Monday, August 20, 2012

Is it the Nick Foles era yet?

As promised, we'll follow last week's quick-hit analysis of the Eagles first preseason game with another breakdown of Monday's match-up against the Patriots.

Rather than stay with last week's up/down drill, I want to do a couple of bullet point observations and then get into something that is, right now, going to seem over-reactive. It's also something that, by the end of the season, I guarantee will gain a lot of traction among this fan base:

The new most important thing we will learn about the Eagles this season is whether Nick Foles is the quarterback of the future. Mike Vick's near-guaranteed injury will almost certainly give Foles a chance to showcase his stuff during a couple of regular season games, and if he shows the Eagles anything, the front office should use it as an opportunity to unload Vick for what would surely be a nice haul of draft picks next offseason.

I'm not kidding, and I'm not overreaching. But we'll get there. First, the bullets.

  • Holy crap, Mychal Kendricks. Was he the defensive MVP tonight? Probably. He only had three tackles, and he did get beat (just barely) on the Pats' only touchdown. But this kid is an absolute playmaker. His speed and acceleration consistently give him an opportunity to be ahead of the play, and when he diagnoses the offense correctly, as he did when he stuffed Shane Vereen for a five-yard loss in the first quarter, he is an extremely disruptive force. He has the look of a long-term solution for this team at outside linebacker, where they haven't had a long-term solution at any point in Andy Reid's tenure.
  • What do we make of Philip Hunt? Another game, another sack, another forced fumble. He plays with intensity and has a nonstop motor. Though Houston isn't exactly a college football powerhouse, Hunt was the C-USA defensive player of the year during one of his seasons there. Though he's 26, Eagles fans need look no farther than Jason Babin for proof that some defensive ends bloom late. Hunt has obviously earned a spot on the team, but it's going to be tough to earn playing time behind Babin and Trent Cole, with Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham also in line for snaps. Either way, this team is absolutely loaded with talent along the defensive line. Jim Washburn must be licking his chops.
  • Speaking of the defensive line, I was really taken aback to see Andy Reid and Cullen Jenkins in a shouting match on the sideline. Of all the coaches in the NFL to engage in an in-game shouting match, the even-keeled-to-a-fault Reid has got to be pretty low on the list. It could (and probably does) mean absolutely nothing. Or it could mean that Reid knows this is a make-or-break year for him as Eagles coach, or at least it should be. Or, it could be that Reid built his best teams primarily from within, and strong locker room presences like Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter made sure that the team came before any individual player. That lack of leadership and me-first attitude was clearly an issue last year. Maybe it's not as cleared up as we think.
  • I was a big Clay Harbor fan last year, as anyone who watched a couple of games with me will tell you. Supposedly he hasn't dropped a single pass in the last several weeks of practice. I really like his ability to find the open space underneath zone coverage, and he showed off his strong hands and body control on his tiptoe touchdown catch against New England. Brent Celek remains firmly entrenched at the top of the depth chart, but Harbor's continued development is good news for the Eagles and LeSean McCoy in particular: a big majority of McCoy's rushing yards last year came out of a two-tight end set.
  • You know why you don't waste draft picks on punters? Because Mat McBriar. Four kicks with a 49.8 yard average? Are you kidding me? Chas Henry couldn't touch that number last year. In fairness to Henry, his low net average tonight came in part because he placed both of his two punts successfully inside the 20. Nonetheless, McBriar seems like the favorite to win a roster spot at this point.
  • Jaiquawn Jarrett sucked less this week, but still didn't manage any tackles. Then again, he set a pretty low bar last week. Strong safety is going to be a thorn in the Eagles' side for the duration of the season.
  • Should Bryce Brown be McCoy's primary backup? He runs with speed and power, and his talent has never been a question mark at any level. I know blitz pickup is a big part of what the Eagles look for in their running backs, so if he struggles with that aspect of his game it could hold him back, but based on offensive ability alone, Brown has shown a lot more explosiveness than Dion Lewis.
All right, that's enough with the bullets. Let's start talking about the two guys that are foremost in every Eagles fan's mind following the first two preseason games: Mike Vick and Nick Foles.

Say this about Vick: he's consistent. It took him six plays to get injured against the Steelers, and just fewer than that to get injured against the Patriots. He managed to survive a head-first slide, despite getting up gingerly, only to succumb to a vicious rib shot minutes later.

The injury against Pittsburgh was a fluke. This one wasn't. Vick, typically, showed no pocket awareness against the rush and a complete inability to make the right decision, which in this case would have been to throw the ball away and avoid getting hit.

I've argued countless times, in this forum and others, against Vick as the Eagles starting quarterback. His decision-making is, and always has been, incredibly suspect. He's 32 years old. Isn't it a little late for us to be waiting for the light to go off?

Vick would be at his best in a shotgun offense that stretches the field, limits his number of reads on any given play, and opens up plenty of room for him to take off if necessary. So basically, a college offense. The West Coast offense is essentially the EXACT OPPOSITE of that. Game after game, Vick is forced into a series of drop-backs and complicated progressions that don't play to his natural abilities.

And why? Because he's explosive? News flash: the most explosive quarterbacks are the ones who, you know, can pass the ball effectively. With McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Celek on offense, the Eagles don't lack talent and explosiveness. They don't need their quarterback creating plays out of thin air, the way Donovan McNabb so successfully did when he was throwing to the holy triumvirate of Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, and Chad Lewis. What they need is a quarterback who, when the other extremely talented offensive players put themselves in a position to break a big gain, is guaranteed to put the ball where it needs to be, when it needs to be there.

That's not Vick. Never has been, never will be. It's time to call a spade a spade and stop pretending that, if Andy Reid or Marty Mornhinweg can just get a couple more full practices with Vick, he'll all of a sudden morph into Steve Young.

On the (kind of) bright side, since Vick's incredibly propensity for injury will probably not become any less of a problem as he marches toward his mid-30s, he's almost guaranteed to miss a couple of games this season.

Enter Nick Foles.

I said last week that I hated the Foles pick when the Eagles made it. They had already made their bed with Vick--why bother with a developmental project who apparently didn't have to run through many progressions at Arizona and for whom mobility was an issue?

Foles has shut me up decisively. Yes, it's the preseason. Yes, he's been playing against a lot of second-stringers, and a lot of vanilla coverage schemes. But he's shown accuracy, arm strength, pocket awareness, and poise. It says a lot that he was able to step in early tonight, mostly against New England's defensive starters, and not only manage the game but put together extended drives that ended in points. The first touchdown pass to Harbor was an absolute strike, perfectly placed, that came after he scrambled away from pressure to buy time. His lone interception came with seconds left at the end of the first half, when he tried to force an admittedly under-thrown ball into the end zone.

I said that the Eagles need a quarterback who can be an outstanding pocket passer. We know Vick isn't and never will be that guy. What if Foles can? What if, during Vick's time on the sidelines this year, Foles shows us some unexpected moxie and talent?

If that happens, the Eagles would be nuts not to try to nurture that. Nearly every major piece on offense and defense is locked up under contract for the next several years, so a young quarterback would have a chance to grow with the same players around him. Though he would be 33 at the beginning of the 2013 season, Vick would still undoubtedly represent an upgrade over some of the sorry souls teams like the Seahawks, Cardinals, Jets, or Dolphins are starting this season.

If McNabb was worth a second-rounder, Vick would surely be worth at least that. And though Vick's cap number is high, nearly all of the money on his contract will have been paid off by the end of this season, meaning any team that traded for Vick could cut him later on with a negligible cap penalty.

Maybe I'm making too much of Nick Foles. But I know for sure that I'm not making too little of Vick, and if Foles demonstrates that he could be a serious, starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL, then he needs to be given the opportunity to develop.

At this rate, that opportunity should come when Vick gets hurt, what, six or seven plays into the season opener against Cleveland?

Bring it on. The Nick Foles era is nigh.


  1. I haven't watched either pre-season game so I can't comment on Foles specifically, but I can't see the Eagles being successful if Foles is playing at QB this year (and probably not next year either). The Eagles are a deep, talented team built to win right now. Foles was taken in the 3rd rd. (as opposed to the first or second) for a reason. Of course he could end up being a star player down the road, but to hand him the keys to the offense now? That would be both incredibly unlike Andy and an incredibly risky move - especially with Andy looking for a contract extension. As frustrating as Vick is, he has shown that when healthy, he is an incredibly gifted QB. Of course I would rather have another QB than Vick and highly doubt he will manage to play a full season, but I don't want our championship hopes on the back of Foles. Vince Young turned out to be a bust, but the Eagles had the right idea bringing him in. I wish they would have brought in a Jason Campbell, or a Kyle Orton, or a Chad Henne. Someone with some NFL success and experience who isn't washed up and could keep the team afloat when Vick gets hurt. I fear that if Vick goes down for more than a few games, we will be looking at another lost season.

  2. You're right, the Eagles would not win a Super Bowl with Nick Foles this year, and probably not next year either (though Monday's opponent's quarterback proves that it's not a hard and fast rule).

    But if history has taught us anything, it's that a quarterback needs to be able to perform at a certain level in the pocket (that's key) order for his team to win a Super Bowl. The lone exceptions (Trent Dilfer, for example) tend to happen when a team has an absolutely transcendent defense, and I don't think anyone expects the Eagles defense to magically morph into the '85 Bears out there.

    I am absolutely, 100% positive that Mike Vick does not have that level of performance in him, not that we can count on for four weeks of playoff games against quality opponents with quality coaches. And that means that I don't think the Eagles are any more likely to win the Super Bowl with Vick this year than they would be with Foles. I put the chance for either at 0%.

    That is NOT to say that I think Foles is Vick's equal as a quarterback right now; that's obviously foolish. But I know what Vick's ceiling is, and I know it's not high enough. I don't know what Foles' ceiling is, but I've been very impressed by him thus far, and I want to see how he does. I know that football sense and football economics dictates that Foles would never start over a healthy Vick this season, but it frustrates me to no end to watch the Eagles toss away another season on a not-good-enough quarterback.