Friday, April 18, 2014
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Behind Foles' record-tying performance

Chip Kelly and Nick Foles. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Chip Kelly and Nick Foles. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Chip Kelly and Nick Foles. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer) Gallery: Behind Foles' record-tying performance

A few national football writers, in their own way, discredited Nick Foles' seven-touchdown performance by claiming it was more a product of NFL rule changes than of his own doing.

The Eagles quarterback isn't a household name, has accomplished little in two seasons, and so, they must have thought, there had to be some other reason for Foles' tying Peyton Manning and five others for most touchdown passes in an NFL game.

Assuming they watched the game, they could have found other ways to question one of the finest throwing exhibitions in league history, the most credible being:

How much was Foles and how much was Chip Kelly's offense?

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  • The simple answer: It was both - and you can sprinkle in some of the ineptitude of the Raiders defense and the proficiency of the Eagles offensive line and skill position players.

    Foles deserved the most credit. He was accurate, made the correct reads, spread the ball around, and, when the Eagles needed it, made plays when the onus typically falls on the quarterback.

    "It starts first with the quarterback," wide receiver DeSean Jackson said Tuesday. "As long as he's able to distribute the ball where it needs to go, sky's the limit for this offense. As long as we get that play out of our quarterback, this offense could be very dangerous."

    Jackson was asked who had more to do with the Eagles' offensive explosion in Oakland. And while he led with the quarterback, his full answer was nuanced to include the necessity of having a distributor in Kelly's system.

    The quarterback and the offense are always married, but perhaps never more so than in Kelly's scheme. The Eagles coach has always said that Foles could thrive in his offense, and for the most part it has been true.

    If Kelly is a believer in one thing it is his offense. He has done only tinkering in scheming to Foles' skills. It's almost as if Kelly thinks he could plug any guy into the system and it will go.

    In the Eagles wins Foles has appeared in this season, he completed 71.4 percent of his passes for an average of 300 yards over 2 1/2 games. He tossed 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. In the Cowboys loss, he was 11 of 29 for 80 yards without either a touchdown or interception.

    The great debate over the last month has been whether Foles has what it takes to be the Eagles' future quarterback. But the better question may be whether he can be the long-term answer as long as he's playing in Kelly's offense.

    There hasn't been enough evidence to support either Foles' supporters or his detractors. It was premature to bury him after the Cowboys game and it's too early to anoint him after Canton called for his uniform from the Raiders game.

    "It is . . . a small sample size," Kelly said Monday. "He played in the Giants game, he played in the Tampa Bay game, [and] he played against the Cowboys. Now this. It's encouraging, I can tell you that."

    The most encouraging plays Sunday were the ones that were reliant on Foles' simply dropping back and throwing downfield. Kelly's zone-read and run-pass package plays are best on first and second downs, and third down and short.

    But there aren't many offenses in which coaches can dial up third-down-and-long plays that consistently deliver. To convert third and long, strong quarterback play is needed and Foles delivered twice against the Raiders - once zipping a throw to Jeff Maehl on third and 13 and later to Jackson on third and 15.

    "Those are big-time plays to keep the chains moving," Foles said, complimenting his receivers.

    Foles was also effective in looking off defenders, sometimes with a look, other times with a pump fake. The 19-yard completion to Maehl came after a slight hitch. He connected with Riley Cooper for a 17-yard touchdown after he stared down the safety.

    Foles was also sharp on deep balls, hooking up with Cooper for a 63-yard touchdown and Jackson for 59 yards.

    "I feel there were a lot of questions here and people looked at me like I was cross-eyed when they said Nick Foles couldn't throw the ball deep," Kelly said.

    Those were all plays you might see in a multitude of offenses around the league. But when Kelly goes up-tempo, it adds another element. Foles handles the no-huddle well, and he showed improvement Sunday with Kelly's zone-read and package plays.

    There are usually two to three options, run and pass, in the package plays. For instance, when Foles flicked a lateral to Cooper he had three options on the play - hand off to McCoy (he did not), run (he did for one yard before reading the unblocked defender), or lateral (he did, and Cooper picked up 18 yards).

    "I think I know who I am and I know what my strengths are," Foles said. "I know that I can pull it and get yards or I can pull it and dish it. I played basketball. I knew how to dish the ball. I knew how to get assists."

    Kelly once said Rajon Rondo would be the ideal quarterback for his offense. Foles may not have the mobility of a point guard, but he can distribute and hit the occasional three-pointer. Will that be enough?

     


    jmclane@phillynews.com

    @Jeff_McLane

     

    Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
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