NICK FOLES was the best deep-ball thrower in the league last year. He had an impressive 124.0 passer rating on throws that traveled 20 yards or more.
The Eagles quarterback completed 45.4 percent of his deep throws (25-for-55), averaged 14.6 yards per attempt and threw 14 touchdown passes and only one interception on 20-plus-yard throws. That was better than Manning, better than Brees, better than Rodgers, better than everybody.
So far this season, though, it's been a different deep-ball story.
While Foles has thrown the ball downfield more often - once every 4.26 attempts in the first four games, compared with once every 5.76 last year - he is completing much fewer of them.
In Sunday's loss to the 49ers, Foles completed only one of 13 attempts of 20 yards or more. Both of his interceptions came on deep balls. For the season, he's completed only 25.6 percent of his deep throws (10-for-39), has averaged 7.0 yards per attempt and has a 58.3 passer rating. For those of you who don't feel like doing the math, that's 65.7 points lower than his 2013 deep-ball passer rating.
And don't I just know what many of you are thinking right now.
The curse of DeSean Jackson.
Take one of the league's most dangerous vertical threats away from a quarterback, and of course he won't be nearly as good throwing the ball down the field, you're thinking.
There's only one thing wrong with that conclusion. If you review the film of the first four games, you'll notice the problem isn't that Eagles receivers aren't getting open for Foles down the field. The problem is he hasn't done a very good job of getting the ball to them.
Take Sunday. Please.
On a second-and-4 on the Eagles' first possession, tight end Brent Celek got behind rookie safety Jimmy Ward. Foles had plenty of time, but overthrew him.
Later in the first quarter, Jeremy Maclin beat cornerback Perrish Cox on a deep route. But Foles underthrew him, largely because Niners defensive end Justin Smith barreled into his sternum as he released the ball.
In the second quarter, Foles had Maclin open on a post route. The Niners pressured him, but he could have easily avoided it by sliding a couple of steps to his left. Instead, he threw off his back foot and threw an incompletion.
Late in the second quarter, Foles was late with a deep sideline pass to Maclin. Cox nearly intercepted it.
Late in the third quarter, he underthrew another deep ball to Maclin when Smith beat left guard Matt Tobin and blew up the quarterback as he was throwing the ball. In the fourth quarter, Riley Cooper beat cornerback Chris Culliver on a deep post route, but Foles overthrew him.
There were a few others like that, but you get the picture.
"I definitely missed some throws I wanted to hit," Foles said yesterday. "I let it fly a little too far. A couple yards too far.
"That's something I'll work towards this week. My job as quarterback is when the ball is in my hands, to deliver it where my receivers can catch it. But it's all things we can fix."
Last year, Foles came off the bench six games into the season after Michael Vick injured his hamstring and had a storybook season. He put up the third-best passer rating in league history (119.2). He threw 27 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. He led the league in just about every pertinent passing category.
It was a once-in-a-career statistical accomplishment, and no one really expected him to duplicate it.
But four games into a season that is supposed to earn the 25-year-old quarterback The Big Contract, Foles has strayed far in the other direction. His numbers are way, way down, and so is his performance.
He's fifth in the league in passing yards (1,173), but that's mainly because he's averaging 41.5 attempts per game.
His passer rating (81.7) is nearly 38 points lower than it was last year. His completion percentage (57.8) is six-plus points lower. His interception percentage has more than doubled.
In the eight halves of football the Eagles have played this season, Foles has had a passer rating higher than 87.0 in only three of them.
"Our guys are getting open," Foles said. "I've just got to hit them. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it needs to be where they can go and make a play.
"Football is an execution game. We didn't execute. It comes back to the minor little details. The fundamental details you practice each and every day in practice. This week, it's going back to [focusing on] being a little more accurate. Giving my guys an opportunity to go and make a play when I put the ball in the air."
Foles said he just needs to do the "simple things" better.
"Just keeping my feet solid underneath me," he said. "Getting more push in the pocket. Being able to transfer my weight. It's things I can correct. Nothing I can't fix. But it's going to take work and attention to detail."
Said Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur: "Nick, just like everybody, everybody's got to clean up their fundamentals. Everybody's got to do a little better job of doing what they do, and then it will come together."
The injuries to his offensive line certainly haven't helped Foles. Despite the absence of right tackle Lane Johnson, center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis for all or significant portions of the first four games, Foles has been sacked only six times in 172 pass plays.
That's the fifth fewest sacks among quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts, behind only Joe Flacco (three), Drew Brees (four) and Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan (five).
According to Pro Football Focus, he's been under pressure on 32.6 percent of his dropbacks. But that's pretty much the league average.
What isn't the league average is the number of hits Foles has taken - 18 in the first four games, according to PFF. And that doesn't include the vicious shot he took from Redskins defensive tackle Chris Baker in Week 3 on that much-publicized non-interception play. Flacco's been hit only five times, Brees eight, Ryan nine and Luck 12.
Foles has displayed evidence of pain in his left, non-throwing shoulder, and, during last week's game, got on the sideline from the team's training staff for what appeared to be a leg issue. But he brushed it off.
"Just a couple of bruises," he said. "Simple as that. You get hit a couple of times, there's definitely going to be some soreness in the body. But our trainers do a good job of getting the soreness out.
"That's football. You're going to get hit. You're going to have soreness. But I feel good."
On Twitter: @Pdomo