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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.

Super Bowl champs showed up to ESPYS in style including a Philly Special homage

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AP Images

Super Bowl champs showed up to ESPYS in style including a Philly Special homage

The Super Bowl champs showed up to the ESPYS in style on Wednesday night out in Los Angeles.

Nick Foles may have taken home the hardware for best performance in a championship -- with a heck of a speech to boot -- but it was the Eagles secondary who won best dressed.

Or maybe just most outrageously baller. Tough to tell these days.

I mean, just look at what Rodney McLeod wore. Purple. No shirt.

The Green Goblin wasn't far behind. Personally, I liked Jalen Mills going with a vest that still showed off his tat.

And then there was Malcolm Jenkins adding a bit of class to the group.

But the sartorial flair that won the evening may have to go to former Eagle and current member of the Chicago Bears Trey Burton who kept the Philly Special close to his heart.

And shouts to Jake Elliott and his hat just because.

AP Images

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

The one area the Eagles made no major changes from last season is at quarterback. Carson Wentz returns from injury. Somewhat surprisingly, Nick Foles was retained and even signed a contract extension. Nate Sudfeld remains in the fold as well.

The cast may be the same, but with Foles returning to the bench as a Super Bowl MVP, will the Eagles be better or worse off in 2018?

Better

Depth

When Foles took the reins last December, he had barely played or practiced since 2015, his hellish season with the Rams – and, initially, it showed. But after what the 29-year-old signal caller accomplished in the playoffs, does anybody believe Foles is lacking for confidence now? Anybody still wonder whether he’s comfortable running the Eagles’ offense?

Foles is better prepared to take over for Wentz or start Week 1 than he was this time a year ago. So, too, is Sudfeld, who will benefit from his first camp with the team after signing last September, as well as his first NFL game experience in Week 17 against the Cowboys. QB2 and QB3 are both in a better place now, which is remarkable, but true.

Worse

Greater sense of uncertainty

Until the trade deadline comes and goes in October, there’s always the possibility Foles is traded this year. Obviously, there would be some drop-off between the Super Bowl MVP and Sudfeld, a third-year player who’s thrown 23 career passes, should that come to pass.

For now, that’s not the case, but is something to keep an eye for awhile yet.

The same

Nick Foles

Despite everything that’s happened – the winning, the newfound notoriety, going back to the bench, a so-called quarterback controversy, trade murmurs – the one thing you can count on is Foles’ demeanor. He may have questioned himself on the football field at one point in his career, but he’s in a place now where he knows what he’s capable of and his value to the Eagles.

Foles also hasn’t changed much as a player since his historic, breakout campaign in 2013. As long as the offensive line can keep him upright, and he has talented weapons to distribute the ball to, this is somebody that can win you a lot of games in the NFL. There’s no longer any disputing that.

The unknown

Carson Wentz’s knee

Wentz has looked so darn impressive in videos and on the practice field, it’s easy to fall into the trap that his surgically repaired knee is fine, everything is fine. Despite raising the question here, he’s probably better prepared to overcome a torn ACL than some past Eagles quarterbacks who struggled with the recovery in the past – namely Sam Bradford and Donovan McNabb.

Still, more passers than not have come back and looked less than 100 percent in their first season removed from the injury. And many of them had more time to recover than Wentz, who only went down in November.

We don’t even know for sure if Wentz will be cleared to play Week 1. It seems likely he will be, but it’s far from definite. Until he’s playing in actual NFL games, and back to looking like the 2017, MVP-caliber version of himself, all of these concerns give folks some pause before assuming the Eagles would immediately be better off with Wentz under center.

Better or worse?

Fortunately, the determination doesn’t rest solely on Wentz here. A comfortable and confident Foles and the developing Sudfeld should give the Eagles a marginal lift at quarterback. And even after sharing a pile of concerns about Wentz, eventually, possibly sometime in 2018, he will be fine, making Wentz-like escapes and ice-in-his-veins third-down conversions. In fact, if Wentz Is miraculously fine for Week 1, he should still be improving heading into his third season.

Now that’s something BETTER to look forward to.

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