Nick Foles, Eagles' receivers have 'big left hook' working

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Nick Foles, Eagles' receivers have 'big left hook' working

Nick Foles went into Sunday's game against the Vikings having completed one pass of 40 yards or more in his last 361 pass attempts over three seasons for three different teams.

The Vikings went into the game having allowed only five 40-yard completions all year.

So naturally, Foles became the first quarterback since Joe Flacco against the Colts in 2013 to hit three 40-yard pass plays in a postseason game.

One of the biggest reasons the Eagles reached Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis is Foles' ability to beat the Vikings deep. Something no other quarterback had done this year.

“Those are game-changers in the sense of momentum change," Foles said. "Any big explosive play just ignites the sideline, ignites the fan base, ignites everyone. So anytime you can get that, that’s huge. 

"Methodically driving 80 down the field yards is great too, but anytime you get an explosive play like that, it’s really big. We haven’t had many of those the last couple weeks just because of the defenses we’ve played, and a lot of it was underneath, but it was great to get some over the top."

In the span of 13½ minutes over the second and third quarters Sunday, Foles threw a 53-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery, a 36-yarder to Zach Ertz to set up a field goal just before halftime, a 41-yard TD on a flea flicker to Torrey Smith and a 42-yarder to Nelson Agholor to set up another touchdown.

In those 13½ minutes, the Eagles turned a 14-7 lead over the Vikings into a 38-7 lead.

And that was that.

Then it was just a matter of booking flights to Minneapolis.

"Everybody knows that Nick is a good deep ball thrower," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "He can make all the throws, but he's a very good deep ball thrower. 

"We said it right from the very start. He's not afraid to throw it. He wants to throw it. But what he's demonstrated in the last few games is that, hey, we can dink and dunk, we can throw it deep, take your shots."

When you think about it, it's not surprising that until Sunday's NFC Championship Game, Foles didn't have a completion longer than 32 yards since replacing Carson Wentz and didn't have a completion to a wide receiver longer than 25 yards.

Foles missed all of training camp, thanks to an elbow injury. He didn't play in the preseason. He had never played a meaningful snap with Jeffery, Agholor and Smith. And he never got reps with the first offense until after Wentz got hurt.

Deep balls take the most timing and chemistry, so it makes sense that they were the last thing to materialize for Foles, now six games into his stint leading the Eagles.

"The fact that he's had a chance to work with our guys now for the past month, there's a lot more confidence there," Doug Pederson said. 

"They're on the same page. The run game obviously helps. Some of the play-action stuff we've done helps him. Listen, that's who Nick is. Just having time now with the offense has been able to open up some of those opportunities down the field."

Why is this so important?

Big plays win games. It's no coincidence that 24 of the Eagles' 31 offensive points Sunday night came on drives that included a deep ball.

"Again, it's the analogy we've used of boxing," Reich said. "It's jab, jab, jab, then throw the big left hook. And it's how do you know when to throw that? When do you have him set up?"

The 53-yarder to Jeffery couldn't have happened a month ago. 

It was a classic scramble drill, with the offensive line giving Foles time after the play broke down and Jeffery just finding an opening in the defense.

This was a play that doesn't exist in any playbook. It was just the product of chemistry developed over the past few weeks.

"That was just Foles standing in the pocket and Alshon being a football player and knowing that no one was back there," Smith said.

"That was huge by them and that was a key play for us. But Nick has been on fire the past few weeks throwing the ball deep in practice, so it was no surprise.”

Nick Foles' playbook for avoiding Super Bowl hype

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Nick Foles' playbook for avoiding Super Bowl hype

Nick Foles is the biggest story in the NFL right now. Maybe the biggest story in sports.

A Pro Bowl quarterback four years ago who considered retiring two years ago rejoins his original team as a backup, replaces the injured starter and leads the team to the Super Bowl.

You can't make this stuff up.

Is Nick Foles ready for everything he's about to face?

He talked about it Wednesday.

“The big thing is just staying in the moment," Foles said. "In the moment.

"The second you start looking at everything that’s going to happen in the next two weeks? It can be overwhelming for anyone."

The Eagles haven't lost a game that meant anything in the standings since Foles replaced Carson Wentz, and Foles has led the Eagles to playoff wins over the Falcons and Vikings to advance to Super Bowl LII against the Patriots a week from Sunday in Minneapolis.

Foles said he'll rely on his ability to focus and the wisdom and strength of his teammates as the game gets closer.

"This is a big moment," he said. "It’s the Super Bowl. It’s something you dream about as a kid.

"But at the same time, it’s a game. Once I step on the gridiron, I’m playing against the Patriots and that’s where it comes down to trusting your preparation, working every single day and living in that moment and doing what you have to do daily, and then once the game comes you know you did everything in your power.

"You’ve eliminated the distractions that are there because there’s going to be. This is a big stage. There’s a lot going on. This (NovaCare Complex interview) room just keeps increasing with cameras and people in it and it’s just going to keep going.

"So you just focus on the little things and what’s important, and what’s important is our preparation and what we do as a team. Going out there and playing together Super Bowl night, that’s really what my focus is."

When Foles had his magical 2013 year, he was 24 years old, in his second NFL season out of Arizona. Now, he just turned 29 a few days ago and in his sixth NFL season. He's bounced around the league, gaining perspective and wisdom every step of the way.

And he knows he'll have to lean on all that perspective and wisdom to deal with what he's about to face.

“Just throughout the years," Foles said, "throughout each day, you just continue to grow, as a person and a player. That Nick is different than this Nick. I’ve grown, I’ve changed. I’m married, I have a daughter. My life has changed.

"There’ve been tough things to deal with through the course of it, but that’s where you lean on family, your loved ones, your faith and you continue to grow where all of a sudden you’re blessed to be in a moment like this, where you’re doing Super Bowl media and you just can’t believe it."

Foles has the highest passer rating in NFL postseason history. This will be his fourth career postseason start in an Eagles uniform, and only Donovan McNabb and Ron Jaworski have started more.

All that's between Foles and NFL immortality is Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, who will be playing in their eighth Super Bowl since 2000 and seeking their sixth championship.

“They’re an amazing team, an amazing organization," Foles said. "Our strength is the team. We lean on each other. You don’t have to go out there and do it by yourself. We’re going to go out there with great energy, and we’re going to out there and give everything we have in this game.

"When you know that you’re all on the same page, you don’t have to do anything special. Just go out with your teammates an give everything you have."

Behind the scenes of Eagles' dagger flea flicker

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NFL

Behind the scenes of Eagles' dagger flea flicker

Frank Reich had a feeling Doug Pederson was going to break out the flea flicker during the NFC Championship Game. 

When the two met Saturday night — which has become their normal custom — Reich got the sense the head coach was going to dial up the gadget play against the Vikings the next day. 

He was right. 

"I don't know, just an instinct," Reich said. "I think he just had an instinct, and he was committed to being aggressive, trust in Nick (Foles), trust in our players."

Reich said the play has always been in the playbook but had only been in the game plan maybe one other time. In practice, the play looked just "OK," according to Reich. Foles said he had never run one before. And Pederson called it when a rookie running back was on the field. 

Despite all that, the play worked for a 41-yard touchdown pass that was the dagger in the hearts of the Vikings. That touchdown put the Eagles up 31-7 early in the third quarter as they cruised to the 38-7 win and into the Super Bowl. 

Here's how it all happened: 

It's 1st-and-10 from the Vikings' 41-yard line. The ball on their own 25 and have already picked up three first downs on this drive. It's time for a shot. Foles is under center, with Clement nine yards deep in the backfield. Torrey Smith (circled) is at the top of the screen with Trae Waynes in coverage. The safety on that side of the field is Harrison Smith. 

The Eagles are in 11 personnel, but just before the snap, Nelson Agholor slides inside next to Brent Celek and Alshon Jeffery in a bunch formation to help the illusion that a run play is coming next. 

“I think you just try not to smile," Foles said. "I don’t know if I’ve ever run a flea flicker. It was my first time so I just tried not to smile."

Here we are at the mesh point, where Foles hands the ball off to Clement (circled in red). Agholor and Celek immediately start blocking like it's a run play, while Jeffery starts to run a route, but will quickly stop to fake block, before running again. Smith begins the play running a normal route. The defense begins to crash the box (green). 

It happens so quickly in real time, but after taking a couple quick steps, Clement tosses the ball back to Foles. The safety, Harrison Smith (green), actually doesn't bite too hard. But he does hesitate for just a split second, which is going to be deadly. 

The most impressive part of the play is happening at the top of the screen. Smith looks back, acting like the play is a simple handoff (red). That's when Waynes buys it and gets caught looking back at the play. 

"I knew that I had to get far enough down the field that he thinks I'm releasing like a pass, but then get my eyes back like lazy receivers do sometimes," Smith said. "We all do it, where you're like kind of looking to see where the ball is going. He looked, and I took off."

Before we get to see how quickly Smith gets past Waynes, here's Clement selling it completely. He really took off quickly, acting like he was carrying the ball. Once he gets past Foles, he quickly tosses it back and starts looking to pick up a block. 

What was Clement thinking when the call came in? 

"S---, I'll do it," he said. "You just don't flinch. I've got to thank (running backs coach) Duce Staley for allowing me to go out there and do that. That's just not a play that you let a rookie do because everything has to be down, the timing." 

Once Smith (red) fakes out Waynes, he lets his speed take over. He's got a couple steps on Waynes now and the corner simply isn't going to catch him. The only chance the Vikings have is if Harrison Smith is able to slide over in coverage, but he hesitates just enough to let the Eagles gain ground. Another underrated part of this play is the job Halapoulivaati Vaitai does against Everson Griffen on the left side of the line. He gives Foles a pocket to step into and make a perfect throw. 

We've heard that Foles is an aggressive gunslinger, but this might show it. Look how wide open Jeffery is coming across the field. If Foles throws it there, the Eagles pick up a first down easy, but he's thinking touchdown and he knows if he places the ball perfectly he has it.

Foles needed his pass to be perfect and it absolutely was. He threw dimes all night, but there weren't many nicer than this one. 

"That play, it was well run, but just Torrey made a great catch, Nick made a spectacular throw," Reich said. "Sometimes you see in a flea flicker you're running 10 yards behind a guy. It wasn't one of those deals. At the end of the day, it was two players making a great play."