Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Foles' Gold or Foles Golden

Incomplete Grade
So with Eagles rookie QB Nick Foles ruled out for the final game of the season with an injury, we're left with a pretty incomplete resume to determine if he should be The Man in 2013.

Now, first and foremost, let's just state that, for the record, there will be no such thing as The Man in Philadelphia next year. This team needs upgrades at well over a dozen starting positions (in no short order, both safetys, at least one cormer, one linebacker, a defensive lineman, one to four offensive line positions depending on injury, third WR, second TE, punter and the majority of the special teams coverage units) to even think about winning a weak division, let only going anywhere in the playoffs. No team ever hits on all of their draft picks and free agent signings to get it all cleared in one year. The best thing that can realistically happen in 2013 is 16 games, a .500-ish record, and a clear build up from the current trainwreck. But that's a whole lot of nothing that we can talk about right now. What we can discuss is Foles, since we've learned everything we are going to know for the next 7+ months.

Here's the positives of what we've seen so far.

> Touch. Foles has the ability to put air on a deep ball, heat on a cross, and his whole technique behind the sideline out. He can also throw on the run and across the field. From a pure arm standpoint, he's the best that the Eagles have had since Donovan McNabb.

> Courage. The man hangs in the pocket and takes a hit to deliver the ball. Either you have that or you don't, and if you don't, you can't be a quarterback at this level. There were more of a few of his half dozen games where

> Competitiveness. In Foles' two best games (Tampa and Washington), he led the team back from deficits and refused to give in during situations where the defense and special teams gave him little to work with.

> Some results. The Tampa game saw him throw for 381 yards, 2 TDs, and run for another, with 3 carries going for 27 yards. That was his only win, on the road, and it came on a day where the offensive line was a turnstile. Sunday against Washington, he deserved better than the 345 yards and 1 TD / 1 INT day, since TE Evan Moore dropped the tying score. For the year, he complete just under 61 percent of his passes, and showed more than dink and dunk ability, especially in his later starts.

> Clock management and progressions. Either the coaching staff actually adjusted to the talent (as if that ever happened in the Reid Era), or Foles was simply able to grasp the offense and get things moving with more alacrity than either Michael Vick, Vince Young or McNabb. One of the few consistent pleasures of the past half dozen games has been the fact that Foles did not waste timeouts, and gave the team downright novel opportunities at the end of halves. I can't tell you how welcome a change that is; it's like someone fixed an ingrown toenail.

But it hasn't been all skittles and beer, which is, well, kind of a gross combination anyway. To wit...

> He's a pretty prolific turnover machine. In seven games, he's thrown five picks, and could have easily thrown more. He's also put the ball on the ground five times, and hasn't shown the best awareness when a pass rusher is coming with a ball punch move. Projected over a 16 game season, he's going to give the opposition the ball 30-odd times, or nearly 3 times as often as the McNabb Years. And while young QBs (and especially rookies) always have these issues, it's the nature of the Foles turnovers -- laser-locks on primary wideouts, punches on blind-side rushers -- that does not create much in the ay of hope.

> He's deadly slow. The 14 yard scramble for a touchdown against the Buss is going to be, absent a massive defensive breakdown, his career high; the man makes Philip Rivers look fleet. That's not necessarily deadly, as he's been able to throw on the move and slide around pressure, but if you are the kind of person who believes that the NFL is moving towards a mandatory multiple-threat quarterback, Foles is a relic of a bygone era. And that's at, gulp, age 23. Just imagine how slow he's going to be when he's got some miles and injuries on him.

> There's no given that he's going to stay healthy. The current injury isn't anything terribly chronic or worrisome, but the 20 sacks taken in 265 pass attempts are, and the number of hits has also been high. No QB survives 50 sacks a year for long, and while you'd need the release of prime era Peyton Manning and top-flight escapability to avoid big numbers with the dregs that the Eagles have been running out there in the OL this year... well, they have stabilized a bit later in the year, and it's not as if the running game has been non-existent in his starts. If he doesn't get a handle on this, he's not going to have a career, here or anywhere else.

> Red zone and second half issues. Foles' fourth quarters have been his worst (5.29 YPA, 53% CMP), and his work inside the opponent's 20 has also been dicey (13 for 37, with 5 TDs, no picks, and two sacks, and the mitigating Bucs scramble). Perhaps I'm being unfair here, given the general difficulty of scoring in the red zone and the Eagles' profound ineptitude here over the past two years; the lack of picks alone should get Foles some kind of award. But still, a 35% completion percentage in the short part of the field is not exactly encouraging, and a key part of why the team is only scoring in the low '20s with him under center.

> Strength of schedule. Foles has faced the Redskins and Cowboys twice, Carolina, Tampa and Cincy... which is to say, four out of his seven games have been against terrible secondaries, and the Cowboys' weren't exactly hale and hearty when he faced them. Against the only team that seems to be emerging on defense (Cincy), he was 16 of 33 for 180 with a score and pick, and was helpless in holding back against the turnover tide. Grading him on the rookie curve might be the natural thing to do, but the schedule might be doing him the same favor.

So... where does it all end up?

Well, to start, the possible competition for Foles for QB1 in 2013 is not exactly filled with future legends. You are looking at a menagerie of game managers (Alex Smith, Matt Flynn, David Garrard), overrated rookies (Gero Smith, Matt Barkley) and highly suspect retreads (Vick, Matt Cassel, Matt Sanchez, Rex Grossman, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Fitzpatrick). Unless you believe that Smith should get a huge part of the credit for the Niners' won-loss records (I don't), or that Flynn really is a solid talent who just got sidetracked by two world-class talents in Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, I'd rather not tie up too much money here.

Finally, this. Whoever quarterbacks the Eagles next year is going to be working with, in all likelihood, a new coach, offensive coordinator, and a line that, if he is very lucky, is going to be rusty from not playing together and limited from injury rehabs. At worst, they will be running for their lives. He'll be limited by overrated WRs, a special teams that have not been good here for a very long time, and a defense that hasn't provided a short field in forever. They'll also be getting the brunt from a town that hasn't started a year without Super Bowl aspirations in well over a decade. There will be patience for rebuilding, but there will also be renewed interest and scrutiny. It's not exactly a plum spot.

So to me... it's Foles' job, assuming the new guy doesn't have a pet QB he needs to feed. (And by the way, if he does, I'm totally fine with that. A head coach has 1-3 years to claim the job for the long term, and if he'd rather go down with his own man than a holdover, that's his purview.) If he's lucky, he'll survive the year and truly lock the job down for 2014 for a real team.

And if he wants to do that, he better work on some agility drills, ball security and getting better in tight spaces...

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