Nick Foles doing the most important job of all

AP Images

Nick Foles doing the most important job of all

Nick Foles looked just like Nick Foles last weekend. Which means he got the ball in the end zone, did enough to get the win, and — more than anything — protected the football.
We all know about the 27 TDs and two picks in 2013, but not throwing interceptions has been a hallmark of Foles' six-year career. Other than a couple disastrous games during a disastrous 2015 season in St. Louis with the Rams, Foles has been remarkably stingy when it comes to throwing picks.
That continued last Sunday, when he didn't throw any interceptions in his first start in 14 months, a 34-29 Eagles win over the Giants.
“Any time a quarterback can protect the ball and not throw interceptions, that’s huge," said Foles, who took over at quarterback for the Eagles after Pro Bowler Carson Wentz's season-ending knee injury.
"Every quarterback wants to be aggressive, but you take pride in playing good football and not shifting the momentum to the other team, because that’s what interceptions are, they shift the momentum, and a lot of times (the opponent) ends up with good field position and the game changes. 
"But definitely look at that as good decision making, going through my reads, my progressions, and if it’s not there, being smart. That’s the toughest thing. When you’re dropping back and everything’s going on, part of you wants to force it, but you have to make the right decision and not force the ball and sometimes throw it away."
Foles was 24 for 38 for 237 yards against the Giants with four touchdowns and no INTs. It was the 17th time in his career he's thrown at least one touchdown and no interceptions in a game, and he's 15-2 in 17 such games. 
The Eagles, 12-2, can clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff bracket Monday night with a win over the Raiders at the Linc. 
Foles goes into Monday's game having thrown 140 consecutive passes without an interception, the longest active streak in the NFL. 
That streak began late in the 2015 season with the Rams, continued with the Chiefs last year and includes his 52 passes with the Eagles this year.
"It's part of the role now," Doug Pederson said. "He's no longer the backup. He's the starter. It's important that we take care of the football and don't turn it over. He did a nice job in the game not doing that.
"I think the turnovers and the giveaways, whether it be a fumble or an interception, are huge. That's something you're going to notice with Nick. Nick is OK throwing the ball away. Under duress, he's going to throw it out of bounds or skip it somewhere, and live to play another down. 
"That's kind of built into him. He does a nice job that way."
Despite a four-interception game at Lambeau against the Packers and a three-INT game against the Bengals in Cincinnati while he was with the Rams in 2015, Foles goes into Monday night having thrown one interception every 50 attempts in his career -- 27 INTs in 1,337 attempts.
Only eight quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown interceptions more infrequently than Foles — including former teammate Sam Bradford and current teammate Wentz.
Foles has a lower interception percentage than every quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He opened the 2013 season with 201 consecutive passes without an interception, extending his streak to 238 consecutive passes overall without an INT — the eighth-longest streak in NFL history.
But Foles doesn't just avoid interceptions. He's aggressive and throws a lot of touchdown passes as well.
In 19 games in an Eagles uniform since 2013, Foles has thrown 44 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
He's one of only six quarterbacks in NFL history to average both 4½ touchdowns and 2.0 or fewer interceptions for every 100 pass attempts.
The others are Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr — who faces the Eagles on Sunday for the Raiders — and Wentz.
The nature of the Eagles' offense means you have an aggressive mentality but still want to protect the football.
And it's not easy to do both.
"it's hard, especially for our guys, who like their head coach and like their offensive staff, we preach touchdown (and then) check-down mentality," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. 
"We want to push the ball down the field, we want to get chunk plays. When we get in the red zone we want to throw the ball into the [end] zone, but that's not an excuse to be careless. We still have to maintain discipline.
"How do you be aggressive and disciplined at the same time? That's just a lot of preparation, a lot of practice, a lot of mental drilling. Having that unique 'it' factor to be able to do it. That's why some guys make it and some guys don't. They can't figure out how to be aggressive and be disciplined at the same time. Obviously, Nick has proven he knows how to do that."
Not trying to jinx anybody here, but Foles' last interception came on Dec. 6, 2015, when Rashad Johnson of the Cards picked him off at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis in his final game for the Rams.
His last INT in an Eagles uniform came on Nov. 2, 2014, when the Texans picked him off three times at NRG Stadium in Houston — A.J. Bouye had a pick-six against Foles and Jumal Rolle picked him off twice, two of his three career interceptions.
But for the most part, Foles has been in an interception-free zone.
He's thrown 10 or more passes 28 times for the Eagles. He's had two INTs four times, one nine times and none 15 times.
“When you’re in a rhythm, it’s easier to do," Foles said. "It’s when you’re pressing, you’re trying to make things happen, you tend to force things, and that’s speaking from my experience. 
"If you prepare well and you play smart, there’s times you’ll dirt the ball or throw it away if you feel it’s not there, but there’s other times when you have to be aggressive and let your guys make plays. 
"You never worry about that when you play the game. You go out there and you sling it and you trust your guys to make plays."

NFL players, including Malcolm Jenkins, respond to Trump’s request

USA Today Images

NFL players, including Malcolm Jenkins, respond to Trump’s request

You might remember earlier this month, when President Donald Trump acknowledged one of the reasons some NFL players have been demonstrating during the national anthem and asked for suggestions for names of people to pardon (see story).

As a reminder, this is what Trump said back on June 8: 

“I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me — because that’s what they’re protesting — people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system,” Trump said. “And I understand that. And I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated — friends of theirs or people that they know about — and I’m going to take a look at those applications. And if I find, and my committee finds that they are unfairly treated, then we will pardon them or at least let them out (of prison).”

Players — at least the Players Coalition, including Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins — responded to that request from the president today in an op-ed in the New York Times

The main idea of the op-ed was that the President’s power to pardon people can certainly help, but it doesn’t change the criminal justice system or help combat systemic racism. 

Here’s part of the op-ed, penned by Jenkins, Doug Baldwin, Anquan Boldin and Benjamin Watson, four members of the Players Coalition made up of NFL players: 

President Trump recently made an offer to National Football League players like us who are committed to protesting injustice. Instead of protesting, he suggested, we should give him names of people we believe were ‘unfairly treated by the justice system.’ If he agrees they were treated unfairly, he said, he will pardon them.

To be sure, the president’s clemency power can be a valuable tool for redressing injustice. Just look at Alice Johnson, age 63, who was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug conviction until her sentence was commuted by President Trump. He should be commended for using his clemency power in that case.

But a handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that N.F.L. players have been protesting. These are problems that our government has created, many of which occur at the local level. If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn’t been listening to us.

That’s just a very small part of the full op-ed. To read the whole thing, click here

The rest of the piece gets into more specific instances where the players think the criminal justice system should be overhauled and ask the president to use his power to help change it. 

An interesting note toward the bottom of the piece tells Trump, “Our being professional athletes has nothing to do with our commitment to fighting injustice. We are citizens who embrace the values of empathy, integrity and justice, and we will fight for what we believe is right.”

While that might be true, these players have a platform because of their ability on the football field. One they’re using to try to make positive changes in the country. 

Several players, including Eagles defensive end Chris Long and former Eagles receiver Torrey Smith, along with Jenkins, also posted video responses to Trump’s request: 

More on the Eagles

Nick Foles is a legend, but Eagles still need Carson Wentz

Nick Foles is a legend, but Eagles still need Carson Wentz

I’ve heard this a lot over the last few months: The Eagles won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles. 

It’s a very true statement, but still has flaws. 

And before we get too far into this, I want to offer a disclaimer. What Foles did in last year’s playoffs was incredible. He’ll go down as an all-time great Eagle and deserves all the credit in the world for getting it done and becoming the Super Bowl MVP. 

But the problem with “The Eagles won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles” is two-fold. 

First, it neglects the incredible contributions Carson Wentz made to winning that Super Bowl by playing at an MVP level before going down in December. 

Second, it makes it seem like it's a real possibility the Eagles could repeat with Foles, even if Wentz doesn’t return to form. 

This is going to seem obvious, but apparently, it’s not: the Eagles need Wentz. 

Let’s start with the first of those two points. Because of how amazing Foles was in the playoffs, it’s easy to forget just how good Wentz was in 13 starts. He wasn’t just good, he was MVP-of-the-league good. A little while back, Reuben Frank dove back into some incredible Wentz stats (see story).

Now, we’ll never know if Wentz would have been able to pull off the kind of magic Foles did in the playoffs the same way we’ll never know if Foles would have been able to lead the Eagles to an 11-2 record through 13 games. But, at least for me, I have an easier time believing that Wentz could have lived up to Foles’ level of play than Foles’ playing at an MVP level through most of the regular season. 

Sure, Foles dunked in the playoffs, but Wentz provided the alley-oop. Wentz was the biggest part of the reason the Eagles won the NFC East. He was the reason they were able to overcome so many injuries to not only get a first-round bye, but to also earn homefield advantage in the playoffs. Imagine what happens if the Eagles have to play a wildcard game or have to travel to Atlanta or Minnesota. If the Eagles don’t have that bye week, can Brandon Graham heal in time for that wild-card game? Maybe not. 

So maybe they still make it through the playoffs, but Wentz definitely made the road much easier. 

The second part of this might be hard to swallow after Foles has been called the greatest insurance policy in the NFL for months. That’s pretty true as well. As far as backup quarterbacks go, having a Super Bowl MVP is pretty good. 

But there’s a reason the Eagles view Wentz, not Foles, as their future. There’s a reason that before the Super Bowl, when the team took a team photo, Wentz was the only player not in position by jersey number. He instead was in the direct center, as the face of the franchise. He’s special. 

Last week, I was on Philly Sports Talk and guest co-host Danny Pommells suggested that Foles start the opener because of the fear of rushing Wentz back too soon. I understood the point, but disagreed. In this league, there aren’t any easy games; there’s no time to wait for a healthy player to get healthy. Because if Wentz gets cleared by doctors, there’s no decision to make. He’s still the starter because he’s the better player. 

And that isn’t a shot on Foles, saying that one of the best quarterbacks in the league — a guy who could go down as an all-time great — is better than him. It’s just the truth. Although, it seems recently we’ve been blinded by the bling of 219 diamonds in a Super Bowl ring.