The700Level

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 a mirror image in many ways

usa-jared-goff-rams.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles, Rams a mirror image in many ways

Who would’ve thought the Eagles would be 10-2 and preparing to face a 9-3 Rams squad when the schedule came out in April? Yet, here were are, waiting for an unlikely Week 14 showdown between two of the top teams in the conference.

This is no fluke. The Eagles and Rams both have talented rosters from top to bottom, with ascending, young quarterbacks in the midst of breakout seasons, and outstanding coaching staffs with sharp, fresh minds and time-tested defensive coordinators.

In many ways, these teams are like a mirror image of each other when you begin to compare.

Quarterbacks
The No. 1 and 2 choices in the 2016 NFL draft, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, will be linked — and therefore compared to one another — forever. So far, you’d have to take what's behind Door No. 2. Most of their 2017 stats are comparable, but Wentz has nine more touchdown passes with the same number of interceptions and is a threat to run with the football. Wentz is further along in his development in terms of responsibilities at the line of scrimmage, too. Goff looks legit, and time will tell who is going to be better. Right now, it’s probably Wentz.

Slight advantage: Eagles

Running backs
LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement are great backs. So what does it say that you would trade all of them for Todd Gurley? With 1,502 yards from scrimmage, Gurley ranks second in the NFL behind Pittsburgh's Le’Veon Bell. That’s only 279 yards less than the entire Eagles’ backfield, including Wendell Smallwood and an injured Darren Sproles. There’s a reason Gurley is a rare viable MVP candidate at running back. Who needs three or four backs when one guy can do it all?

Advantage: Rams

Wide receivers and tight ends
The Rams’ leading receiver — Robert Woods with 703 yards — is doubtful to play Sunday with a shoulder injury. Goff still has quality weapons. Sammy Watkins leads the club with six touchdown catches while Cooper Kupp has a team-high 51 receptions playing largely in the slot. Woods has been the most consistent, though. Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor all have at least 40 receptions, 599 yards and seven touchdowns, giving the Eagles one of the most well-rounded receiving corps in the league. The Rams need Woods for there to be any comparison.

Advantage: Eagles

Offensive lines
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has started to struggle a bit at left tackle for the Eagles the past couple weeks, perhaps a sign Jason Peters' replacement is coming back down to earth. But from center Jason Kelce to tackle Lane Johnson, the Eagles still have arguably the best right side in the NFL. Similarly, from tackle Andrew Whitworth to center John Sullivan, the Rams have one of the best left sides after rebuilding in free agency. However, their weak link is right guard Jamon Brown. All things considered, both are strong units.

Even

Defensive linemen and linebackers
Aaron Donald leads all defensive tackles with 8.0 sacks this season, and that’s after missing the first game of the season over a contract dispute. He’s also tied for eighth among all players with 20 quarterback hits. Donald may very well be the most feared pass rusher in the entire NFL, but beyond him, the Rams’ front seven is a little lacking. Look no further than these run defenses. Los Angeles ranks 27th; the Eagles are atop the league. Donald is great, but there is strength in numbers — such as the collective of Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan and Nigel Bradham up the middle.

Mild advantage: Eagles

Cornerbacks and safeties
These are two of the most opportunistic secondaries in the league. The Eagles hold the slightest of edges over the Rams statistically, with 16 interceptions to 14, and a 77.0 opponents’ passer rating against a 77.3. Once again, the difference may come down to injuries, as Rams free safety Lamarcus Joyner is banged up with a shoulder injury. Even if he plays, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are head and shoulders above John Johnson III and Joyner, while the cornerbacks are comparable.

Slight advantage: Eagles

Special teams
The Rams are the rare opponent who can actually boast better special teams than the Eagles. Greg Zuerlein has been by far the best kicker in the NFL this year, and punter Johnny Hekker has been named to the Pro Bowl in three of the past four seasons. Pharoh Cooper has emerged as one of the league’s top return specialists as well, averaging 12.6 yars on punt returns and 28.7 on kickoff returns with a touchdown. Even their coverage units are superb, limiting opponents to 5.3 yards on punts and 20.9 on kicks.

Advantage: Rams

Coaching
Doug Pederson and Sean McVay are two of the brightest young head coaches in the NFL. It’s not difficult to envision a scenario where these two are meeting in the playoffs for years to come. With such limited résumés, it’s difficult to choose one or the other, so look at their respective staffs. As much credit as Jim Schwartz deserves for turning the Eagles defense around, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is an all-timer. Phillips has taken a front with only one dominant player in Donald and assembled one of the most disruptive pass rushes in the NFL — almost entirely by his scheme.

Slight advantage: Rams

Overall
One could argue the Eagles might be the better product altogether. Of course, that’s at least partly a result of injuries. The Rams likely won’t have their complete receiving corps or secondary intact Sunday. Otherwise, things might look a little different. Even with the perceived advantages in the Eagles’ favor, the Rams can make up the difference with stellar special teams play and coaching. In other words, the comparison between these two opponents is very, very close, injuries or not. Assuming they can keep their respective teams together, it should make for a fun rivalry for years to come.

Even