Like many quarterbacks who aren't blessed with great foot speed, and even many who are, Nick Foles is only as good as his protection.

When his offensive line gives him time to throw, he doesn't need to take a back seat to anyone, as he proved in 2013 when he led the NFL in passing, and again last winter when he posted a 115.7 passer rating in the playoffs and was named the Super Bowl MVP.

When his line doesn't protect him, well, you get the horror show you saw in the preseason this summer when Foles turned the ball over five times in 10 possessions, was sacked six times in 32 pass plays and finished with a 48.7 passer rating.

"I think Nick functions better when his offensive line is functioning better,'' center Jason Kelce said. "When we give him time to feel comfortable, to sit back there and make throws, he plays better. And quite frankly, our offensive line didn't do a very good job of making him feel comfortable in the preseason.

"As long as we're able to do that this week, as long as we're able to make him feel confident and be able to go through his progressions and go through his reads, Nick has proven he can be a good quarterback."

Kelce and the rest of the Eagles' offensive line gave Foles tremendous protection in the playoffs. He was sacked just twice in three postseason games, and hit only seven times and hurried 22 times, according to Pro Football Focus.

In their 15-10 divisional-round win over the Falcons, he completed 23 of 30 passes and was sacked just once. On that one, he tripped over Falcons defensive end Takk McKinley when he tried to step up in the pocket.

"I've sat and talked to him, and the bottom line is we need to get the job done for him,'' Kelce said. "I told him, '[What happened in] the preseason, everything so far, that's on us. We need to do a better job for you. We need to do a better job of protecting for you, making you feel comfortable.'

"Obviously, he feels he needs to play better. But football isn't a game of just one guy playing bad. When a guy like Nick has proven that he can play at a high level and is struggling, it's never just that one guy.

"And the common theme in the preseason was we didn't do a good job of giving him the time and giving him the confidence to sit back there and go through his progressions without having to worry about getting hit."

As they did heading into the playoffs last winter, Doug Pederson and his staff also have tailored the game plan around what Foles does best.

"After Carson [Wentz] got hurt last year, they had a full playbook in,'' said Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks. "Right before the playoffs, they went to Nick and said, 'What do you like? What do you think you're good at? What do you prefer to do?'

"He went through the whole playbook and said, 'This is what I think I'm good at. This is what I'm comfortable with.' And then it rolled from there.

"But that's the way it is with any quarterback. You determine what they do best, what they comfortable with. And then you hone in on that."

How will Carson Wentz’s injury affect his play?
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
How will Carson Wentz’s injury affect his play?

Injury won’t change Wentz

At some point in the next few weeks, Carson Wentz will be cleared to play by the Eagles' medical staff and return to the lineup.

But which Carson Wentz will it be?

Will it be the same one who tried diving into the end zone against the Rams last Dec. 10 and ended up with a season-ending knee injury? Will it be the same one who ran the ball 64 times last season and had 27 rushing first downs, which was the sixth most among NFL quarterbacks?

Or will it be a more cautious, safety-first Carson Wentz?

All indications are that Wentz has no intention of altering his aggressive playing style. He said as much last January.

"I am who I am,'' he said then. "Injuries happen. Injuries aren't going to change me.''

Wentz isn't going to stop doing one of the things that makes him special, and I'm not sure that he should. His ability to extend plays and move the sticks with his feet when his receivers are covered was a big reason the Eagles took him with the second pick in the 2016 draft.

"You don't want to say, 'Hey, I'm one of maybe the top three quarterbacks in the league, but now, I'm going to take something that I do well and not do it and make myself a top-10 or a top-12 quarterback;' I don't think you're going to see that,'' said Hall of Fame coach and current NBC Sunday Night Football analyst Tony Dungy.

"What he's going to do is what all the guys learn. And that's to be smarter with it. There will be times when he's going to say, 'I've got to make a first down.' But five plays from now, the situation may be different and he'll have the same decision to make and he may do something different.

"They all learn. John Elway, all the [mobile] guys like that, they learn. And I think Carson will, too. But I don't think he's going to change his style of play.''

A speech  from the heart

On a scale of 1 to 10, Troy Vincent thought Brian Dawkins' Hall of Fame speech was a 10.

"I'm not being biased here,'' said the former Eagles cornerback, who presented Dawkins at the induction ceremony last month. "I probably can only recall maybe two or three [speeches] that touched me like that and felt that real. He spoke not just to the athletic world. He spoke to our country.''

Dawkins talked about his battles with depression and his thoughts of suicide early in his career. He encouraged people fighting the same demons to get help.

What was most impressive about Dawkins' speech was that he winged it.

"On the car ride over to the ceremony, I said, 'Let me see your notes; let me see what you got,''' Vincent said. "He reached down between his legs and showed me a balled-up piece of paper and handed it to me.

"I said, 'Man, there's no way we can go on stage like this.' We called [former Eagles teammate] James Thrash up and we prayed. And Brian said, 'The good Lord is going to lead me today, T.' And that's what we got."

Figuring the Eagles

• The Eagles' 106 first-quarter points last season were the third most in the league. Only the Rams (119) and the Saints (107) had more.

• The Eagles used "11'' personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers) last year much more than they did in Doug Pederson's first year. They used "11'' on 65.1 percent of their offensive plays last season, which was an 8.8 percent increase over 2016. In '16, they used multiple-tight-end sets 40.4 percent of the time. That dropped to 32.3 percent last year. With Alshon Jeffery not expected to play Thursday, the Eagles could use more "12'' and "13'' personnel groupings with Zach Ertz and rookie Dallas Goeddert. In their playoff win over the Falcons, the Eagles used "11'' personnel on 42 of 63 plays. They used two or more tight ends on the other 21 plays.

• The Eagles ran the ball 41.6 percent of the time in "11'' personnel during the regular-season last year. In their playoff win over the Falcons, however, that number jumped to 50 percent. Twenty-one of the Eagles' 32 rushing attempts against the Falcons were with "11'' personnel.

• During the regular season, just 16 of Zach Ertz's team-high 74 receptions came on third down. But in the Eagles' three playoff games, 10 of Ertz's 18 catches were on third down, including nine that resulted in first downs.

• The Eagles have beaten the Falcons the last two times they've faced them despite not throwing a touchdown pass in either game.

• Eagles quarterbacks didn't throw an interception in the red zone last year in 77 regular-season and postseason pass attempts. Their last red-zone interception was in Week 14 of the 2016 season, by Carson Wentz. It was his one and only red-zone interception that year.

• The Eagles finished fourth in points per drive last season (2.31). behind the Rams (2.40), Saints (2.44) and Patriots (2.69).

• In the Eagles' playoff win over the Falcons, Nick Foles attempted just two throws of 20 or more yards. Both were incomplete. He was 4-for-5 for 67 yards from 11 to 19 yards, 13-for-15 for 114 yards from 0 to 10 yards and 6-for-6 for 65 yards on throws behind the line of scrimmage. Foles was 8-for-13 for 274 yards and four TDs on 20-plus yard throws against the Vikings and the Patriots.

Darren Sproles will likely be returning kickoffs this season.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Darren Sproles will likely be returning kickoffs this season.

This and that

• Wide receiver Shelton Gibson is expected to be the Eagles' primary kickoff returner. In the spring, special teams coordinator Dave Fipp tinkered with the idea of using Darren Sproles on both punt and kickoff returns. He thought the rule changes on kickoffs — including not allowing members of the coverage team to get a running start, and eliminating the wedge and making four players on the coverage team line up outside the numbers — might open things up and make kickoffs look a little more like punts. But that hasn't really proved to be the case in the preseason. "Not really,'' Sproles said this week. "It's still the same back there.''

• Just two teams have managed to win back-to-back Super Bowls in the salary-cap era. The Broncos did in 1997-98, and the Patriots did it in 2003-04. In 2007, the year after they beat the Bears in the Super Bowl, Tony Dungy's Colts won 13 games, but then lost in the divisional round. "It's just tough to repeat,'' Dungy said. "It's not putting last year behind you and basking in the sunlight too long and that kind of stuff. But you're going to lose players. People are going to come after your backup players and guys who maybe aren't your great players, but guys who made big contributions. And they're going to pay them a little bit more than you can pay them. And then you've got the fact that you have a shorter offseason. And everybody is kind of studying your tape because they know you're the team to beat. And then the schedule comes out. We want the Eagles on Sunday night two or three times. We want them on the road because they're a good draw. ESPN wants them on Monday night. So you have short weeks to deal with. Then the team you're playing the following week, you're their big game. So you have that.''

From the lip

"I was scared. Scared in my core, in my insides. There was a time I was very scared about football and about my place in football. I was a sad, miserable human. I was not nice to myself, nor was I nice to anyone else. I was a miserable SOB to be around.'' – Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck on the difficulty he had dealing with his career-threatening shoulder injury the last two years

"I think there's probably a lot more that irritates me that you don't see, or that I try not to show. Just because you might not see the visible frustration or irritation, there are things [that bother me]. Missing passes. Missing assignments. Turnovers. Penalties. The things that would frustrate a normal quarterback frustrate me as well.'' – Arizona Cardinals QB Sam Bradford

"I played for a tough sucker [Chuck Noll], and I was afraid of him, and we played our asses off for him because we feared him. I don't see that with this guy. He's chest-bumping and all that. [He's saying] 'I'm the head of the corporation. I'm the CEO. I'm the chairman of the board.' But he's not delivering the goods, which is championships. I'm sorry, but he's not my kind of coach.'' – Fox broadcaster and former Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw on Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin

The Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones doesn’t have as many red-zone TDs as you’d expect.
The Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones doesn’t have as many red-zone TDs as you’d expect.

By the numbers

• Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has 585 career receptions and 43 touchdown catches in seven seasons. But he's only had more than two red-zone TDs in a season twice in those seven years. He had five in 2015 and seven in 2012.

• In the last 20 years, the Super Bowl winner has made the playoffs the next year 12 times. Just three of the last six Super Bowl winners have made the playoffs the following season.

• The Eagles were just the second team since 2003 to win the Super Bowl the year after finishing last in their division. The '09 Saints were the other team.

• The Falcons allowed more than 26 points in a game just once last season. That was in a 34-31 Week 11 win over Seattle.

• Tom Brady needs 12 touchdown passes to join Peyton Manning (539) and Brett Favre (508) as the only quarterbacks with 500 career TD passes. He needs 3,841 passing yards to become just the fourth quarterback to reach 70,000 passing yards. Manning (71,940), Favre (71,838) and Drew Brees (70,445) are the other three. – Paul Domowitch

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