Carson Wentz

Lucky for Nick Foles, his go-to guy is back

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Lucky for Nick Foles, his go-to guy is back

Nick Foles won't see many familiar faces when he makes his first start for the Eagles in over three years, but at least one of his go-to receivers is still around.

Foles hasn't been in the lineup for a week, and the Eagles quarterback is already getting reinforcements. Zach Ertz cleared the concussion protocol on Wednesday and is expected to play against the Giants on Sunday, adding a valuable weapon to the offense, and reuniting a dynamic duo in the process.

"I feel good, ready to go," Ertz said Wednesday following his first practice back. "Tough week last week obviously not being able to play, but it was the right decision at the time and I'm excited for this week."

Ertz was a rookie when Foles took over as the starting quarterback in 2013, posting a modest 36 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns. Yet Ertz really only began to flourish once the job belonged to Foles permanently.

The fifth-year tight end — perhaps on his way to his first Pro Bowl this season — even caught his first NFL touchdown from Foles.

"That was a long time ago, against the Raiders when he was fricking throwing everyone touchdowns," Ertz said this week. "We had a lot of good games together."

Their connection was almost instantaneous. At the time, Brent Celek was still the starter at tight end and getting the bulk of the snaps. Ertz still managed to catch five touchdowns in the Eagles' remaining nine games, including one against in the Saints in the playoffs. Ertz had five or more receptions three times during that span.

"That's my first year in the league, his second year in the league," Ertz said. "He was playing at an unbelievable level. He's still the same quarterback, and we're excited to have him."

Their rapport continued into 2014. Ertz had 25 receptions for 358 yards with two touchdowns when Foles was lost for the season with a broken collarbone.

Ertz acknowledged a quarterback change at this stage of the season can be difficult. Clearly, It's not uncharted territory, either. Even when Foles finally nailed down the job in '13, it was already Week 9, after weeks of going back and forth with Michael Vick.

It took time for the Eagles to make the right decision under center, but they eventually got it right, and it wound up being a historic season. Foles tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a game against the Raiders, and made NFL history at the end of the season with a 27-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

The transition from Carson Wentz to Foles may not go that smoothly, but Ertz has reason to feel confident everything will be fine.

"It's definitely not the easiest thing switching quarterbacks, but there's a lot of familiarity with Nick," Ertz said. "The coaches understand what Nick does well. (Eagles coach Doug Pederson) has been with him for a long time.

"With Nick, he throws such an easy ball to catch that there's not a real adjustment period in terms of catching the ball. Some quarterbacks throw a tough ball to catch, but Nick's ball is really easy to catch and it makes it easy for receivers."

Foles already survived his first relief appearance, and that was without Ertz. With the tight end and security blanket inactive against the Rams, Foles was able to lead the Eagles on two scoring drives that ended with field goals, including the game-winner.

Again, that was sans Ertz. Imagine what Foles might be able to do with one of the Eagles' top receivers.

Ertz has 57 receptions for 663 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He was on pace for 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns earlier in the campaign but missed a game for the concussion, and another with a hamstring.

Maybe Ertz can still get there over the final three weeks with Foles at the helm. He certainly isn't afraid to push the ball down the field anyway.

"He loves the slinging the ball," Ertz said. "That's what he's been doing his whole career.

"He's a great quarterback. We're excited to have him. I don't think there's anybody else in this situation that we would rather have."

Either way, Foles-to-Ertz is going to feel like a blast from the past. Maybe that connection can help keep the Eagles rolling in December and through the playoffs.

How Eagles receivers really feel about QB switch

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How Eagles receivers really feel about QB switch

When we last saw Nick Foles, his wide receivers were Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper and Josh Huff.

Oops. We can't forget Jeff Maehl.

The Eagles have turned over their entire wide receiver corps since trading Foles after the 2014 season. Nelson Agholor arrived in 2015, and Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Mack Hollins this year.

So when Foles goes out there Sunday afternoon to face the Giants at M&T Stadium, he'll be playing alongside wide receivers he's barely played with.

"I've watched them run their routes all year, I've been able to practice with them at different times to throw them routes, so you just sort of build that database," Foles said. 

"I'm not going to always be able to get the reps Carson gets, but I'm always standing behind the play, I'm always watching film, I'm always watching his drops, I'm always doing drops in the background, so you just go out there … and play."

Since he got here in March, Foles has worked with the scout team at practice, facing the starting defense and working mainly with receivers like Marcus Johnson, Hollins and Shelton Gibson.

But starting Sunday, he'll be out there with Jeffery, Agholor and Smith — a group he's completed six passes to in his career.

That's why this practice week was so important. These guys don't have a huge history together.

"Moving forward, these guys can really spend time together, Alshon and Nick, Torrey and Nick, (Zach) Ertz and Nick and everybody on offense, can spend time this week kind of getting to know each other a little bit better and understanding it's going to be different," head coach Doug Pederson said. 

"The ball is going to come out a little differently. It's going to be in a different spot. It's just the nature of the game. So it behooves them to spend as much time at practice this week to get on that same page."

Foles has played with all three tight ends — Ertz, Brent Celek and Trey Burton. In fact, he and Celek were together for three years. And Foles and Ertz hooked up on 49 catches for 643 yards and six touchdowns in the 20 games they played together in 2013 and 2014.

But for Foles and the outside receivers, this is all new.

"It's just us getting repetitions with him at practice, that's all it is," Jeffery said. "My comfort level is pretty high with Nick. I'm extremely confident in Nick, we all are. 

"Nick's been in there throwing every once in a while, they switch it up, so I have a pretty good feel for him.

"On Sunday, we'll see. We'll just keep practicing and go out there and let Nick have fun and we're going to do a great job rallying around him."

Smith, coming off his first 100-yard game as an Eagle, said people are making too much of Foles' lack of experience with the Eagles' wideouts.

"I think it's overrated, especially when it's a guy who's been here the whole offseason," Smith said. "He knows the system. It's not like we haven't been in practice with him. 

"We know how he throws the ball. It's not going to be as tough a transition, in my opinion. I've gotten plenty of reps with him in there. They rotate him in there in 7-on-7. The 7-on-7 periods, we're all in there, so the quarterbacks get reps with all the receivers. 

"I'm very comfortable with Foles and for him, it's really just him getting the reps and getting back into it. He's ready. He looks pretty good."

If anybody is concerned, they're not letting on.

"It's basically just talking to them, what they like, how they feel, what they see this week," Foles said. "And it'll come really fast."

Forget backups, Nick Foles better than half of NFL starters

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Forget backups, Nick Foles better than half of NFL starters

Nick Foles has been thrust into duty as the starting QB of the Eagles. But it wasn't that long ago that this region fell in love with the Arizona product under similar circumstances. In 2013, Foles stepped in for an injured Michael Vick and set the NFL ablaze, going 8-2 as a starter, tying an NFL record with seven TDs in a game, and setting a new league mark for passer rating by a second-year QB (119.2).

When the Eagles signed Foles back in March, it was billed as a solid insurance policy in case Carson Wentz was injured. Now that they need to cash in that insurance policy, let's take a look at where Foles stands among current starting NFL quarterbacks.

I put the 31 other starters into four groups: definitely better than Foles, a bit better than Foles, as good as/maybe better than Foles, and no stinking way they're better than Foles. I am making this determination largely based on how they are playing right now, not necessarily what they've done prior to today.

Definitely Better Than Nick Foles — the "Duh" section (7)
Tom Brady
Drew Brees
Philip Rivers
Ben Roethlisberger
Aaron Rodgers
Matt Ryan
Russell Wilson

Better Than Nick Foles, But Not By A Ton (8)
Derek Carr — Still not 100 percent after a back injury.

Kirk Cousins — Way better than any Eagles fan will admit. Here's hoping he signs a lifetime deal somewhere else. Like Venus.

Jared Goff — Pretty impressive Sunday vs. the Eagles. Star on the rise.

Case Keenum — So hot right now.

Marcus Mariota — Shoutout to Chip Kelly

Cam Newton — Maybe the last true dual-threat QB out there. Damn near indestructible.

Dak Prescott — Another tough admission, but when kept upright, he's pretty darn good.

Matthew Stafford — If this guy ever gets a real team around him ... nah, forget it. He makes so much money, he'll never get a team around him.

As Good/Maybe Better Than Foles (3)
Joe Flacco — Hasn't been the same since Anquan Boldin dragged him to a ring five years ago

Alex Smith — Started off white-hot, really lousy of late

Jameis Winston — World of talent around him, still lost to Brett Hundley two weeks ago

Worse Than Nick Foles (13)
Eli Manning — Please don't tell me about his rings. Dude lost his starting gig to Geno Smith. Even if it was the wrong decision, the fact that there was even a conversation about this tells you everything you need to know.

Mitch Trubisky — Starting to figure it out, but seven weeks ago he played an entire game and threw seven passes. Seven.

Blaine Gabbert — Nope.

Jimmy Garoppolo — Not yet.

Jay Cutler — (Giggles)

Tyrod Taylor/Nathan Peterman/Joe Webb — And yet, the Bills would make the playoffs if they began today. Yikes.

TJ Yates — Nnnnope

Bryce Petty — Will make first NFL start Sunday vs. Saints. Look out.

Deshone Kizer — Poor guy.

Andy Dalton — Used to fade in January. Starting earlier every year.

Jacoby Brissett — Never had a chance.

Blake Bortles — Throws 30-plus passes most games. Two 300-yard games this season.

Trevor Siemian — Woof.

So by my math, Nick Foles is about a middle-of-the-road starting NFL QB. What you think that says about Foles or today's NFL is up to you.