I am here to state unequivocally that Nick Foles' rookie performance so far is nothing like those of Bobby Hoying, A.J. Feeley or Kevin Kolb.
That's not just because in their Eagles careers, neither Hoying, Feeley nor Kolb ever threw for 381 yards, two late-fourth-quarter touchdowns, and no interceptions, the way Foles did Sunday at Tampa. It's because not one of those three did much of anything as an Eagles rookie. That's a huge point that often gets overlooked in the rush to compare the third-round kid from Arizona to other young quarterbacks who have excited fans in brief interludes as the Birds' starter.
Hoying is probably the closest thing to Foles, whose rookie development is likely to undergo its harshest test Thursday night when the Eagles take on the Cincinnati Bengals at Lincoln Financial Field. Cincinnati leads the NFL with 42 sacks, and for the first time, Foles will start on a short week of preparation, the cheers from Sunday's stirring comeback still reverberating.
Hoying started the final six games (2-3-1) of the 1997 season, his second after being drafted in the third round from Ohio State in 1996. Hoying's best game was a victory over the Bengals, interestingly enough, a 44-42 shootout in which he threw for four touchdowns, amassed 313 yards, and was only intercepted once.
Feeley, often cited as a Reid-era cautionary tale, the thinking being that Reid can make a journeyman quarterback look like more than that, actually played pretty much like a journeyman quarterback during his five-game 2002 stretch as starter. Two things burnished the legend: the Eagles, who fielded the best defense of the Reid era that year, won four of the five games, and Feeley, a 2001 fifth-rounder from Oregon, was really the third-string QB, forced into action when both Donovan McNabb and Koy Detmer went down.
Feeley threw for more than 200 yards twice (220 on Dec. 15 against Washington, 253 the next week at Dallas). He avoided throwing an interception only in his first start, a 10-3 Eagles victory over the Rams in which corner Bobby Taylor scored the only touchdown on an interception return. Feeley's highest passer rating as the starter that year was 91.4; Foles has bettered that mark each of the last 2 weeks.
Kolb authored maybe four impressive efforts during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, most notably throwing for 391 yards in a 48-22 loss to the Saints in Week 2 of 2009 (with three interceptions) and compiling a glittering 133.6 passer rating in beating a really good Atlanta team, 31-17, on Oct. 17, 2010. That day, Kolb was 23-for-29 for 326 yards, three touchdowns and one pick.
But 2009 was Kolb's third season, 2010 his fourth. That's not just apples and oranges, compared to Foles' four-start rookie year, it's apples and watermelons.
I have no idea whether Foles will turn out to be a franchise quarterback or a tease. But I am pretty sure we haven't seen anything like his 4-week progression from an Eagles ROOKIE QB. Two interceptions, no touchdowns at Washington. Still no touchdowns, but no interceptions at least against Carolina. A touchdown, 251 passing yards, no interceptions at Dallas, the day the offense finally looked functional again. Then last Sunday, you know what happened. Foles' passer rating has gone up every week, from 40.5 to 89.2 to 96.6 to 98.6. And he has thrown no interceptions since Washington.
All of that progress could take a big detour against the Bengals. For the first time, Foles is working on a short week, a ridiculously short week, and he's still playing behind the offensive line that allowed six sacks Sunday against a lesser defense than it will be trying to block at the Linc. The Bengals, led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins, rank sixth overall, 10th against the pass and 11th against the run.
"I know [Foles] was here late last night going over stuff, and I'm sure it'll be the same tonight," Eagles coach Andy Reid said Tuesday. "It's one more step. Let's see how he does with it."
"I think the big thing is to study efficiently," Foles said. "Eventually, you've got to rest, too. Rest is really important, get the body ready and the mind ready for the game. A lot of studying."
Backup Trent Edwards said he told Foles not to overextend himself, trying to cram the preparation into a tight window.
"I think the most important part is physically, he's got to be ready to go," Edwards said. "He came in after the game Sunday, we came home, got a couple IVs, sat in the cold tub. I was on him about that, making sure physically he's ready to play another 60-minute football game Thursday night, 4 days after he got pounded Sunday in Tampa."
Edwards reiterated something Reid said about the preparation - the Eagles try to use as much as possible parts of the last game's game plan that went unused.
Edwards said the Bengals' defense is a little like the Redskins', which gave Foles and the offensive line a lot of trouble last month.
"They're going to bring their middle linebacker up into the 'A' gap over the center, that puts a lot of stress on your protections," he said. "You have to know where guys are going, where the center's blocking, where the line's blocking. Things happen so fast, they're not coming from depth; if they're blitzing and you're hot, you gotta make a decision really quick. And it's not a defense you face every week, too."
What a wonderful narrative it would be if Nick Foles were to build on Sunday's success and take another step forward, against a really good defense, in front of the home crowd. You'd see some No. 9 jerseys getting printed up in advance of Christmas, across the Delaware Valley.
But as the ever-wise Rich Hofmann noted recently, a young quarterback's progress is rarely linear. Much more predictably linear is the progress of a defensive line that leads the NFL in sacks, through an Eagles offensive line that, well, is fighting the good fight, with three key starters down.
Let's just hope big Nick makes it through this one in one piece, makes a few plays, doesn't look rattled.
Prediction: Bengals 26, Eagles 20