FOR THE LAST three games, TV cameras have caught Nick Foles on the sideline, rubbing, grabbing and/or pushing his hand against his left shoulder and rotating it both gingerly and aggressively. There's usually a grimace or two attached, too.
For the last three games at least, cameras have caught several of his receivers breaking free behind the coverage of opposing teams, and the ball landing yards ahead of them. And with each replay of Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Riley Cooper and, most of all, Jeremy Maclin, running in futility after a ball thrown well past them, comes this nagging question:
Is there something Nick and his head coach are not telling us?
Phrased another way, should we be more concerned about Foles' left shoulder than about LeSean McCoy's toe?
After all, these are throws Foles made habitually last season while shocking the world with 27 touchdown passes over only 13 games and 10 starts. Nobody expected a repeat of that - hoped maybe, but didn't expect - but we were hoping for a little better than six touchdown passes over four games. Especially since the opportunities have been there . . .
And there . . .
And there . . .
"If we're throwing the ball, I have to execute," Foles said Sunday, after completing 21 of 43 passes for 195 yards and a passer rating of 42.3. "I just have to execute, and make sure to give our guys an opportunity to make a play."
Foles' longest completion Sunday was for 22 yards, and then only because Maclin reeled in a pass with his fingertips as he skidded out of bounds. Of passes attempted beyond 20 yards, it was his only completion. One big reason Chip Kelly's offense worked with a stationary quarterback was Foles' ability to make teams pay for stacking the line against the run. And while the injury-riddled offensive line and the subsequent lack of protection have hurried his throws and possibly exacerbated whatever is ailing that shoulder, Foles has delivered many of those deep balls on short-yardage downs and with enough time.
"I think it's the exact opposite," Kelly said when I asked about it. "That he overthrew balls - that's got nothing to do with his left shoulder. Now, if every ball was underthrown? Then I would think that the injury . . . that he was banged up."
Ah, careful, careful, careful. I'm going to assume Chip misspoke rather than concede that there is, in fact, an injury there. Foles has not missed any practice time. But as Chip and those who have ever suffered an injury to their nonthrowing shoulder might tell you, it might not be an issue of length as much as it is of accuracy, an issue not of strength but of balance and mechanics.
And, above all, consistency.
In the season opener against Jacksonville, he was 12-for-24 in the first half with a passer rating of 50.5, but he completed 15 of 21 in the second half and finished with 322 yards and a rating of 87.5. The following week at Indianapolis, he had a 70.9 rating in the first half and finished at 84.4. He completed 12 of 14 in the first half against Washington, then took two memorable shots to his upper body from defensive end Jason Hatcher and the blindside block by Chris Baker that triggered a brawl, penalties and ejections - but no fines.
Since then, the Eagles' offense has sputtered, and Foles' accuracy, or lack of it, has contributed to McCoy's struggles, and the makeshift line's as well. And the most memorable daggers are those wide-open misses that would have been TD passes a year ago.
"I don't think he's overcompensating," Kelly said when I suggested the overthrows were linked to those recurring sideline shoulder rubs. "I just think he's got to get his timing down."
OK, fine. But we're approaching Game 5, and the timing - or touch - hasn't improved much. Yeah, Cooper's suddenly slippery hands haven't helped, but, after two games in which they were justifiably ripped for drops, the Eagles' receivers were glue sticks against Washington in Week 3. And except for Ertz' untimely fumble and a tough ball that Cooper should have had through a sea of hands in those final minutes Sunday, they made the catches they should have made and even a few - such as Maclin's ridiculous grab to keep their near-winning drive alive - that they shouldn't have.
But you can't catch a ball that's headed to New Jersey. And if Foles' inaccuracy is linked to that shoulder, or the aggregate beating he has taken over the first four games, you can't expect his timing to improve until he gets better protection and/or his body heals.
Someone asked Kelly to assess Foles' play after four games. Inside of a long answer that referenced everything but his quarterback, the coach said: "We set a very high standard here in terms of the success we had last year, but there's a different group of guys playing right now, and I think that's the reality of it.
"You know, we have to do a better job. Everybody on the offensive side of the ball has to do a better job in terms of executing, because we're leaving plays out there on the field, and that's the thing that's disappointing when you look at it."
On Twitter: @samdonnellon