Film breakdown: The argument for (and against) Nick Foles

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Starting quarterback Nick Foles talks with quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo as the Eagles practice for their upcoming game against the New York Giants inside The Bubble at the Nova Care Complex December 13, 2017. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

Each week this season, we’ll breakdown a player, trend or scheme from the Eagles’ previous game using the coaches all-22 film. This week, we spotlight Nick Foles, going back as far as the 2012 season, to see how Doug Pederson’s post-Carson Wentz offense will look.

The Eagles’ offensive scheme will not change significantly with Foles at quarterback. The same likely can’t be said of its production. But the drop off doesn’t have to be drastic. Foles is one of the better backups in the NFL, he has great support around him, and he’s played in some form of this West Coast-based system dating back to his rookie year.

Pederson: Going forward, there’s not much we have to do [in changing the offense]. It’s more or less just what is he comfortable with? What is Nick familiar with?

RUN-PASS OPTION PLAYS

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Run-pass options plays, or RPOs, are a sizeable part of the Eagles offense. They became popular in the NFL around the time that Chip Kelly came into the league. Former Eagles coach Andy Reid slowly integrated the plays, first popular in the college game, into his Chiefs offense. Foles got the see how much the offense changed when he and Reid were reunited in Kansas City in 2016.

Foles: Since 2012, it’s evolved quite a bit. I think football in general in the NFL has evolved. A lot of it is the run-pass option. … There are so many different RPOs now. It started out as something really simple and now it’s just crazy what it can do.

On Foles’ first throw against the Rams after taking over for the injured Wentz, he hit the slanting Alshon Jeffery on a RPO.

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Foles’ pass was slightly behind his receiver. Timing is an important part of executing RPOs and Foles has had little time to practice with the starters.

Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich: You just have to work it out. … It is not just the reps during practice, but there’s all these side throwing sessions that they have to kind of work on some finer detail things.

On this RPO, Foles hit tight end Trey Burton (No. 88) 16 yards downfield.

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Pederson: Some of the RPOs we did, if you pay close attention, they’re down the field throws and they’re quarterback-pocket throws. So we’re not asking our quarterback to expose himself, necessarily, on a designed QB run.

While the “run” part of RPOs can include a quarterback run, it doesn’t necessarily need to be an element of the play or even part of the design. It does help to have a quarterback who is a threat, although Wentz hardly ever took that option. The most important factor is …

Reich: Being fast on your feet, accurate with the football and Nick is all those things.

RUNNING ABILITY

Sometimes having a quarterback run just once can be enough to keep the unblocked defender on RPOs honest. Again, the Eagles haven’t had many designed quarterback runs. But they have run a few zone reads and once used the read option to score a touchdown.

Foles is obviously not as athletically gifted as Wentz, but he also doesn’t have stone for feet. In 2013, he rushed for 221 yards on 57 carries (3.9 average). If defenses weren’t going to respect his ability to run, he took off, as he did here against the Packers that season.

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Foles: It’s just playing smart. Sliding – that’s the big thing.

Foles, like Wentz, doesn’t like to slide. But unlike Wentz, sliding feet first is unnatural for him.

Reich: As a quarterback you really have to understand and pull back the competitive juices and to understand that it’s really best for the team that you protect yourself, and certainly that conversation we’ll be having with Nick.

On his first play against the Rams, Foles dropped the snap and scrambled. He picked up 9 yards and dove headfirst.

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PASSING ACCURACY

Foles can be accurate. Sometimes he isn’t. On a key late third down against the Rams, he had to fire a dart to Nelson Agholor (No. 17), who had only so much space against man coverage.

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Foles isn’t afraid to throw downfield. Given a clean pocket and time, he can make the throws. Last season, he was called off the bench twice to replace the injured Alex Smith against the Colts (the Chiefs won, 30-14). On this 34-yard touchdown pass to Tyreke Hill (No. 10), he found his receiver in one of the holes a Cover 2 defense occasionally yields.

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Foles: I’ve always been like a gunslinger — just let it rip.

PLAY ACTION

Wentz likes to throw off play action. He’s going to need an effective run game to keep defenses honest (more on this topic in a later story). But on this 23-yard touchdown pass against the Jaguars last season – Foles started in place of the injury Smith the week after the Colts game – he held the linebacker long enough so that receiver Aaron Wilson had a step.

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Foles managed the offense in the Chiefs’ 19-14 win over Jacksonville. He averaged only 5.7 yards per pass attempt, but he did toss the above touchdown, and more important, didn’t have a turnover.

Pederson: He’s smart to the point of he and I are going to continue to dialogue like Carson and I did during the week. I want to make sure there are plays in his plan that he’s comfortable with and that he likes.

HANDLING PRESSURE

Foles’ comfort with the plays is important because defensive coordinators will likely send extra pressure in his direction. He needs to know where his receivers are vs. certain blitzes. He has struggled against exotic rush packages, like this one vs. the Colts.

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He didn’t see or feel the defender rush off the edge to his left and missed the wide-open “hot” receiver. Foles’ pocket awareness has never been great. Against this Rams blitz, though, the protection wasn’t clean and Foles was able to throw the ball away without taking a sack.

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Foles: It’s just feel. It’s repetitions. It’s stepping up. It’s understanding where … if you feel pressure, getting the ball out. Sometimes dirtying the ball in situations is better than taking a sack.

Wentz’s ability to extend plays may be what separates him most from other quarterbacks. The combination of athleticism, strength and instincts gives him an edge over statuesque quarterbacks like Foles, who had trouble vs. this Colts’ three-man rush (not that his right tackle helped much).

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Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo has been credited with preparing Wentz for the pressures he saw on a weekly basis. Coaching can only help so much, but Foles could benefit from working with his new position coach.

Reich: Carson has some unique, physical traits that he does exceptionally well, but it’s nothing that Nick can’t handle.

GAME SPEED

In comparison to Wentz, nearly everything Foles does is a tick slower – his recognition, his awareness, his release and his arm strength. On this short pass to Torrey Smith (No. 82), Rams linebacker Mark Barron (No. 26) read Foles’ eyes, jumped the route and nearly had an interception.

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Later the drive, Foles checked down to running back Jay Ajayi when he had Agholor open over the middle.

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While Foles missed some throws against the Rams, he effectively managed the Eagles to a victory after being thrown into a difficult spot. This week, he’ll have a full slate of practices to prepare for the New York Giants. He’ll have a game plan catered to his preferences and skill set – even if Foles and the Eagles have tried their best to insist that nothing changes after the loss of Wentz.

Foles: I don’t expect it to look different at all. … This is the Eagles offense. This is the one that’s the DNA of this team. We have so many tremendous players on offense that can do a lot different things. We just have to go out there and execute.