to Zach Ertz down the seam. The Eagles again line up in 11 personnel, with Maclin lined up outside and Ertz as an in-line tight end to the top of the screen.

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Ertz runs down the seam, and the red sea parts, leaving him with a ton of room. My lord, those safeties give zero fucks about Zach Ertz. They must have not heard that he’s probably the best tight end to ever play and also maybe even the best punter (we can’t say he isn’t we’ve never seen him punt so I’m gonna assume he’s definitely top 5). Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 4.35.22 AM

 

The end result? A nice touchdown. A couple things here: first, I’m glad Foles found the open man quickly and made a quick decision. That’s supposed to be his best trait, and even though he didn’t show it in full in the first half, this play is closer to the Nick Foles I expect to see on a regular basis. However, even on this play, Nick didn’t throw it as well as I’d prefer. He put a bit too much air under it. Check it out:

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He made sure the linebackers couldn’t reach it, but the only reason the safeties were late is due to how far they had to come from. More disciplined safety play would make for a smaller window, which is what Foles will be dealing with in the future. We’ve seen him make the throw necessary for those smaller windows quite a few times. We just need to see it even more regularly. However, STILL A TOUCHDOWN, BITCH.

The last play we’ll look at is the last big throw Foles had to make on the day. The game was tied 17-17. After a punt by the Jaguars, the Eagles had the ball at their own 32. The Eagles again run four verticals, and Jeremy Maclin runs down the seam. I wonder how that goes down:

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WOOOOOOO DID YOU SEE THAT?! CHIP KELLY IS A GENIUS AT MAKING OTHER TEAMS COMPLETELY IGNORE A PLAYER AS HE RUNS RIGHT PAST THEM FOR AN EASY TOUCHDOWN. NICK FOLES, WHAT A WILY CAT, SAVING THAT LONG PLAY IN HIS BACK POCKET FOR JUST THE RIGHT TIME. JUST EXCELLENT ALL AROUND. EVERYBODY ON THE TEAM HIT THE SHMONEY DANCE RIGHT NOW.

Very very underrated part of this play: the Jags’ safety flying up on the play fake, only to run into Ertz, turn around to chase Maclin and just falling at midfield. So, so rich.

So, what did we learn today? Well, we learned that Nick Foles is still a young quarterback who’s susceptible to making a mess of a few plays. However, we also know that this one game doesn’t outweigh all his work from last year. And even with us categorizing this as a “bad” game, Foles still made plays, started to see the field better and had the offense score 27 points. I think that these missteps are correctible, and Foles is one to correct them. From everything written about him, he’s a genuine worker who tries to improve every day. I’m excited to see Foles go after those improvements and apply them in game situations.

 

 

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