When Carson Wentz tore his ACL six weeks ago, we wrote about what the Eagles could and should do to help Nick Foles have success in his absence as the backup took charge of the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The blueprint the Minnesota Vikings laid out for Case Keenum — and the subsequent success they had this season – was outlined in that post as well, because nobody was talking about Keenum with an asterisks next to his name as a backup quarterback after he kept winning week after week.
Fast forward to now, and Foles has his team in the Super Bowl after thoroughly outplaying Keenum and the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. If you remember, Keenum took Foles’ starting job with the St. Louis Rams two seasons ago. It hasn’t been all good for Foles since replacing Wentz, though, as his regular-season numbers resembled what he put up during that dismal year with the Rams.
Before Foles plays in the biggest game of his life, let’s go back into the outline that was laid out within that article six weeks ago and see what has worked for Foles, what hasn’t worked, and what might work in the Super Bowl.
From the December 15 article:
What the Vikings have done well this season is allow Keenum to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers quickly and let them do the damage.
Foles and the Eagles didn’t do a great job of this during the last four weeks of the regular season. According to STATS X-Info data, about 65 percent of Foles’ throws were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage during that time, which is roughly five percentage points lower than Keenum during the regular season. On top of that, Foles only completed 65 percent of those throws, while Keenum completed 75 percent.
Widen the scope of Foles’ numbers during the regular season and it’s not any better. He only completed 48 percent of throws 11-20 yards down the field and didn’t complete a single pass of 21-plus yards.
However, during the postseason the Eagles have gotten the ball out of Foles’ hands earlier and in direct correlation with that, they have had a lot more success. Foles has joined Joe Montana as the only two quarterbacks in postseason history to complete 75 percent of their throws in consecutive games.
Foles’ release time was less than two seconds on 23 percent of his throws from Weeks 14-17. That number has spiked to 38 percent of his throws in two postseason games.
A lot of that has had to do with the abundance of screen passes he has thrown in the playoffs. In 97 regular season throws, eight came behind the line of scrimmage. In 63 playoff throws, 15 have been behind the line of scrimmage. Jay Ajayi has been a large beneficiary of that, hauling in six catches for 70 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Corey Clement has three catches for 19 yards, Zach Ertz has three for 17 yards, and Nelson Agholor has added two for 16.
Adam Thielen has emerged as one of the best receivers in the NFL in 2017…Foles didn’t have anybody like Thielen in St. Louis. He did in 2013 with Philadelphia when he was throwing the ball to LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson…and he will again now with Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz.
As much as Foles has relied on the screen game during the playoffs, Jeffery and Ertz have made a big impact downfield in the passing game (Minnesota fans can’t get the image of Jeffery waltzing wide open into the end zone out of their heads). Foles had a tough time pushing the ball downfield during the regular season partly because his work in the short game wasn’t exactly lethal. But with an uptick in production around the line of scrimmage during the playoffs, it’s opened up the deep portion of the field for Foles to take calculated shots. That has translated to four completions on nine attempts (he was 0 for 9 in the regular season) for 172 yards and two touchdowns on throws 21-plus yards downfield.
Jeffery and Ertz have also combined for 15 clutch receptions this postseason — a reception resulting in a first down or touchdown – with Torrey Smith adding six more, giving Foles a number of reliable targets at each level of the passing game.
When you add in the rushing attack from both teams…and defenses…both Foles and Keenum have a very similar — very strong — supporting cast around them.
Possibly Foles’ biggest key to his success is the ability to hand the ball off to guys like LeGarrette Blount and Ajayi. Blount is as dangerous as ever in the red zone, scoring twice this postseason, and Ajayi has gained 127 yards.
And the Philadelphia defense has been the best postseason unit, by far. Of the four conference championship teams, the Philadelphia defense led in rush yardage per game (78), pass yardage per game (240.5), total yardage per game (318.5), passing yards per attempt (5.7), and QB rating (73.6).
If (Foles) can get the ball out of his hands quickly…he can put up numbers similar to Keenum’s: 96.2 rating, 7.4 yards/attempt, 2.6 TD-INT ratio. If Foles does that, we could still see an Eagles-Vikings matchup in the NFC Championship game.
Well, we got that Eagles-Vikings matchup in the NFC Championship game. During the end of the regular season, the Eagles success was despite Foles, however. During the playoffs, though, and especially against the Vikings, it was because of him. How do Foles’ postseason numbers compare to those of Keenum’s listed above? He has a 122.1 rating, 9.49 yards/attempt, and has three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Don’t be too quick on the draw with those “Brady vs. the Backup” headlines. The Eagles are a complete team, and Foles is a big part of that.