Nick Foles is a changed man. The sixth-year veteran is older, wiser, more experienced; all attributes the Eagles stand to benefit from coming down the home stretch with their backup signal caller.
There's also something about Foles that might look different in his second stint with the Eagles. Don't be surprised if you see a more confident, poised quarterback in the pocket, too.
After all, the Eagles may actually be able to protect Foles this time around.
When last we saw Foles in an Eagles uniform in 2014, fans were not happy. One season after setting a since-broken NFL record with a 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he was leading the league in giveaways through nine weeks. Furthermore, Foles looked skittish, unwilling to step up in the pocket, and developing the terrible habit of throwing off his back foot.
Most observers placed the fault squarely on Foles, chalking it up to a former third-round draft pick's inevitable regression. However, extenuating circumstances were at least partially to blame.
The Eagles' offensive line was, in a word, a mess.
In 2013, when Foles was busy making history, all five starting offensive linemen played in all 16 games. The unit paved the way not only for a gunslinger in the passing attack, but a rushing championship for running back LeSean McCoy. It was the best line in the league, without a doubt.
Foles would not be so lucky the following year. Lane Johnson was suspended for the first four games, while his replacement at right tackle, Allen Barbre, suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1. Left guard Evan Mathis was also hurt in the opener, missing the next seven games, and Jason Kelce went down in Week 3, missing four. Four starting-caliber players, out.
If Foles wasn't feeling comfortable in the pocket, that might be because there often was none. The Eagles were relying on the likes of Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin, David Mold and Dennis Kelly for much of the season.
Lines don't get much more patchwork than that.
Foles wound up with a broken collarbone just as the O-line was beginning to get healthy. Before that, he was taking unnaturally deep dropbacks, throwing off his back foot and generally getting rid of the football as quickly as possible in the interest of self-preservation.
Not surprisingly, Foles' touchdown-to-interception ratio dipped dramatically to 13-10, along with three fumbles lost -- totaling 13 turnovers in eight games. Also no coincidence, his completion percentage dipped from 64.0 to 59.8, and his yards per attempt from 9.1 to 7.0.
When Foles was traded to the Rams the following offseason, he didn't fare any better. But while we weren't following his progress nearly as close, we know the Rams were in the midst of 10 straight losing seasons with offensive finishes no better than 21st. The franchise was a career killer. Look no further than Sam Bradford's improvement with the Eagles and Vikings for evidence.
Foles may not have been as good as the hype surrounding his magical 27-2 campaign. He also isn't as horrible as he looked with the Rams, and he probably isn't even as bad as his final season with the Eagles seemed at the time, either.
This is not to absolve Foles of his failures completely. Clearly, he is somebody whose success is dependent on the supporting cast around him to some extent. And by the end of that '14 season, he was most definitely feeling some false pressure and making unforced errors as a result.
That's not the type of performance the Eagles should expect now, not regularly at least, so long as the line holds up. Left tackle Jason Peters is missing from the lineup, but this unit is still far superior, provided there are no more major injuries -- perhaps even if there are.
Foles has plenty of weapons at his disposal in 2017, too. No McCoy in the backfield, but Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement is a quality stable of ball carriers, while receivers Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor are all capable of bailing out their quarterback in the passing game.
Yet, the biggest difference is up front. If Foles is protected, he's more than capable of dissecting opposing defenses. We've seen that firsthand.
Foles may not be a world beater or break a bunch more records. But as long as he's upright, the Eagles have a a shot -- and this time, they have a legitimate shot at keeping him on his feet.