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Foles working to get quicker on the draw

No team in the NFL threw the deep ball as often as the Eagles last season, and no team was as efficient passing farther than 20 yards downfield.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)Read more

No team in the NFL threw the deep ball as often as the Eagles last season, and no team was as efficient passing farther than 20 yards downfield.

Nick Foles was the most proficient of the Eagles' three quarterbacks - and all of the league's quarterbacks, for that matter - completing 25 of 55 deep passes for 803 yards and 14 touchdowns. He threw only one interception on a deep ball.

As impressive as Foles' season was across the board, his deep passing may have been what set him apart. And it has to be considered, along with other variables, when assessing whether he held onto the ball too long last season.

Statistically, he did. He averaged 3.11 seconds - second-longest among NFL starters - in the pocket before throwing, running, or getting sacked, according to Pro Football Focus.

Time in the pocket isn't necessarily a barometer for success: Super Bowl winner Russell Wilson held onto the ball the longest (3.18 seconds), and mediocre-at-best Chad Henne got rid of it the third fastest (2.44 seconds). But the quicker a quarterback unloads the ball, the better.

Foles spoke to reporters Wednesday for the first time since Eagles offseason workouts began last week. He agreed that getting rid of the ball faster was something he needed to improve. The sack he took in the playoff loss to the Saints, leaving the Eagles with a long field-goal try, was one example of holding onto the ball too long.

But Foles is far from a finished product. While teams now have more film on the 25-year old as he heads into his third season, he is in his first off-season as the bona fide starter.

"I think that once you start playing the game, and you start understanding things more, you can get to routes faster," Foles said. "Look at Peyton Manning - he gets the ball out real fast because he's done it for a long time and he's very good at what he does. He's one of the greatest ever.

"Those are the guys - him, Tom [Brady], Drew [Brees] - I look at because they're very good at getting the ball out fast."

Manning (2.36 seconds) was quickest in the pocket last season, Brady fourth fastest (2.46), and Brees 13th (2.72). But Manning and Brees were right behind Foles as deep passers.

Despite all that was written about Chip Kelly's bringing his ball-control, short-passing game from Oregon to the NFL, his offense in his first season with the Eagles ended up stretching the field more than any other team.

Some of that had to do with Kelly's playing to the strengths of his receivers, particularly DeSean Jackson. But Riley Cooper was just as effective deep, averaging an NFL second-best 17.8 yards a catch.

But it was Jackson who generally drew a safety over the top. And with his departure for reasons the Eagles have yet to specify, it's fair to wonder whether Kelly wants to shorten the field some, which would quicken Foles' release.

The addition of pass-catching running back Darren Sproles will offer another option underneath for quick hitters. Kelly, of course, wants to hit home runs, too, but he prioritizes versatile receivers who can get open against man-to-man defenses all over the field.

It would be a mistake to say that Jackson was a one-trick pony, but he struggled against above-average press-man cornerbacks. There are only so many of them in the NFL, though, and there is only one Jackson in terms of straight-ahead speed.

"I know Jeremy Maclin has some speed, and he can go get the ball," Foles said of the receiver who is likely to run the majority of Jackson's routes. "I'm pretty sure Riley Cooper caught some pretty deep balls last year. We have receivers that are very talented already."

General manager Howie Roseman said Wednesday on WIP-FM (94.1) that the Eagles will "in all likelihood . . . come out of [next week's] draft with at least one receiver."

But it was interesting to see the Redskins, in signing Jackson last month, address an area in which they were weak and the Eagles strong - deep passing. Only four other teams threw fewer 20-plus yard passes, and only four completed a lower percentage of those passes than Washington.

The Redskins' leaky offensive line, quarterback Robert Griffin III's deep-ball inaccuracy, and the lack of a game breaker played a part in that ineptitude. Jackson should help significantly in that regard.

And Foles is likely to cut his time in the pocket. Even if he doesn't, it's not as though it affected his play much last season.

"I think you try to analyze this game too much to the point where it's all of a sudden a time thing," he said. "You look at the success the team has."