For this year, Michael Vick still Eagles' best bet at quarterback
Chip Kelly dismissed questions this offseason about the necessity of having a mobile quarterback to implement his offense, sometimes evoking the name of standstill quarterback Tom Brady.
"If someone tried to make [Brady] run the zone read, I think he'd get fired, to be honest with you," Kelly said in January on the day the Eagles hired him as head coach.
Nick Foles is no Brady - as Sunday's performance against the Cowboys hammered home - but he's almost as much a cement-footed quarterback as the Patriots icon. So for Foles' last two starts Kelly scaled down on the zone read.
"We ran a lot of power, ran a lot of sweeps," Kelly said following the Eagles' 17-3 loss to Dallas. "Go through the amount of plays we ran, we didn't run a ton of zone read at all."
And therein lies the problem for Kelly - he wants to run the zone read. It is the basis for his entire offense, or at least his Oregon offense that bulldozed over college defenses.
And the ideal conductor of that offense is not Foles. It's likely not even Michael Vick, at least not for the long term, although he'll certainly retain his starting spot once he fully recovers from a hamstring strain.
Kelly's model is likely playing on Saturdays and quite possibly for the program he left after six years. But obtaining Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota or any one of the seemingly cream-of-the-crop quarterbacks in next year's draft doesn't help the Eagles in their final nine games.
But Kelly surely knew that when he brought Vick back as a one-year stopgap and even Foles, who was on the roster and for free. He needed to buy some time, and it might as well have been in the first year as he went about turning the organization over.
Foles is not as bad as he looked on Sunday. He also wasn't as good as he appeared in Tampa. He is serviceable. Even without the zone read, he can executive enough of Kelly's up-tempo, quick-throwing offense to win some games.
But what would be the point of hiring Kelly if he weren't allowed to build with his sharpest tools? It would be like asking Picasso to paint an impressionistic picture. He could do it, and probably quite well, but wouldn't cubism be the best expression of his vision?
The zone read - inside and outside option plays that involve the quarterback's running or being a threat to run - is the "great equalizer," as Kelly has called it.
And the inside zone read, which calls for the quarterback to keep defenses honest by drawing an unblocked defender, had been the Eagles' bread-and-butter run play when Vick was at quarterback. They averaged more than 6 yards a carry on the play before Foles replaced the injured Vick two weeks ago against the New York Giants.
But without a successful zone read, Kelly's offense has mostly looked ordinary.
Certainly capable of tailoring an offense around the skill-set of his quarterback, Kelly designed a game plan that involved short screens, run-pass option package plays, and a power run game that Foles ran to near perfection in the Eagles' victory over the Buccaneers last week.
The Eagles rushed for 138 yards, and LeSean McCoy gained 116 on 25 carries. But those were tough yards. The Cowboys held the ground game to 84 yards on 23 tries, and McCoy accounted for only 55 on 18 totes.
Kelly has to do a better job of calling plays that counter defenses. And the Eagles offensive line certainly has a stake in the ineffectiveness. But the lanes have been tighter with Foles, even if he seldom handed off in the zone read.
"I think Nick has run the offense successfully at times," center Jason Kelce said. "So I don't know that having a [mobile quarterback] is necessarily true either. But I'm also not the expert to ask."
In 41/2 games with Vick, the Eagles have averaged 6.1 yards a carry and scored six rushing touchdowns. With Foles and Matt Barkley in 21/2 games, the Eagles ground game has managed 3.3 yards per attempt and only one score - a Foles quarterback draw against the Bucs.
Vick's scrambling ability certainly pads the stats. And the argument here isn't that Vick is better in the passing game than Foles, although his arm strength allows him to make throws his counterpart cannot.
But Vick is better suited to Kelly's offense.
Barkley is a little more mobile than Foles, but the rookie comes with a different set of problems. He was tossed into an untenable spot late in Sunday's game after Foles, who was not available afterward, left with a head injury. But his lack of arm strength will likely be his undoing.
"I wouldn't say [the offense] is tailored to any specific type of quarterback," Barkley said. "I think that if you are efficient in everything, both styles of quarterback can run this offense and put points on the board."
But can both styles of quarterback put up enough points on a consistent basis? If Kelly believes that is possible, perhaps he chases a pocket quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater in the draft.
He brought Vick back and chose him over Foles for a reason, though. He likely wants a mobile quarterback, and there just so happens to be a dual-threat Heisman Trophy candidate who hails from Eugene, Ore., eligible for May's draft.