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Falcons' scheme plays into Nick Foles' favor

Falcons' scheme plays into Nick Foles' favor

Nick Foles has never gone up against the Falcons or head coach Dan Quinn’s defense, but the Eagles' signal-caller has his share of experience — and success — against their Cover-3 scheme.

The Seahawks famously employ Cover-3 as their base defense under coach Pete Carroll, though its use has spread across the NFL as Carroll’s disciples have branched out. Gus Bradley took it to Jacksonville for four seasons until his firing in 2016 and has since moved on to a defensive coordinator position with the Chargers, while Quinn has used the system in Atlanta for the past three years. It refers to a zone scheme in which three defensive backs are each responsible for covering one-third of the field.

While Foles has yet to face Quinn’s particular brand of the scheme, the sixth-year veteran has been around long enough to have seen his share of it. And wouldn’t you know it, Foles is undefeated against teams that primarily run Cover-3, with some quality numbers, too.

In Week 1 of the 2014 season with the Eagles, Foles completed 27 of 45 passes (60.0%) for 322 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in a 34-17 win over the Jaguars.

In Week 1 of the 2015 season with the Rams, Foles completed 18 of 27 passes (66.7%) for 297 yards with one touchdown in a 34-31 win over the Seahawks.

And in Week 9 of the '16 season with the Chiefs, Foles completed 20 of 33 passes (60.6%) for 223 yards with two touchdowns in a 19-14 win over the Jags.

Altogether, Foles has 61.9 completion percentage, averages 8.0 yards per pass attempt and has thrown five touchdowns to only one interception against Cover-3 defenses — good for a 98.9 passer rating. He's done it with three different teams, playing in varying offensive schemes, too, so it doesn't appear to be a product of his situation. And though two of those wins were at the hands of a Jaguars franchise that posted a 14-48 record under Bradley, an impressive performance against the Seahawks suggests Foles' successes were no fluke.

Which doesn't necessarily rule out coincidence as an explanation, either. Three games is a small sample size. Furthermore, while not typically used as a base defense, Cover-3 is one of the most prevalent packages in the league — it was the second-most common coverage seen in '16, according to Pro Football Focus. Foles has surely faltered in the face of a Cover-3 look at some point.

But there's still something to be said for how Foles has fared historically against defenses that play Cover-3 roughly 50 percent of the time. The track record is positive, and that should give Eagles fans some hope on Saturday against a Falcons defense that's held four of its last six opponents to 17 points or less.

Is the Philadelphia Eagles dog mask movement good or bad?

Is the Philadelphia Eagles dog mask movement good or bad?

I'll admit it. I thought -- maybe still do -- that the dog mask thing was bad.

See, I even tweeted about it for posterity: 

Some people agreed. Others said mean things about my mother. Many purchased dog masks from the Internet. Even more purchased t-shirts with dog masks on them. Television show hosts put on dog masks and filmed television show segments wearing dog masks.

Now, for the record, I don't really care at all about dog masks. So if Lane Johnson or Chris Long wants to wear a dog mask after a win, more power to him. And if an Eagles fan wants to act like a Cleveland Browns fan and wear a dog mask to a game, that's their own decision. I am not going to judge.

And then today I saw a dog mask on a billboard and I kind of liked it.  So I don't know. I am left still wondering: are dog masks good? Or are dog masks bad?

This billboard is near Pottstown, according to Reddit. There's a dog mask on it.

If the Eagles win on Sunday against the Vikings dog masks are great and if the Eagles lose dog masks are very bad. That's my take on dog masks.

Eagles are right. Nobody respects this defense, and nobody ever has

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USA Today

Eagles are right. Nobody respects this defense, and nobody ever has

“Nobody respected us as a defense. Gimme some respect right now...I’ll tell you what. I wanted to set a tone. We wanted to set a tone as a D. It’s not just me, it’s dem Defense, it’s my line, it’s Burgess, it’s Kearse, it’s all them Boys, Trott. We came and we brought it every doggone play.”

Those are the words of Mr. Brian Patrick Dawkins just moments after the last Philadelphia Eagles home NFC Championship Game. For those who are too young to remember, or perhaps have forgotten due to fits of hysteria because Andy Reid didn’t know how to run a two-minute drill a couple weeks later, the Eagles and their fans spent the week leading up to that game listening to a lot of national media telling us just how great some fella named Mike Vick was.

The commonly-held belief was that Vick and the Atlanta offense was going to come into The Linc and run circles around an Iggles defense that, many had forgotten, had been Super Bowl quality the entire 2004 season.

And here we are, nearly a decade and a half later, and history appears ready to repeat itself.

Sure, the characters have changed, but the theme remains the same; this Eagles defense, which has been number one against the run all season long, which is allowing just 13 PPG at home this year, and which just held the reigning MVP Matt Ryan and football’s best wide receiver Julio Jones to a paltry 10 points (all of which were aided by turnovers on the offensive side, mind you).... That defense is being told they are the underdogs (again), that their season will end on Sunday, and that they have not done enough to earn the respect of the national media.

And hey, this didn’t just start this week. Go back to Los Angeles on December 10th, when Wentz went down. All of a sudden, the Eagles were guaranteed to be a one-and-done come the postseason, even as the D clearly lifted the Birds to victory that Sunday against the ‘high-flying’ Rams offense. Sure, the assumption that the Iggles were done had more to do with Nick Foles than anything else, but it also tied back to the reality that as a whole, nobody outside of Philly saw this defense as Super Bowl quality.

Ask Brian Dawkins how he felt when Terrell Owens went down in 2004 and people started counting the Birds for dead.

But hey, for this defense, disrespect comes with the territory. This is a D built with rejects, cast-offs, and the underappreciated. They are led by a defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, who has been told by both the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills that he wasn’t good enough to work for them. Not exactly the most prestigious of franchises to be fired from, like being told you weren’t good enough of an actor to be on “Jersey Shore.”

Then there’s Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Ronald Darby, Tim Jernigan, and Nigel Bradham: all guys spurned by the teams that drafted them, yet all starting and contributing in a major fashion to the success of the best defense in the NFL.

There’s Jalen Mills, the 7th-round pick most people wanted to drive to the airport last season, who inserted himself into Philadelphia Eagles lore by knocking Julio Jones to the ground last Saturday.

There’s Mychal Kendricks, who has spent so much time on the trading block, he’d be better off buying, and who’s snap counts have been less consistent than the President’s twitter feed.

There’s Vinny Curry, who had to fight for playing time for the team he grew up rooting for.

There’s Beau Allen, another 7th-round pick who has already had a tenure longer than Bennie Logan, a guy at the same position drafted four-rounds earlier.

There’s Dannell Ellerbe, an undrafted linebacker turned Super Bowl champion who was out of the league just a few weeks ago, now starting in the middle for the NFC East Champs.

There’s Patrick Robinson; a former first-round bust who the Eagles nearly cut in training camp, and yet reinvented himself as one of the top slot corners in the league and has led this D in interceptions.

There’s Chris Long, the dog-mask-wearer himself, a former second-overall pick who had to be picked off the NFL free agency scrap heap this summer, showing he can still produce at age 32.

Even arguably their best player, Fletcher Cox, had to watch as a nose tackle was valued, and drafted, right before him back in 2012.

And I write ‘arguably’ next to Cox because I, for one, am done underappreciating and devaluing the contributions and play of Brandon Graham. There’s no one in recent Philadelphia sports history that has been more disrespected than he. Drafted by Andy Reid at a spot most experts considered a reach, the guy many Birds fans knew as “Not Earl Thomas” was nearly traded by Chip Kelly. He’s come back from an ACL injury, he’s switched from defensive end to linebacker to defensive end again, and he now leads a team one win away from the Super Bowl in sacks and tackles for a loss. And BTW, he had as many tackles-for-a-loss this season as Aaron Donald, and more than guys like Demarcus Lawrence, Khalil Mack, and Bobby Wagner.

From "overreach" to "first round bust" to “trade bait,” and now arguably the best player on what could potentially be a Super Bowl defense. And yet still not getting the respect he deserves.

Is there anything more Philly than that?