Nate Sudfeld

Nate Sudfeld over Nick Foles? Let's settle down

Nate Sudfeld over Nick Foles? Let's settle down

Nick Foles has looked awful the last two games he’s played. 

Let me rephrase that, Nick Foles has looked avert-your-eyes, cover-your-ears, and crawl-up-into-the-fetal-position bad, these last two games. If his play on Jan. 13, 2018 at 4:35 p.m. in any way resembles what we saw vs. the Raiders and Cowboys, despite what the Birds' defense may do, the Eagles will be one and done in the postseason.

All that said, there is no way, barring an injury to Foles, that Nate Sudfeld should see the field, let alone start. Sudfeld has 23 career passing attempts. They came in a meaningless game. He may some day blossom into a starting NFL quarterback or a competent back-up. But that is the future, not the here and now as the Eagles prepare for either the Saints, Panthers or Falcons. Foles gives the Eagles the best chance to win a week from Saturday. In addition to his 39 career starts and 49 games played over a six-year career, he also has started a playoff game. And in that playoff game, he completed 23 of 33 passes for 195 yards, with two touchdowns and zero interceptions, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, with a 105.0 passer rating. In said 2013 Wild-Card game vs. the Saints, he led the Eagles to a late touchdown and gave them a 24-23 lead with 4:54 left in regulation. But that was only to see New Orleans get a big kick return from Darren Sproles that led to a game-winning field goal. Yes, that’s ancient history at this point, but at least there is precedent.
  
Sudfeld has never started a regular-season NFL game. To start him or throw him into a playoff game would be a panicky, desperation move that would be unfair to him and the team. That’s not who the Eagles have been all season. Doug Pederson’s club has shown remarkable poise in the face of major injuries and adversity. Now, especially, is not the time to change form.

Fans have every right for concern. The 27-and-2 Nick Foles of Chip Kelly’s 2013 team seems more like an anomaly and, despite having a winning record before breaking his collarbone the next year, his play had begun to trend downward. Then it was off to St.Louis, where, as a starter, he played poorly, and then it was a year as a back-up in Kansas City. Foles returned here to be a back-up. And that’s exactly what he is. Anyone with sight knows Foles is nowhere near Carson Wentz. And he doesn’t have to be. But he has to be a helluva lot better than he has in his last two outings. The good news is the Birds' defense rebounded from the Giants debacle. Foles needs to follow suit.

But turning to a guy who spent the first month of the season on the Eagles' practice squad after he was poached off the Redskins' practice squad is not the answer. Foles' experience and Sudfeld’s lack thereof cannot be overstated. This is not a Cowboys team playing out the string in a meaningless regular-season game. The Saints, Panthers and defending NFC champ Falcons all have star QBs and legit résumés. 

Like it or not, Foles is the guy.

Sudfeld proves ready if Eagles need him

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USA Today Images

Sudfeld proves ready if Eagles need him

The Eagles won't have a quarterback controversy on their hands, but Nate Sudfeld is ready if called upon.

Sudfeld, making his NFL regular-season debut Sunday, saw the bulk of the action under center in the Eagles' 6-0 Week 17 loss to the Cowboys (see breakdown). The second-year passer came on in relief of Nick Foles in the second quarter, completing 19 of 23 attempts for 134 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was also sacked three times.

Playing with his fellow backups for all but the first series, Sudfeld held his own and avoided turnovers. He showed adequate arm strength, good pocket awareness and mobility, accounting for the Eagles' longest gain of the day with a 22-yard run.

It was a performance Sudfeld can build on. Yet afterward, the 24-year-old was far from satisfied.

"Pretty solid for the most part in terms of efficiency and everything, but I felt like there were some plays that we weren't able to finish," Sudfeld said. "I took two sacks that I shouldn't have. And overall, you want to actually get points and finish drives, but we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit.

“I still feel like it was all there, we just didn't play to our best.”

A sixth-round draft pick by the Redskins in 2016, Sudfeld was signed to the Eagles' practice squad in September, then added to the 53-man roster in November. He became the backup to Foles after the season-ending injury to Carson Wentz, amid calls for the team to sign an experienced signal caller.

Despite his rapid ascension up the depth chart, nobody had any idea what a Sudfeld-led offense might look like until Sunday.

"Reps always help," Sudfeld said. "I felt confident before today that I could go in and do my part and help this team win, but stacking some reps together is awesome.

“I'm more confident than ever in my ability, and I know that I could help this team out if they need me.”

Sudfeld completed 82.6 percent of his passes, though he stuck with short-to-intermediate routes, finishing with a modest 5.8 yards per attempt. The thought process of the approach was part making smart decisions, and part taking what the defense would give him.

"That's a little bit of how Dallas is," Sudfeld said. "They're a bend-but-don't-break defense. They're going to try to force you to just check it down all game, and they stayed true to that. There were a few times I'm sure I could've maybe given it a shot downfield, but I was just trying to play efficient today.

“You always wish there could be more, but I feel like one more drive, and those shots were coming.”

Though much was made about this being Sudfeld's first regular-season action, the Indiana product claimed it wasn't vastly different from his six preseason contests with the Redskins.

"Everybody makes such a huge deal out of regular season, and guys are so much better, and they are," Sudfeld said. "Everybody is.

“But playing preseason is really fast paced also, and I've said it before, that's guys fighting for their livelihood. They're trying to be a football player for their life, for their career, so I think there are a lot of similarities. It's more similar than it is different.”

Of course, the pace may have felt similar to an exhibition game because it was that in many respects. The Eagles had already clinched the top playoff seed in the NFC, and by halftime, they were resting as many starters as possible. And while the Cowboys played many of their starters until the end, they were eliminated from postseason contention last week, lacking urgency.

Still, the opportunity to go against a defense made of actual NFL players rather than the back end of a 90-man roster was an invaluable experience for Sudfeld.

"Before this game, I felt if the team ever required me to play and help this team," Sudfeld said, "I felt I was able to do it, but it's always good to get reps and do it in live action."

In many respects, Sudfeld outplayed Foles on Sunday. Sudfeld was far more accurate and showed an ability to make plays with his feet that Foles doesn't have, no doubt prompting some observers to believe the backup will be a better option when the playoffs get underway in January.

That's probably a touch unfair, but all of a sudden, the Eagles don't look so crazy for stashing Sudfeld all season and opting to keep him as the backup instead of signing a free agent off the street. He looked like a legitimate prospect, perhaps even somebody with a future in the league.

"For the most part, the whole game I felt in pretty good rhythm," Sudfeld said. "Obviously, you want to put points on the board and stuff, but I never really felt out of rhythm by any means.

Eagles' offense only scores poor grades

Eagles' offense only scores poor grades

Grading the Eagles' 6-0 loss Sunday afternoon over the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field (see breakdown):

QUARTERBACKS
Nick Foles: 4/11, 39 YDS, 1 INT

Foles wasn't quite as bad as the numbers suggest. His incompletions include a drop, being hit as he threw, a throwaway and a receiver falling down, none of which were the quarterback's fault. That being said, Foles fled a clean pocket then woefully underthrew his target on the pick and even fundamental actions like catching a shotgun snap cleanly continue to give the sixth-year veteran trouble. Not the confidence-builder the Eagles had hoped for. Nate Sudfeld actually outperformed Foles — though not by much — completing 19 of 23 for 134 yards, a 22-yard scramble and three sacks. It was nothing that will warrant inevitable talk of a quarterback controversy.

Grade: C

RUNNING BACKS
LeGarrette Blount: 9 ATT, 37 YDS

It's true what they say about volume backs — they get better as the game wears on. Blount got off to a slow start, as he has in recent weeks. Yet as the carries piled up, so too did his effectiveness. After carrying five times for 11 yards in the first quarter, he finished with 26 yards on his next four carries, plus an 11-yard reception. Wendell Smallwood carried four times for six yards and had three receptions for 24 yards in his first action since November.

Grade: B

WIDE RECEIVERS
Nelson Agholor: 3 TAR, 3 REC, 11 YDS

One might wonder how Foles' day might've turned out had Torrey Smith made a simple catch to convert on 3rd-and-7 on the Eagles' opening possession. Smith's drop caused a good-looking drive to stall at the Cowboys' 39-yard line, and the first-team offense never regained its rhythm. The good news is Alshon Jeffery caught a pass this week, going for eight yards. Mack Hollins and Marcus Johnson saw the bulk of the action after Jeffery and Co. exited, each catching three passes for 48 yards.

Grade: C+

TIGHT ENDS
Zach Ertz: 2 TAR, 2 REC, 24 YDS

At least Foles can reliably find Ertz, and the Pro Bowl tight end generally hangs on to the football. Brent Celek was targeted four times, finishing with three receptions for 13 yards.

Grade: B

OFFENSIVE LINE
Can't blame the guys up front for the offense's inability to consistently move the football (see Roob's observations). Whether it was the starters or the backups, there were running lanes, and there was protection. Eagles running backs averaged 2.7 yards per carry, though that is a bit deceiving, and at least three of the seven hits on the quarterbacks were a product of holding on to the football too long. An illegal block by Jason Kelce and a holding penalty against Halapoulivaati Vaitai were drive killers, but solid-albeit-unspectacular work otherwise from this unit.

Grade: B

DEFENSIVE LINE
Steven Means: 1 TKL, 1.0 SK, 2 QBH

Tons of credit to the defense, beginning with the guys up front. Brandon Graham, Tim Jernigan and Derek Barnett were all inactive, and Fletcher Cox only played the first series. Despite being without four regulars, the Eagles limited Ezekiel Elliott to 3.8 yards per carry. That begins up front. Chris Long led the charge with six tackles, as he and Vinny Curry played pretty much the entire game along with Means. This was very impressive under the circumstances.

Grade: A-

LINEBACKERS
Najee Goode: 5 TKL, 2 TFL

Nice job by the linebackers, particularly Goode, who was all over the place. Dannell Ellerbe and Kamu Grugier-Hill each had four tackles as well, and rookie Nate Gerry nearly came up with an interception. Nothing particularly impactful, but with Nigel Bradham left inactive and Mychal Kendricks playing only sparingly, the unit got the job done.

Grade: A-

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Sidney Jones: 2 TKL

Rough day for Rasul Douglas. The Cowboys really went after Douglas in the second half, finally beating the rookie corner for a 20-yard touchdown pass after he let the offense go down the field. Ronald Darby and Patrick Robinson each broke up a pass, and Jaylen Watkins racked up seven tackles. As for Jones' debut, he was OK. The second-round draft pick lost contain on a first-down run by Elliott and should've been burned for a long touchdown on a double move, but was bailed out by an overthrow. Otherwise, he did not look out of place at all in his first NFL game. As a unit, the secondary limited the Cowboys to a 56.7 completion percentage and 5.5 yards per attempt.

Grade: A-

SPECIAL TEAMS
Donnie Jones: 7 PUNTS, 42.7 AVG, 3 IN20

If you like punts, this game featured plenty of them. Jones was the Eagles' most valuable player. In what could not have been easy kicking conditions, he repeatedly kept the Cowboys in modest field position. Coverage units played were strong as well, and tested often on a cold day when Jake Elliott wasn't booming touchbacks. The lone issue was a muffed punt by Kenjon Barner, which he recovered, but at his own 3-yard line.

Grade: A-

COACHING
Eagles' record: 13-3

A bit curious Doug Pederson would insist on playing the first-team offense, only to pull them after one quarter of bad football. Then again, one would imagine there wasn't a whole lot of preparation for a meaningless Week 17 game, so maybe there was no point in letting Foles and Co. keep banging their heads against the wall. Anyway, since this basically amounted to a preseason game for the Eagles, there really isn't anything to grade the coaching staff on. The key players all emerged from the contest healthy, which is all that matters.

Grade: N/A