Eagles

Nick Foles doing the most important job of all

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Nick Foles doing the most important job of all

Nick Foles looked just like Nick Foles last weekend. Which means he got the ball in the end zone, did enough to get the win, and — more than anything — protected the football.
 
We all know about the 27 TDs and two picks in 2013, but not throwing interceptions has been a hallmark of Foles' six-year career. Other than a couple disastrous games during a disastrous 2015 season in St. Louis with the Rams, Foles has been remarkably stingy when it comes to throwing picks.
 
That continued last Sunday, when he didn't throw any interceptions in his first start in 14 months, a 34-29 Eagles win over the Giants.
 
“Any time a quarterback can protect the ball and not throw interceptions, that’s huge," said Foles, who took over at quarterback for the Eagles after Pro Bowler Carson Wentz's season-ending knee injury.
 
"Every quarterback wants to be aggressive, but you take pride in playing good football and not shifting the momentum to the other team, because that’s what interceptions are, they shift the momentum, and a lot of times (the opponent) ends up with good field position and the game changes. 
 
"But definitely look at that as good decision making, going through my reads, my progressions, and if it’s not there, being smart. That’s the toughest thing. When you’re dropping back and everything’s going on, part of you wants to force it, but you have to make the right decision and not force the ball and sometimes throw it away."
 
Foles was 24 for 38 for 237 yards against the Giants with four touchdowns and no INTs. It was the 17th time in his career he's thrown at least one touchdown and no interceptions in a game, and he's 15-2 in 17 such games. 
 
The Eagles, 12-2, can clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff bracket Monday night with a win over the Raiders at the Linc. 
 
Foles goes into Monday's game having thrown 140 consecutive passes without an interception, the longest active streak in the NFL. 
 
That streak began late in the 2015 season with the Rams, continued with the Chiefs last year and includes his 52 passes with the Eagles this year.
 
"It's part of the role now," Doug Pederson said. "He's no longer the backup. He's the starter. It's important that we take care of the football and don't turn it over. He did a nice job in the game not doing that.
 
"I think the turnovers and the giveaways, whether it be a fumble or an interception, are huge. That's something you're going to notice with Nick. Nick is OK throwing the ball away. Under duress, he's going to throw it out of bounds or skip it somewhere, and live to play another down. 
 
"That's kind of built into him. He does a nice job that way."
 
Despite a four-interception game at Lambeau against the Packers and a three-INT game against the Bengals in Cincinnati while he was with the Rams in 2015, Foles goes into Monday night having thrown one interception every 50 attempts in his career -- 27 INTs in 1,337 attempts.
 
Only eight quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown interceptions more infrequently than Foles — including former teammate Sam Bradford and current teammate Wentz.
 
Foles has a lower interception percentage than every quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
 
He opened the 2013 season with 201 consecutive passes without an interception, extending his streak to 238 consecutive passes overall without an INT — the eighth-longest streak in NFL history.
 
But Foles doesn't just avoid interceptions. He's aggressive and throws a lot of touchdown passes as well.
 
In 19 games in an Eagles uniform since 2013, Foles has thrown 44 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
 
He's one of only six quarterbacks in NFL history to average both 4½ touchdowns and 2.0 or fewer interceptions for every 100 pass attempts.
 
The others are Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr — who faces the Eagles on Sunday for the Raiders — and Wentz.
 
The nature of the Eagles' offense means you have an aggressive mentality but still want to protect the football.
 
And it's not easy to do both.
 
"it's hard, especially for our guys, who like their head coach and like their offensive staff, we preach touchdown (and then) check-down mentality," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. 
 
"We want to push the ball down the field, we want to get chunk plays. When we get in the red zone we want to throw the ball into the [end] zone, but that's not an excuse to be careless. We still have to maintain discipline.
 
"How do you be aggressive and disciplined at the same time? That's just a lot of preparation, a lot of practice, a lot of mental drilling. Having that unique 'it' factor to be able to do it. That's why some guys make it and some guys don't. They can't figure out how to be aggressive and be disciplined at the same time. Obviously, Nick has proven he knows how to do that."
 
Not trying to jinx anybody here, but Foles' last interception came on Dec. 6, 2015, when Rashad Johnson of the Cards picked him off at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis in his final game for the Rams.
 
His last INT in an Eagles uniform came on Nov. 2, 2014, when the Texans picked him off three times at NRG Stadium in Houston — A.J. Bouye had a pick-six against Foles and Jumal Rolle picked him off twice, two of his three career interceptions.
 
But for the most part, Foles has been in an interception-free zone.
 
He's thrown 10 or more passes 28 times for the Eagles. He's had two INTs four times, one nine times and none 15 times.
 
“When you’re in a rhythm, it’s easier to do," Foles said. "It’s when you’re pressing, you’re trying to make things happen, you tend to force things, and that’s speaking from my experience. 
 
"If you prepare well and you play smart, there’s times you’ll dirt the ball or throw it away if you feel it’s not there, but there’s other times when you have to be aggressive and let your guys make plays. 
 
"You never worry about that when you play the game. You go out there and you sling it and you trust your guys to make plays."

For dominant Lane Johnson, 'bar set for many years to come'

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For dominant Lane Johnson, 'bar set for many years to come'

A year ago, he was coming off a 10-game suspension, playing for a losing team, unsure about his future, unsure about his career.

Today, Lane Johnson is on top of the world.

He's a first-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro, he just played in his first career postseason victory, his team has won 13 of its last 14 games that the starters played in and is now one home win from the Super Bowl.

He's still one positive test away from a two-year ban, but in his fifth NFL season, Johnson has finally backed up all his talk about being one of the NFL's best offensive linemen.

He proved he can be a dominating force without the help of banned substances, and he proved he can be out there for a full season as an anchor of one of the NFL's best offensive lines.

"I had a long offseason to ponder it, to think about it," Johnson said. "I knew physically what I could do on the football field, it was just a matter of being responsible, not making any bonehead mistakes and being part of the team.

"I've envisioned this for a long time, so it feels good to see it come to life."

Johnson is the Eagles' first right tackle named first-team All-Pro since Hall of Famer Bob Brown in 1968.

After a four-game suspension in 2014 and the 10-game suspension last year, Johnson was flat-out dominating this year.

With no help from any substances.

"Anything would be better than where I was last year," he said. "I always had confidence in what I could do. The coaches have seen what I could do, the other guys could see what I could do. It was just a matter of getting on the field and showing what I could do.

"Now the bar is set for many years to come. The world's there for the taking."

The Eagles face the Vikings Sunday evening in the NFC Championship Game at the Linc, and Johnson said that as happy as he is for himself, he feels for veteran teammates Jason Peters and Darren Sproles, two all-time great Eagles who suffered season-ending injuries.

"It's not about me, I'm just happy for all the veteran guys," he said. "J.P., he's heartbroken he can't be out there playing. Sproles, those guys. I like winning for the other guys, the veterans. (Brent) Celek's been here 11 years, this will be his second NFC Championship Game.

"It's really about those guys. We've got a lot of confidence right now. We're guaranteed one game left. I'm happy where we're at. Everybody's excited. Let's get back to work Monday and keep this going."

Eagles' underrated blocking machine vs. Falcons

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Eagles' underrated blocking machine vs. Falcons

Toward the end of the regular season, the Eagles' offensive line just didn't seem to be hitting its stride. 

That all changed on Saturday against the Falcons. 

The Eagles' O-line dominated in the trenches and helped guide the Birds to a 15-10 win to advance to the NFC Championship Game. What was the line missing down the stretch? Stefen Wisniewski. 

The starting left guard missed a couple games with an ankle sprain but returned for the regular-season finale. Then, he just happened to have his best game as an Eagle in the divisional round game. It also happened to be the very first playoff game of his career. 

The 27-year-old Wisniewski had played in 107 regular-season games without getting to the postseason — more than any other player on the active roster. When he got his first shot, he certainly made it count. 

Because Wisniewski didn't just do his job against the Falcons. He was dominant and made things happen all afternoon. 

Here's a closer look at some of his impressive plays against Atlanta: 

This first play came on the Eagles' second drive of the game. It's 2nd-and-3 and Jay Ajayi is about to break off an 11-yard gain right behind the hole Wiz opens up. Wisniewski is about to get to the second level after the snap and find linebacker Deion Jones, who is a dynamic player but is also just 222 pounds. 

At the mesh point, Trey Burton has come across to take care of the defensive lineman while Wiz is getting out in front on Jones. He doesn't just block him, he's about to push him back. 

Ajayi finishes the run strong, picking up 11 yards. He rode on the back of Wisniewski the whole way. 

Here's a different angle on the block to get an idea of how far Wisniewski drove Jones back. 

 

•••

These next three plays happened on consecutive downs. They were the last two plays of the first quarter and the first play of the second. Wiz got in a zone. 

On this one, Wiz is about to take on big Ahtyba Rubin, who weighs 310 pounds. 


On this zone read play, Ajayi sweeps left, so the entire defensive line shifts that way. Rubin goes with the play, but you can see where Wisniewski opens the hole. He makes it pretty easy on Ajayi. 

•••

The very next play is a screen, which has been a big part of the Eagles' offense when it gets clicking. 

"The screen game has been something we've worked on the last couple of weeks," head coach Doug Pederson said, "and it had to get better as the season wore on for us." 

On this play, Nelson Agholor is at the bottom of the screen. He's about to come in motion to create some space at the bottom of the screen. That's where Wisniewski is going to get out in front to clear a path for Ajayi. 

Ajayi is working through the line and is about to settle in his spot to catch the pass from Nick Foles. Meanwhile, Wisniewski gets to the second level to find a hat to block. 

Then, Wiz just bullies Jones again. He really used that size and strength edge to his advantage and didn't let the quicker Jones get around him. 

This was an important play because it showed just how big of a key the screen game could be. A little later, you'll get to see Wiz's most impressive play. It came on a screen later in the game. 

This is the first play of the second quarter. After Ajayi picked up nearly 50 yards in the first quarter, he's on the sideline getting a breather so LeGarrette Blount is on the field. He's gonna run right behind Wiz. 

Just after the snap, Wiz lends some help to Jason Kelce, who is blocking big 346-pound tackle Dontari Poe. He then turns his attention to Jones, who has become his whipping boy at this point in the game. 

At this point, Wisniewski has picked up his second block on the play and you can see where Blount is going to find the room to sneak ahead for an 8-yard gain. 

••• 

This next play comes about a minute later in the second quarter. The Eagles were running all over the Falcons but Foles was having trouble getting into a rhythm. Pederson is going to find a way to get the ball into one of his playmaker's hands anyway. Agholor will take the ball on an end-around and Wisniewski is going to make it happen.

Lane Johnson swings around to get out in front of Agholor to provide a lead block, but it's Wisniewski who opens the hole. 

The Eagles gained 21 yards on this play to get them down to the 3-yard line. This led to their only touchdown of the game. 

We went in chronological order, which allowed us to save the best for last. Wiz was incredible on this 32-yard screen pass in the fourth quarter. He actually blocks three guys on one play and forces one away from a tackle. 

Pederson caught the Falcons off guard by running a screen pass to the same side on two consecutive plays. He knew they wouldn't be expecting it. But it was still gutsy to run it on a key 3rd-and-7. 

Just after the snap, Wisniewski gets enough of a block on Adrian Clayborn to give Foles plenty of time to deliver the ball. It's Wiz's job to let Clayborn through, but if he doesn't get a piece of him, the talented pass-rusher might have been able to blow up the play before it ever got a chance to develop. 


After getting the block at the line of scrimmage, Wiz gets out in front and takes care of the two defenders that get in his way. It's hard to see it with the photos, so take a look at his incredible play here: 

Pretty impressive, huh? This 32-yard screen pass got the Eagles across midfield, and they eventually got close enough for Jake Elliott to kick a 21-yard field goal to put them up 15-10. It was a huge score because then the Falcons needed a touchdown instead of a field goal. 

"I'll tell you, it was just set up perfectly for us and well-executed to have Wiz downfield and block one," Pederson said, "but take out two, obviously helps the play."

It took Wisniewski a while to prove himself this season. Even though he signed an extension this offseason, the Eagles seemed hesitant to give him the starting left guard spot. Isaac Seumalo was the starter going into the season and Chance Warmack was given the first shot to replace him when he struggled. 

Eventually, though, Wisniewski got the nod and has been playing at a really high level all season. The Eagles have three Pro Bowl or All-Pro linemen, but without Wisniewski, this line just didn't seem to work. With him, they were dominant on Saturday.