Despite success, let's not forget Foles is only a second-year player
Nick Foles is having a great season, but Eagles' success in the playoffs cannot solely rest with him.
AT ONE POINT Sunday night, during a third quarter in which the Eagles' offense could do next to nothing, a reporter covering the Cowboys tweeted that Nick Foles looked terrible.
It was the kind of exaggeration you see in the heat of a big game. After playing really well in the first half (155.5 passer rating), Foles spent the third quarter dropping back and being chased around the Jerrydome by ferocious Cowboys. The offensive line was getting manhandled, and so were the receivers. NBC's Cris Collinsworth kept faulting Foles for not being able to keep his eyes downfield while being pursued. Collinsworth didn't tell us exactly how many quarterbacks he has seen who can deliver the ball to, say, the fourth option, with Jason Hatcher hanging onto their legs and DeMarcus Ware closing in fast.
Fortunately for the Eagles, Chip Kelly remembered in the fourth quarter that he employed LeSean McCoy, who had won the NFL rushing title before the game even started. A steady diet of McCoy - seven carries in 10 plays before Bryce Brown took the ball in for a TD from the 6 - backed off the rush and gave Foles time to make a few crucial throws.
The question here is, how much is too much to expect from the second-year quarterback, heading into a playoff matchup with Drew Brees, with all of 16 career starts under his belt? Posed another way, how far is Nick Foles ready to take this team in 2013?
Nobody really expected to be here. Surely, nobody expects Foles to outduel Brees, who surpassed the 5,000-passing-yard mark this year for the fourth time. (No other QB has done it more than once.)
There were times Sunday night when maybe Foles needed to make a quicker decision to throw the ball away. Other than that, hard to fault him. Did you see a lot of open receivers he missed? See any really poorly thrown balls? I didn't. I know you didn't see any interceptions, which continues to be the thing Kelly stresses the most.
"I still have a lot of work to do. I still have a lot of flaws in my game," Foles said late Sunday night, standing on the podium in that black "2013 NFC East Champions" T-shirt. "I still have a lot of things to correct. But there's going to be something to work on as long as I play this game, and I enjoy working at it."
The fact that the Eagles are in the playoffs doesn't make Foles a 5-year veteran all of a sudden. If they Eagles are going to advance, it probably isn't realistic to expect him to put the team on his shoulders, however glittery his stats have been.
Developing story lines
* eSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson are the fifth duo in NFL history to gain 1,600 rushing yards and 1,300 receiving yards in the same season. The first in which both guys' names contained "Sean."
* The NFL might as well have not passed that rule about a runner lowering his head to strike a blow. Haven't seen it called all year, and you couldn't ask for much more of a textbook example than the head-butt DeMarco Murray laid on Damion Square Sunday night.
* Overlooked good plays in the Eagles' victory at Dallas included the 23-yard DeSean Jackson punt return that broke a long spell of bad field postion for the Birds, and Donnie Jones' 56-yard punt (with only a 7-yard return) just before Brandon Boykin's game-sealing interception. Jackson's return ignited what should have been a scoring drive, but Chip Kelly ran four plays from first-and-goal at the 6 that did not involve LeSean McCoy.
* Lots of Eagles fans were ticked about the way the game was officiated. It seemed to me that ref Gene Steratore's crew let a lot go, both ways, and this benefited the Cowboys, whose defense was bigger and more physical. The disparity seemed striking — six penalties called against the Eagles, for 50 yards, vs. one (erroneous) delay-of-game penalty against Dallas, for 5 yards — but three of the Birds' six penalties were guys jumping offside on Kyle Orton's hard count. Hard to blame the officials there. Bottom line, not much was a penalty Sunday night. It was more like the way the NFL game was played a decade or so ago, not at all what we're used to in 2013.
* Jason Witten was targeted 16 times Sunday night, caught a dozen passes for 135 yards. The guys who chased Witten around now get to encounter the freakish Jimmy Graham, a 6-7 former Miami basketball player who caught 86 passes this season, 16 of them for touchdowns. This might not be optimal.
That Chip Kelly, in a possible homage to Andy Reid, would find his very own Chad Hall, in Brad Smith?
At 160.4 rushing yards a game, the Eagles led the NFL this year by an impressive 16.2 ypg. Second-place Buffalo averaged 144.2.
Mike Quick, who did not see his Eagles' single-season receiving yardage record broken by DeSean Jackson Sunday night after all, was asked yesterday how he thought he would have fared in Chip Kelly's offense.
At first, Quick, 54, demurred. Pressed for an answer, he said: "I would have torn it up. I would have torn it up in this offense."
In his era, Quick, 6-2, 190, who caught 69 passes for a team-record 1,409 yards in 1983, was the weapon that the current Eagles don't have, that they missed against Dallas — the big receiver with strength and speed who can fight off press coverage, catch the ball in traffic, break a tackle. Yes, Riley Cooper has been able to do some of that, more than most of us would have ever dreamed from watching his previous three seasons, but he remains limited, a role player. Jackson, 5-10, 175, is a star (82 catches for 1,332 yards this season), but a star who can be shut down, as he was Sunday (three catches, 28 yards) because of his size.
I won't be surprised if the Eagles go that route in the draft or in free agency, even if they do bring back ACL victim and pending free agent Jeremy Maclin, a very good receiver who, at 6-foot, 198, isn't quite that ideal weapon, either.