The Week in Overreactions: Have the Eagles found their QB?

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com


Can Nick Foles lead the Eagles to the playoffs? (USATSI)

New storylines emerge every week. Some are reasonable, most are not. "The Week in Overreactions" focuses on the latter. Those items that offer a cursory "How do you do?" as they blow past reality straight for THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER! We're here to keep everything in perspective. Questions, comments, casserole ideas? Hit us up on Twitter at @ryanwilson_07.

Is Nick Foles legit?

It's natural to overreact after watching a quarterback throw 16 touchdowns without an interception against NFL defenses, especially when 10 of those touchdowns came in the last two weeks. Meet Nick Foles, the Eagles' second-year quarterback responsible for those numbers, who has earned the right to be the team's starting quarterback even if coach Chip Kelly refuses to state as much publicly.

Foles is 3-1 as a starter and in that one loss -- against Dallas -- he was knocked out of the game with a concussion, replaced by rookie Matt Barkley, who came in and threw three interceptions. At his current pace, Foles could play until the sun runs out of fuel and he wouldn't ever throw a pick. That's how good he's been.

That can't last, of course, and we're not interested in the unrealistic expectations that it might. But can Foles be the Eagles' long-term answer? Or, at the very least, the Eagles' long-term answer at quarterback this season?

Hell yes, to both questions.

And this has less to do with Foles' gaudy numbers (he's four shy of Peyton Manning's record of 20 consecutive touchdowns without an interception) as it does with his ability to run Kelly's offense, outstanding luck aside.

In Week 9, Foles threw seven (!) touchdowns against the Raiders, but many of those were to wide open receivers. And on his first TD pass against Green Bay, we saw some of that aforementioned luck.

But here's the thing about luck: When it happens to Manning or Brees or Brady we just chalk it up to hard work. Anyone else, particularly a young, unproven player, we're more skeptical. And that's fine. The NFL scrap heap is littered with flash in the pans, guys who were white hot for eight games, maybe an entire season and then were never heard from again. And maybe this is Foles' fate. Then again, maybe he's destined to join Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick in the conversation about the next generation of franchise QBs.

Actually, think about it this way: If you have to win one game tomorrow and you can have Foles or Kaepernick under center, who are you taking? It has to be Foles, right? There's no hesitation, no debate, you reflexively blurt out "That kid who looks like Napolean Dynamite got a makeover!" because he's been playing that well. Ten months ago, when Kap was leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl, we'd be having a different conversation. And that's sort of the point: Young quarterbacks are a fickle bunch.

But for now even Chip Kelly, who has been noncommittal in recent weeks about who will be the Eagles' starter, knows that Foles is his guy.

“I think what we've done for the last two weeks has worked for us pretty good, so we're going to stick with that formula,” Kelly said Monday. “It's got us 16 touchdowns, no interceptions and two wins, so why would we change?”

Of course, Kelly promptly added, "I was being sarcastic" because Michael Vick remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. But even when Vick is healthy, there's virtually no chance he gets his job back. By any conventional measure, Foles has outperformed Vick, but that remains the case when you look deeper, beyond the flurry of touchdowns.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, Foles completes 71 percent of his passes when under no pressure. When he's not blitzed (which could include pressure from, say, a four-man rush), Foles completes 63 percent of his passes. When he is blitzed, he completes ... 64 percent of his passes.

Meanwhile, Vick's numbers look like this: 67 percent when no pressure, 57 percent when not blitzed and 49 percent when blitzed.

There's more: Vick's passer rating has decreased every week from a season high 123.4 in Week 2 to 32.4 by Week 8.

Foles' passer rating has exceeded 114 five times, including 155.2 in Week 2, a perfect 158.3 in Week 9 and 149.3 last week.

Nine weeks ago, hours after Kelly's high-flying offense put a season-opening beatdown on a punchless Redskins defense we wrote this: "Let's pump the brakes on this 'Eagles are going to the playoffs!' bandwagon. The reason? It's not because we don't think Kelly's uptempo offense can't work -- clearly, it can -- but because of something much more mundane: injuries. Specifically, to Michael Vick."

As happens every year, Vick got hurt but the Eagles are a better team for it. Yes, maybe Foles is in the middle of a Mark Lemke en fuego streak. But he's also in an offense that fits his talents perfectly and he's been ridiculously accurate as a downfield passer; on balls that travel more than 20 yards in the air Foles is 13 of 23 for 480 yards, 13 touchdowns and, yes, zero interceptions.

Having LeSean McCoy in the backfield also lessens Foles' burden. After a 31-carry performance against the Redskins in the opener, McCoy is averaging a more reasonable 19 touches a game since and he's the NFL's best back by just about any measure. (McCoy's 932 yards leads the league in rushing, he's No. 1 in Football Outsiders' RB efficiency metric and by ProFootballFocus.com's grading system.) Against the Packers, McCoy ran for 155 yards. For an idea of just how good a season he's having, that's only this third best total behind Week 1's 184-yard effort and the 158-yard day he had against the Chiefs in Week 3.

The biggest issue facing this team is the defense. Football Outsiders ranks them 30th, ahead of only the Jaguars and the Chargers. It's a young unit -- and there have been slight improvements in recent weeks -- but the question over the final month and a half is whether the D can hold up should Foles' production return to lower Earth orbit. Because don't forget, Philly's offense was stuck in neutral in four of its five losses -- the team averaged 11.5 points per game in those four losses and 35.2 points in their five wins (and 35.6 points in the three wins with Foles as the starter).

Then again, we're also talking about the NFL's worst division. At 5-5, the Eagles are currently tied for first with the Cowboys, and the Giants are Redskins are both 3-6. And looking at the next six games, if Philly can win its home games they'll almost certainly be playing in January. One problem: The Eagles haven't won at home since last season and are currently on a 10-game Linc losing streak.

“What's the answer for us not winning at home and being 5-1 on the road? I don't know,” Kelly said Monday. “If we knew it, we'd replicate it. Do we have to take the buses and drive around for a half hour before we go to the stadium? I don't know. If that was the answer, we would do it.”

Whatever the solution, the Eagles host the Redskins Sunday, then have their bye before the Cardinals and Lions come to town. Then they're at Minnesota, another home date against the Bears before a Week 17 matchup in Dallas.

The way the NFC is shaking out, the Eagles will probably need to win the division to make the playoffs. And that means they'll need to win at home. Is Foles the guy to do it? He better be because we know it's not Vick or Barkley.

 
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