So here we are at the bye, with the Eagles in first place and one big question on everyone’s mind: Is Nick Foles for real?
As I said before Sunday’s game against the Redskins, plenty of QBs have had good stretches of play and then done nothing. Maybe Foles is one of those players. But as I also said hours after the game, we have another game in the books to evaluate him. Against the Redskins he had his second worst game of the season… throwing for 298 yards, rushing for 47 more, completing 65% of his passes and not turning the ball over. Pitful.
Throwing out the one pass attempt while Mike Vick had to leave the game for a play per the rules and his four attempts in garbage time against the Broncos (which actually marginally lowers his numbers), Foles has the following stat line as a starter/entire half substitute: 100/157, 1505 yards, 15 TDs 0 INT. Absurd efficiency, as we know. Historically absurd, as Foles’ adjusted yards per attempt, passer rating and interception percentage would be records, and his touchdown percentage and yards per attempt would be top 10. Yes, he hasn’t thrown an interception yet, but Foles had a very good 1.9% interception percentage during last year’s chaos and his 2.4% in college was above average. Part of Foles’ lack of turnovers is Chip Kelly’s offense. Mike Vick was having the best INT% of his career since his 117 attempts his rookie year, and Kelly’s QBs at Oregon were consistently efficient at not turning the ball over:
The Eagles are no different, at 2.0%, and that’s with Matt Barkley’s contributions. Subtract Barkley and the Eagles lead the league at 1.0%, just ahead of the Chiefs at 1.1%. At some point it has to come back to Earth. Foles is going to throw an INT. But what about the rest? How does he stack up against some of his peers?
Using PFR’s game log passing targets breakdowns, Foles compares extremely favorably with them. I compared his to the four QBs that round out the top five in passer rating:* the great Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and a fellow second year player bombing the ball down the field, Russell Wilson. Because Foles has only 157 passing attempts as a starter plus the 2nd half of the Giants game, I looked at roughly the same amount of attempts by those QBs, four games for Manning (172 attempts), four for Wilson (146) and Brees (168) and five for Rodgers (165).
*Granted, passer rating is not a perfect stat by any means but this isn’t a highly scientific study either.
Nick Foles – 100/157, 1505 YDs 15 TD 0 INT 127.0 Passer Rating 9.6 Yards/Attempt
Peyton Manning – 110/172, 1459 YDs 12 TD 4 INT 104.3 Rating, 8.5 Y/A
Russell Wilson – 100/146, 1443 YDs 11 TD 3 INT 116.9 Rating, 9.9 Y/A
Aaron Rodgers – 112/165, 1378 YDs 9 TD 2 INT 106.6 Rating 8.4 Y/A
Drew Brees – 117/168, 1357 YDs 9 TD 3 INT 104.2 Rating, 8.1 Y/A
After seeing these, I’m feeling more confident about Foles. He has the lowest completion percentage of this group, but 63.7% is above average and being dragged down by his awful Cowboys game, he’s at 69.5 without it. His location distribution and efficiency are similar to Manning’s. Don’t think he will keep that up the rest of the season? Fair enough, but how exactly? Take away a section of the field with a top tier CB? Okay. Unlike Wilson, who’s big plays come almost exclusively from the left side of the field, Foles spreads the ball around to every location and does not rely on a particular side any more than the next guy. His most attempts are short right, but then so are Rodgers, Brees and Wilson’s (and many other QBs), and he is significantly more efficient than they are. He’s not remotely a Rick Mirer, unable to throw to one side of the field. 35% of his passes are to the left side, only Manning at 40% has more, Brees, Rodgers and Wilson are in the teens. Foles is flawless deep to the middle of the field, but he’s also thrown it there more than his peers, indicating he only takes the shot if it’s there. Maybe he can’t live off the deep ball? Then so can’t Wilson and Brees:
Foles has taken more shots downfield than anyone, but he isn’t completing them at an unsustainable rate or with unsustainable efficiency, which indicates it’s no fluke.
What’s keeping Foles ahead of the pack is consistent and efficient distribution of short passes to go with great deep passing. No one else in the top five of passer rating has both. Those with a strong deep game are not consistent short. Those consistent short don’t have the deep game Foles does. So opposing defenses are in a dilemma. If a defense takes away the deep ball, it does so at the expense of openings elsewhere, either against the Eagles tremendous run game or the short pass, which Foles is already completing with high efficiency. Tighten up against the short passes and he’ll keep dropping bombs and it’s game over. Oh and when Foles does run it, he is more efficiently than Wilson, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Terrelle Pryor and many others. Pick your poison. When the interceptions come, and they will, so long as they aren’t heavily to one section of the field, he’ll be fine. Look at the distribution of INTs among the other QBs: Brees is the only one with multiple INTs to one section, and it is the section with the most attempts.
Certainly part of Foles’ great year is Chip Kelly’s system, because nearly all of his rate stats are at a single season NFL record level. Certainly part of it is Foles as well, because Matt Barkley was dreadful and Mike Vick was good but not great, so it’s not a system that just anyone can come in and execute. And that’s exactly what you should expect. All successful teams are a blend of the coaches and the players. Think about all the great QBs throughout the years in the NFL, they were usually joined at the hip with a single coach. We might be watching the beginnings of the next great duo.