Three conclusions upon watching the miraculous emergence of quarterback Nick Foles with the Philadelphia Eagles.
• Eagles coach Chip Kelly has done a great job playing to Foles’ strengths.
• Foles is lucky he landed with a team that is perfectly suited to compensating for his biggest weakness.
• The good fortune notwithstanding, Foles is the real deal. He has what it takes to become as good a winning quarterback as Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, which is to say a top-12 passer in the NFL.
Foles, the second-year, former third-round draft pick, is one of the stories of the year in the NFL. He’s 6-1 since taking over for Michael Vick. He ranks No. 1 in the league in both passer rating (120.0) and yards per attempt (an amazing 9.04). He has 20 touchdown passes and just one interception.
The Eagles can thank former coach Andy Reid, with help from their scouts, for taking Foles 88th overall last year. Foles, 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds, was viewed as a potential first-round prospect entering his senior season at Arizona, but the Wildcats had sub-par talent around him in 2011. They went 4-8.
The knock on Foles entering last year’s draft was he was immobile. His 40-time at the scouting combine (5.14 seconds) was the slowest of any quarterback in the previous four years. How slow? Cordy Glenn, Buffalo’s 345-pound tackle, ran 5.15. Foles didn’t look great at the Senior Bowl. He went 15-18 for Arizona. The upside was he had classic size, a good arm and good accuracy. His pocket presence was questioned, although Arizona’s offensive line was poor.
Foles had a very typical rookie showing. He went 1-5 with six TDs and five INTs. His yards-per-attempt was only 6.4. He took 20 sacks. He was a little too quick with his feet in the pocket and locked onto his first read too much.
One has to conclude that upon arriving in Philly in January, Kelly didn’t have huge expectations for Foles, even though Foles shredded Kelly’s Oregon teams. In three starts vs. Oregon, Foles had 10 TDs and three INTs and averaged 387 yards passing a game. Nevertheless, Kelly really liked Southern Cal QB Matt Barkley and moved up in April’s draft to take Barkley in the fourth round. Let’s give Kelly the benefit of the doubt for suspecting Vick wasn’t accurate enough and was getting old. Kelly needed young arms.
Foles has two other traits that have benefitted him this year. He’s really smart, and he works hard. He has been able to handle the demands of running Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense.
“Real smart, intelligent quarterback,” Kelly said on a recent conference call with reporters. “Very, very good understanding of our offense and what we’re trying to get accomplished on each individual play. Works really hard at it off the field. Is an accurate passer, so knows when he does pull the trigger it’s usually in the right spot.”
Here’s where he’s lucky: The Eagles have one of the top three offensive lines in the league. Nobody is better on the blind side, where the Eagles have Jason Peters at tackle and Evan Mathis at guard.
Foles has seen a lot of clean pockets and had time to wait for downfield routes to develop. But he has waited. His patience and pocket awareness are a lot better this year. Even though Foles is slow, he’s a good athlete. He had basketball offers out of high school from Baylor, Georgetown and Gonzaga.
The Eagles’ offense is loaded, too. Besides the O-line, the Eagles have one of the top three backs in the league in LeSean McCoy, an elite deep threat in DeSean Jackson and a tight end in Zach Ertz who’s a matchup nightmare. Riley Cooper has developed into a run-after-catch weapon.
Foles has faced mostly bad defenses during his hot streak, with the exception of Arizona, a top-10 defense he shredded two weeks ago. Foles seven-TD day at Oakland was an aberration. The Raiders’ defense was pathetic. But Foles showed he has plenty of arm. He had a 61-yard throw in the air to Jackson in that game.
“There were long handoffs 40 yards down the field,” marveled ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski. “He has pinpoint accuracy. He’s sharp.”
If Foles was behind a bad O-line, the league might never see his talents. With the Eagles’ arsenal at his disposal, don’t expect him to turn into a pumpkin.
Expect a crowd of about 50,000 fans in the stands today for the Bills-Jaguars game. Nevertheless, the game will be shown on local television. The Jaguars no longer make any announcement about ticket sales during the week because they declared at the start of the season they will have no blackouts. The Jags write the league a check for 34 percent of the value of all the unsold tickets for home games, which covers their financial commitment to the visiting-team revenue pool.
The Jags announce about 59,000 tickets distributed for each game. So it’s estimated there are about 7,000 unsold tickets and roughly 10,000 no-shows for every game. The stadium seats a little more than 67,000. The team even has something called “coin-toss tickets.” They cost a mere $20 and you don’t know the location when you buy them. Some are singles, so if you buy two you could wind up with separate seats. Still, $20 for an NFL ticket is amazing.
Jacksonville is a beach town where college football still rules. The team is forced to discount a ton of tickets. The one good thing the club has going for it — from a revenue standpoint — is it’s annual home game played in London. The team is believed to make at least twice in London what it makes for a game in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars are putting $63 million in upgrades into the stadium, and $43 million is from the taxpayers. The “world’s largest scoreboard” is part of the project.
Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley is a proud alumnus of North Dakota State, where he played with Bills great Phil Hansen. They improved to 13-0 Saturday by advancing to the Football Championship Series semifinals. The Bison are bidding to win a third straight national title. What is the secret at the Fargo, N.D., school?
“Well, there’s no other thing going on in the state of North Dakota, as far as there’s no NBA team, no NFL team, no major league baseball,” Bradley said. “There is the University of North Dakota. But the people really pour their heart and soul into the university and have made strong commitments fan-wise and also financially. I think because of that, they’ve got a little bit of an edge as far as with recruiting and facilities.”
Chicago has done a good job getting to 7-5 considering its 32nd-ranked run defense. On first and 10, Chicago’s defense has given up 1,126 rushing yards on 202 carries, a 5.57-yard average. The next most yards allowed on first and 10 is 960 (and 4.85 a carry) by New England. No other team has allowed more than 900 yards.
The Marv Top 11
Several weeks ago in this space, we offered our top 12 college football fight songs. Bills Hall-of-Famer Marv Levy is a big fan of fight songs. He offered his top 11:
1. “Notre Dame Victory March.” 2. “Brave Old Army Team.” 3. California’s “The Sturdy Golden Bear” (which UCLA copied). 4. “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard.” 5. Michigan’s “The Victors.” 6. Yale’s “Boola, Boola” (which Oklahoma copied for its “Boomer Sooner.”) 7. “Go You Northwestern.” 8. Southern California’s “Fight On.” 9. “The Washington & Lee Swing” (which is the same music as “When Those Tulane Greenbacks Hit That Line.”) 10. “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech.” 11. Coe College’s “Fight On, You Kohawks.”