Having a couple of weeks to prepare for Saturday’s divisional round playoff matchup with the visiting Atlanta Falcons has helped the Eagles in several ways. Among those has been allowing Nick Foles and the starting offense to sort out the abrupt transition from Carson Wentz to Foles.
When the starting quarterback is not just some guy but a league MVP candidate such as Wentz, getting everybody used to and synced up with his backup is not as simple as having someone stand in the middle of the locker room and announce, “The king is dead! Long live the king!”
There are emotional and practical rough spots that must be smoothed over.
“I just think it does take a little while when you lose your starting quarterback, obviously,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said this week. “I hate to even say it, but the game keeps going. We still have to go to work the next day. Nick has to get himself ready to play. I’ve got to coach the next day. I’ve got to coach the next quarterback. … Football is not going to stop.
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“The train is still moving, and the sooner we get over that and get on to the next order of business, the better we’re going to become. But that’s a process. That doesn’t happen overnight … It takes a little time. Jason Peters, it takes a little time. Darren Sproles, it takes a little time. Carson Wentz, it’s going to take a little time. Now we’ve had that time, and we’ve moved on and we have a great opportunity sitting in front of us today.”
Rich Gannon, the 2002 NFL MVP, from St. Joseph’s Prep and Delaware, found himself in a Foles-type situation several times during his 17-year NFL career. Gannon said this week that there are differences in quarterbacks that teams must adjust to, and that the new quarterback has to be aware of some potential pitfalls.
“Every situation’s different,” Gannon said. “I would tell you that in my situation, something as simple as the cadence – if your cadence sounds different, is different, if it’s not the same rhythm or the same pace as the other quarterback, something like that can be an issue, when it comes to false starts, when it comes to protection, when it comes to the hard count. How you call plays in the huddle, how you communicate certain things. The starter might give a lot of information to a certain receiver, tips and reminders. Does the backup do the same thing? My situation, I probably did more.”
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Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said Foles’ cadence is indeed different from the way Wentz calls signals.
“It takes a little bit to get adjusted to it,” Johnson said. “I think Carson’s sometimes a little quicker with his cadence. Everybody has their own rhythm. Although it seems simple, it is kind of complex for the line, trying to get used to it, because you’ve been firing off the ball with a certain rhythm all year.”
Gannon often was replacing a starter who wasn’t necessarily any more talented than him, sometimes because the other guy wasn’t playing well. That’s obviously not the case here.
“If all of a sudden they make a change and they say you’re now a starter, because of poor performance [by the previous starter], that’s different than a guy getting hurt,” Gannon said. “But I really believe that once that happens, and you take over control … then you have to play and lead and behave the way you normally would, as if it’s your team. You can’t worry about stepping on anybody’s toes, you can’t worry about what the other guy thinks, you’ve just got to go do it. That came very natural to me; some guys, maybe not so much.
“I think some guys are so concerned about not ruffling anybody’s feathers – I think you’ve just got to get in there and take charge and take ownership, assume it’s your team and you’re not coming back out until something happens. I think that’s the best advice I can give a guy that’s in that situation. You’ve just got to cut it loose and play.”
There has been a bit of a delicate dance around the fact that this remains Wentz’s team, ultimately – but it has to be Foles’ team for this playoff run.
Reporters have not been able to speak with Wentz since his Dec. 10 ACL injury. Pederson, asked this week about Wentz’ level of input, said the man who set a franchise record with 33 touchdown passes this season is “still here in the morning and still here in the early QB meetings in the morning. He’s still talking to Nick throughout the day. Outside of the morning stuff, he’s not in installation meetings. It’s rare that he even — he’s been out to practice, but that’s about it. He’s just trying to get himself in a position where he can continue his rehab and feel comfortable doing that right now still.”
Asked if Foles’ demeanor has been any different this week, Pederson said: “He’s definitely feeling a lot more comfortable … embracing the starting position. When you have a sudden change like that and how it happens, it’s never an easy thing to go through.
“But each week that’s gone by, there’s more and more confidence. The guys, just learning his voice inflection in the huddle for guys can be a big difference. Those things have been all sorted out here in the last couple of weeks.”
Pederson also was asked how confident he is that the team has moved on from Wentz, for now.
“I am very confident in that, just by the way the guys have handled their business the last two weeks, the way we practiced last week, and the way we prepared this week,” he said. “Does that guarantee anything? No. We’ve still got to go out and play.”