Andrew Kulp

Eagles in good hands with Nick Foles

Eagles in good hands with Nick Foles

Carson Wentz's season is indeed finished, yet the Eagles aren’t exactly slumming it at quarterback with Nick Foles.

Foles’ first tenure with the Eagles admittedly hasn’t aged well. The last time he started a game for the club in 2014, he was leading the NFL in giveaways nine weeks into the season. Traded the following offseason, Foles’ hasty demise with the Rams appeared to vindicate his critics.

Okay, so maybe Foles isn’t exactly franchise quarterback material. But the Eagles would be hard-pressed to find a more accomplished backup.

Foles has led a team to the playoffs. He’s been to a Pro Bowl. He has a winning record as a starter.

How many other backup quarterbacks around the league can check off all three of those boxes?

Just one. No, not Colin Kaepernick. Only Teddy Bridgewater for the Vikings.

Foles is no hobo. He was a third-round draft pick who needed to outperform Michael Vick to earn the Eagles’ starting job. The statuesque Foles was so much better, it no longer mattered Vick’s legendary mobility could be a true asset in former coach Chip Kelly’s read-option offense.

The 2013 season turned out to be a history-making campaign for Foles. He tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a game, and set another with a 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio for the year — the latter mark having since been broken by future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.

Despite losing to the Saints in the first round of the first round of the playoffs in 2013, Foles played well in that game, completing 23 of 33 passes for 195 yards with two touchdowns. The last time the offense was on the field, the Eagles held the lead, only to lose on a field goal as the clock ran empty.

Even assuming that series of events will wind up as the high point in his career, we learned a lot about Foles. We know he has some talent. We know he can perform at a high level when given a great supporting cast. And we know he can play well in January.

As for the last three-and-a-half years, those probably haven’t been as bad as you think.

Foles came back to earth in 2014, as did the Eagles. Yet, turnovers aside, the team was better with him than without, going 6-2 in Foles’ starts until he was sidelined by a broken collarbone. Before the injury, he was on pace to throw for over 4,300 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Things continued to go south for Foles with the Rams in 2015, although the franchise hadn't finished with more than seven wins or better than 21st on offense since ’06 prior to this season. The issues in St. Louis ran a lot deeper than who was under center.

Foles spent 2016 rehabilitating his image with the Chiefs, completing 36 of 55 passes for 410 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions in three games and one start. If nothing else, the 28-year-old proved he can be a fine backup under the right circumstances.

Which brings us into 2017 with the Eagles. Does this squad present “the right circumstances” for Foles to flourish?

The Eagles have a stable of running backs, multiple weapons in the passing attack, a decent offensive line and an excellent defense. It’s difficult to imagine a better situation for a backup quarterback to step into.

It’s not entirely unlike the situation Foles stepped into in ’13. The O-line probably isn’t quite as good, but the defense is vastly superior this time around.

And the Eagles don’t necessarily need Foles to be Wentz. They can lean on the running game. They have receivers who can bail out their quarterback on occasion. Their defense is capable of forcing stops and creating turnovers.

Foles has a 20-16 record in 36 career starts, with a 60.5 completion percentage, 7.2 yards per pass attempt, 56 touchdowns and 27 interceptions in 45 games. Those are quality numbers. It’s not as if the Eagles are sending Tim Tebow out there.

Does Wentz’s injury lessen the Eagles’ chances of winning the Super Bowl, or even mounting a deep playoff run? Of course. Dramatically, in fact.

But this season isn’t totally lost just yet. Foles only needs to be good, not great, to keep this Eagles team in the race.

There was a brief period where – misguided or not – the Eagles had to at least consider the possibility of Foles as a franchise quarterback. That obviously wasn’t the case, but if he can fake it again for the next two months, there’s a remote chance everything will be alright.

Grading the Eagles' 43-35 win over the Rams in Week 14

usa-myhcal-kendricks.jpg
USA Today Images

Grading the Eagles' 43-35 win over the Rams in Week 14

Grading the Eagles' 43-35 win Sunday afternoon over the Los Angeles Rams at the L.A. Coliseum (see breakdown):

QUARTERBACK
Carson Wentz: 23/41, 291 YDS, 4 TD, 1 INT

Wentz was having a phenomenal game until disaster struck. A knee injury sent the starting signal caller to the locker room, and he was unable to return for the fourth quarter (see story). No word as of this writing as to Wentz's condition. Nick Foles came on in relief and was something north of abysmal — when he wasn't throwing to his left tackle in desperation. Foles completed 6 of 10 passes for 40 yards, which was just enough to lead the Eagles on a pair of field-goal drives, including the go-ahead score. The backup did his job.

Grade: A

RUNNING BACKS
Jay Ajayi: 12 ATT, 72 YDS

Ajayi and Corey Clement were by far the Eagles' most effective backs, yet LeGarrette Blount saw the bulk of the work in the first half. Blount looked slow to the hole, rushing seven times for just 12 yards. There weren't necessarily huge lanes, but the rest of the ball carriers seemed to make due. Clement added a 28-yard reception. The game plan was pass-heavy, depriving the entire backfield of a true opportunity to shine.

Grade: B

WIDE RECEIVERS
Torrey Smith: 6 REC, 100 YDS

Arguably the most oft-criticized player on the Eagles' roster, Smith authored his best game with the club (see Roob's observations). Alshon Jeffery didn't exactly dominate his battle with Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson, but did manage five receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown. Nelson Agholor is the guy dragging the class down this week. Though Agholor finished with eight for 64, a drop on the opening possession led directly to Wentz's interception, also giving the opponent a short field. Bad luck, maybe, but that can't happen.

Grade: B-

TIGHT ENDS
Trey Burton: 5 REC, 71 YDS, 2 TD

No Zach Ertz, no problem. The Eagles' leading receiver missed the game with a concussion, but Burton stepped up. An impending free agent, Burton probably made himself a little extra coin with his big game, making tough catches in traffic on touchdowns of 20 and 11 yards. Brent Celek chipped in with a five-yard score as well.

Grade: A+

OFFENSIVE LINE
Stefen Wisniewski: Exited game in 2nd quarter (ankle)

Chance Warmack initially took over for Wisniewski at left guard, but that did not go well. Warmack was getting destroyed on virtually every snap until he too was replaced by Isaac Seumalo after halftime. Seumalo was better, though not by much. That being said, the Eagles' injuries weren't solely along the interior. Lane Johnson penalties nullified two Wentz touchdown runs, including the play on which the quarterback was injured. Despite the penalties and issues at guard, the offense did average 4.3 yards per rush attempt and limited the Rams to two sacks.

Grade: B

DEFENSIVE LINE
Fletcher Cox: 4 TKL, 2 QBH

Quiet day up front for one of the most disruptive front fours in the NFL — until Chris Long showed up. Long's strip-sack set up the Eagles' game-winning score, and was one of the few times they got the quarterback on the ground all day. But the larger issue up front was the No. 1 run defense's inability to slow down Todd Gurley. Gurley carried 13 times for 96 yards with two touchdowns, and that starts up front. Not the D-line's best game.

Grade: C+

LINEBACKERS
Nigel Bradham: 6 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 PD, 1 FF

Bradham had some opportunities to dramatically change the course of the game, yet failed to hang on to a pair of would-be interceptions. Tough to fault a linebacker for not making extraordinary catches, but the Eagles sure could've used those turnovers. Also, Mychal Kendricks was practically nonexistent, finishing with one tackle.

Grade: C+

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Patrick Robinson: 3 TKL, 1.0 SK, 1 PD

To their credit, the Eagles' secondary tightened up in the second half, but missed tackles were a serious issue and the coverage was suspect for large stretches. Rams quarterback Jared Goff completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 7.7 yards per attempt and two touchdowns, while wide receiver Cooper Kupp went for 118 yards receiving. It wasn't any one individual, either. It was the entire group. At least Rodney McLeod was able to scoop up the football on Long's forced fumble, so there's that. 

Grade: C+

SPECIAL TEAMS
Jake Elliott: 3/3 FG, 4/4 XP

Elliott was automatic, including a 54-yard field goal that was negated by a penalty. However, the performance of the special teams units was marred by a blocked punt the Rams took to the house for an easy touchdown in the third quarter. The Eagles nearly had another blocked earlier, begging the question why an adjustment wasn't made earlier.

Grade: C-

COACHING
Eagles' record: 11-2

Make no mistake, this was a difficult game from a coaching vantage point. The Rams are a strong team on both sides of the football, and the Eagles won. They spent the week in Los Angeles leading up this contest but remained focused. They lost the franchise quarterback in the second half and trailed in the fourth quarter, yet never gave up and pulled off a gritty victory. You can nitpick aspects of the game plan by Doug Pederson or Jim Schwartz, but the team won, on the road, against a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Give the staff a lot of credit.

Grade: A

Eagles-Rams thoughts: Two potent offenses, but don't rule out defensive battle

usa-fletcher-cox-aaron-donald.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles-Rams thoughts: Two potent offenses, but don't rule out defensive battle

Eagles-Rams
4:25 p.m. on FOX
Eagles +1.5

After spending the week in Los Angeles, it’s time to find out whether the Eagles’ trip was for business or pleasure, as they get set to face the Rams Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum.

The Eagles never bothered coming home after their loss in Seattle, flying straight to L.A. instead to prepare for this pivotal intra-conference showdown. We’ll find out if saving on some travel means the team is fresh and ready to play, or if there were a few too many distractions on the West Coast to focus on football.

Of course, distractions can work both ways. Southern California wildfires altered the Rams’ practice schedule this week, while there are reports Eagles fans are set to take over the Coliseum. So much for home-field advantage.

In other words, the Eagles have no excuse for coming home from this road trip without a victory — other than the Rams simply being the better football team in Week 14 of this NFL season.

Updating the playoff picture
The good news for the Eagles is they’re almost certainly going to the playoffs regardless of Sunday’s outcome. A win or a Cowboys loss over any of the remaining four weeks still secures a division title.

Beyond merely getting into the tournament, the Eagles’ clash with the Rams has serious implications. With a 10-2 record, the Eagles have fallen behind the Vikings for the No. 1 seed in the postseason for the time being. Adding a loss to the 9-3 Rams might damage their shot at a first-round bye or home-field throughout beyond repair.

At the very least, the Eagles would need help, as the Rams would not only have the same record with three games to go but would own the head-to-head tiebreaker as well.

The Eagles already need the Vikings to slip up in order to have any chance at the top seed. A loss in L.A. essentially shelves talk of a bye and home-field temporarily, perhaps permanently.

Lowered expectations? Not so fast
The question, coming off a 24-10 defeat at the hands of the Seahawks, is whether the Eagles are really that good or if the team got fans’ hopes up while preying on inferior competition.

The Eagles managed to win nine games in a row, but as you’ve no doubt heard, beat only one team with a record north of .500 along the way. From that perspective, they could use a quality win to prove they weren’t exposed as frauds in Seattle. Or, maybe talk of earning one of the top two playoff seeds was misguided.

That’s probably a little unfair, on two levels. First, the Eagles have knocked off multiple teams that are 6-6 (Cowboys, Chargers) or within two games of .500 (Redskins twice, Cardinals) — it’s not like they play the 49ers every week. Furthermore, the Eagles are winning in convincing fashion, with an average margin of victory by 16.7 points.

Obviously, the Eagles will need to beat quality opponents in the playoffs, and proving they can do so now is not unimportant. But one loss to a tough Seahawks squad doesn’t erase what the team has been able to accomplish up to this point, either.

If the Eagles lose in L.A., we may need to adjust expectations accordingly, simply from the standpoint that they will have been surpassed by multiple teams at that point. On the other hand, they should still be considered very dangerous.

Will the real Eagles offense please stand up?
Here’s something you don’t see every day. Sunday will be a matchup between the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL and … the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL. The Eagles and Rams are tied for first place, with both teams averaging 30.1 points.

But which Eagles offense is going to show up Sunday? The unit behind multiple routs, or the group that posted just 10 points against the Seahawks?

Even in previous weeks, when the Eagles earned convincing wins, the offense struggled for long stretches. They had just seven points going into the locker room in Dallas before erupting for 30 in the second half, then did the reverse against the Bears, mustering only seven after the break. You could call it a slump.

The Eagles can’t afford to spin their wheels in L.A., although if it’s any solace, the Rams’ offense can be slowed and even halted, too. They were also held to 10 points by the Seahawks earlier this season and recently scored seven against the Vikings.

Is it possible a matchup of the most prolific offenses in the NFL will devolve into a defensive showdown? Don’t rule it out.