Nate Sudfeld

Doug Pederson looks to past to help Nick Foles

Doug Pederson looks to past to help Nick Foles

Doug Pederson actually laughed at the question. Yes, Nick Foles is still his starting quarterback.

The fact that it was a legitimate question during the Eagles' bye week before the divisional round speaks to how poorly Foles has played in the last couple of games. It will be hard for the Eagles to win a Super Bowl if he doesn't play better.

Foles is the guy, so this week is about self-scouting and tailoring the offense to him. The Eagles have to give him the best possible chance to succeed.

Back in early December, when Carson Wentz tore his ACL, Pederson claimed the offense wouldn't need to change much with Foles (see story). But now, as the Eagles are preparing for their first playoff game in less than two weeks, the head coach is going back to see what has worked for Foles before.

"Just taking a look at what his strengths are," Pederson said. "Strengths and weaknesses and making sure we're ... everything at this time of year becomes magnified even more now that you're going into the postseason. We've got to make sure that we're doing our due diligence as a staff to put our guys in successful positions."

The Eagles will start their playoff run on Saturday, Jan. 13 at 4:35 p.m. against the Saints, Panthers or Falcons. They have until then to figure out their offense with Foles at the helm.

During that magical 2013 season, Foles thrived in Chip Kelly's offense, which included a lot of one-read and quick throws. It also included an uptempo pace, which has seemingly given him a kickstart in Pederson's offense this year. Pederson made sure to note that the Eagles used it with Wentz at times this season too.

Pederson has gone back to watch tape of Foles from that wild 2013 season, including the 26-24 playoff loss to New Orleans. He actually watched that game on Tuesday morning before his press conference.

"I saw a guy that stood in there, took some shots in that game, delivered some great throws in that game and led the team back to the go-ahead touchdown late in the game," Pederson said. "That's the type of quarterback that we have."

He also went back and watched Foles from 2012 when Andy Reid was still coach. He even watched tape from when Foles was in St. Louis in 2015.

Pederson watched everything he could of Foles because that's his quarterback for the rest of this playoff run. He wants to make him as comfortable as possible.

"The little play-action pass, the shotgun stuff, those are all things that are in our system and we might just have to dust a few more off and get that ready to go," Pederson said. "That's kind of what this week is for, to get some of those ideas and thoughts down on paper and execute them this week at practice."

Nate Sudfeld over Nick Foles? Let's settle down

Nate Sudfeld over Nick Foles? Let's settle down

Nick Foles has looked awful the last two games he’s played. 

Let me rephrase that, Nick Foles has looked avert-your-eyes, cover-your-ears, and crawl-up-into-the-fetal-position bad, these last two games. If his play on Jan. 13, 2018 at 4:35 p.m. in any way resembles what we saw vs. the Raiders and Cowboys, despite what the Birds' defense may do, the Eagles will be one and done in the postseason.

All that said, there is no way, barring an injury to Foles, that Nate Sudfeld should see the field, let alone start. Sudfeld has 23 career passing attempts. They came in a meaningless game. He may some day blossom into a starting NFL quarterback or a competent back-up. But that is the future, not the here and now as the Eagles prepare for either the Saints, Panthers or Falcons. Foles gives the Eagles the best chance to win a week from Saturday. In addition to his 39 career starts and 49 games played over a six-year career, he also has started a playoff game. And in that playoff game, he completed 23 of 33 passes for 195 yards, with two touchdowns and zero interceptions, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, with a 105.0 passer rating. In said 2013 Wild-Card game vs. the Saints, he led the Eagles to a late touchdown and gave them a 24-23 lead with 4:54 left in regulation. But that was only to see New Orleans get a big kick return from Darren Sproles that led to a game-winning field goal. Yes, that’s ancient history at this point, but at least there is precedent.
  
Sudfeld has never started a regular-season NFL game. To start him or throw him into a playoff game would be a panicky, desperation move that would be unfair to him and the team. That’s not who the Eagles have been all season. Doug Pederson’s club has shown remarkable poise in the face of major injuries and adversity. Now, especially, is not the time to change form.

Fans have every right for concern. The 27-and-2 Nick Foles of Chip Kelly’s 2013 team seems more like an anomaly and, despite having a winning record before breaking his collarbone the next year, his play had begun to trend downward. Then it was off to St.Louis, where, as a starter, he played poorly, and then it was a year as a back-up in Kansas City. Foles returned here to be a back-up. And that’s exactly what he is. Anyone with sight knows Foles is nowhere near Carson Wentz. And he doesn’t have to be. But he has to be a helluva lot better than he has in his last two outings. The good news is the Birds' defense rebounded from the Giants debacle. Foles needs to follow suit.

But turning to a guy who spent the first month of the season on the Eagles' practice squad after he was poached off the Redskins' practice squad is not the answer. Foles' experience and Sudfeld’s lack thereof cannot be overstated. This is not a Cowboys team playing out the string in a meaningless regular-season game. The Saints, Panthers and defending NFC champ Falcons all have star QBs and legit résumés. 

Like it or not, Foles is the guy.

Sudfeld proves ready if Eagles need him

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USA Today Images

Sudfeld proves ready if Eagles need him

The Eagles won't have a quarterback controversy on their hands, but Nate Sudfeld is ready if called upon.

Sudfeld, making his NFL regular-season debut Sunday, saw the bulk of the action under center in the Eagles' 6-0 Week 17 loss to the Cowboys (see breakdown). The second-year passer came on in relief of Nick Foles in the second quarter, completing 19 of 23 attempts for 134 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was also sacked three times.

Playing with his fellow backups for all but the first series, Sudfeld held his own and avoided turnovers. He showed adequate arm strength, good pocket awareness and mobility, accounting for the Eagles' longest gain of the day with a 22-yard run.

It was a performance Sudfeld can build on. Yet afterward, the 24-year-old was far from satisfied.

"Pretty solid for the most part in terms of efficiency and everything, but I felt like there were some plays that we weren't able to finish," Sudfeld said. "I took two sacks that I shouldn't have. And overall, you want to actually get points and finish drives, but we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit.

“I still feel like it was all there, we just didn't play to our best.”

A sixth-round draft pick by the Redskins in 2016, Sudfeld was signed to the Eagles' practice squad in September, then added to the 53-man roster in November. He became the backup to Foles after the season-ending injury to Carson Wentz, amid calls for the team to sign an experienced signal caller.

Despite his rapid ascension up the depth chart, nobody had any idea what a Sudfeld-led offense might look like until Sunday.

"Reps always help," Sudfeld said. "I felt confident before today that I could go in and do my part and help this team win, but stacking some reps together is awesome.

“I'm more confident than ever in my ability, and I know that I could help this team out if they need me.”

Sudfeld completed 82.6 percent of his passes, though he stuck with short-to-intermediate routes, finishing with a modest 5.8 yards per attempt. The thought process of the approach was part making smart decisions, and part taking what the defense would give him.

"That's a little bit of how Dallas is," Sudfeld said. "They're a bend-but-don't-break defense. They're going to try to force you to just check it down all game, and they stayed true to that. There were a few times I'm sure I could've maybe given it a shot downfield, but I was just trying to play efficient today.

“You always wish there could be more, but I feel like one more drive, and those shots were coming.”

Though much was made about this being Sudfeld's first regular-season action, the Indiana product claimed it wasn't vastly different from his six preseason contests with the Redskins.

"Everybody makes such a huge deal out of regular season, and guys are so much better, and they are," Sudfeld said. "Everybody is.

“But playing preseason is really fast paced also, and I've said it before, that's guys fighting for their livelihood. They're trying to be a football player for their life, for their career, so I think there are a lot of similarities. It's more similar than it is different.”

Of course, the pace may have felt similar to an exhibition game because it was that in many respects. The Eagles had already clinched the top playoff seed in the NFC, and by halftime, they were resting as many starters as possible. And while the Cowboys played many of their starters until the end, they were eliminated from postseason contention last week, lacking urgency.

Still, the opportunity to go against a defense made of actual NFL players rather than the back end of a 90-man roster was an invaluable experience for Sudfeld.

"Before this game, I felt if the team ever required me to play and help this team," Sudfeld said, "I felt I was able to do it, but it's always good to get reps and do it in live action."

In many respects, Sudfeld outplayed Foles on Sunday. Sudfeld was far more accurate and showed an ability to make plays with his feet that Foles doesn't have, no doubt prompting some observers to believe the backup will be a better option when the playoffs get underway in January.

That's probably a touch unfair, but all of a sudden, the Eagles don't look so crazy for stashing Sudfeld all season and opting to keep him as the backup instead of signing a free agent off the street. He looked like a legitimate prospect, perhaps even somebody with a future in the league.

"For the most part, the whole game I felt in pretty good rhythm," Sudfeld said. "Obviously, you want to put points on the board and stuff, but I never really felt out of rhythm by any means.