Concern about Nick Foles' readiness for the playoffs could mean Eagles QB plays against Dallas
Doug Pederson hasn't decided, he says, about playing starters in meaningless game, but he also seems to think Foles needs reps.
Doug Pederson saw what you saw from his quarterback Monday night, whether he says so or not. Nothing can be gained from the Eagles' coach saying, "Oh, my gosh, that was terrible, we're doomed." He has to go forward with Nick Foles, has to accentuate the positive, work on the flaws.
But you could read between the lines of Pederson's words Tuesday about whether Foles will play in the meaningless New Year's Eve game against Dallas, and sniff out concern. Pederson knows he, offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, widely lauded for their stewardship of the NFL's No. 2 scoring offense, have a lot of work to do with Foles before he takes the field in the divisional round of the playoffs. Maybe they can do most of that work in practice, but some of it might have to take place in the regular-season finale.
That is why Pederson, while repeating Tuesday what he'd said late Monday night – that he hasn't yet decided on whether or how much starters will play against Dallas – also talked as if Foles will get at least some snaps.
In the middle of a long answer about how "everything is fixable" out of Foles' 19 for 38, 163-yard, one-touchdown, one-interception effort against Oakland, Pederson said: "It's really a good thing, too, when you can play again."
Later, asked about the offense's lack of rhythm against the Raiders, Pederson said: "We just got to continue to work. These guys have only worked with Nick now for a couple of weeks," since Carson Wentz's left ACL tear ended his season.
Asked about balancing the need for the receivers to work with Foles against the risk of getting him injured, Pederson said: "Well, if that's the approach, then I would have rested him [Monday] night … I can't worry about that. I got to play and get him as many reps as he can [get], and then be smart about it."
The only other quarterback in the building is Nate Sudfeld, who has never taken a regular-season NFL snap. With home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs wrapped up, starting Sudfeld against Dallas isn't an outrageous idea, but Pederson didn't seem to lean that way.
"You'd love to hopefully get him some time in there," Pederson said of the QB the team picked up from Washington after the preseason.
Weather conditions were a factor Monday night; Oakland quarterback Derek Carr was even worse than Foles in the second half. Carr completed seven of 17 for 22 yards and a pair of interceptions after halftime. Foles was 7 of 17 for 44 yards and one interception. One of them would unfurl an awful sequence and the other seemingly would be like, "hold my hand warmer …"
Of course, weather just might be a factor three weekends hence.
Pederson said Foles' mechanics weren't at fault, though he constantly sailed balls high, including the interception. "It was just high, just sailed," Pederson said. "We just have to keep working."
As Jon Gruden said during the Monday Night Football broadcast: "Before they start the playoffs, they need to get Foles in a rhythm with this veteran receiving corps."
Developing story lines
*The Eagles were so bad on third down Monday night – 1-for-14 – that they even failed to convert one third down on their lone touchdown drive. They kept it alive with a fourth-down conversion.
*The Eagles' defense didn't look like the NFL's best against the run Monday night, with Oakland gaining 137 rushing yards on 33 carries. Part of this was good interior blocking by the Raiders, part of it was Marshawn Lynch (95 yards on 25 carries, as close as anyone has come to a 100-yard individual effort against the Birds this season), but another part of it could be a sign of things to come. The point has been made several times this season that the Eagles' defense benefits from the prolific offense; teams don't run the ball much against the Eagles because they're often down by double digits, early. But with Nick Foles quarterbacking in the playoffs, that might not be the case. The Raiders showed what can happen when you don't have to abandon the run.
*Sixty-three of Amari Cooper's 66 receiving yards came on the touchdown catch against Jalen Mills. But Cooper, fighting a high ankle sprain, later somehow outleaped Corey Graham for an underthrown bomb, only to see the play called back by holding on guard Gabe Jackson.
*The Raiders turned the ball over five times in their final eight possessions, and also gave the Eagles good field position on a missed field goal in that span.
*I'm pretty sure Chris Long got a sack taken away unfairly, when he was ruled to be offside. Yes, he was coming up out of his stance when the ball was snapped, but by the time his feet moved, the center was moving the ball, as well. Maybe Long could have had a hand in the neutral zone or something? More likely the officials saw movement and threw the flag. Long played an excellent game.
*Alshon Jeffery played 63 snaps, was targeted twice, caught no passes, for only the second time in his six-year NFL career. You can blame Jeffery or Nick Foles or Oakland cornerback Sean Smith, as Doug Pederson did Monday, but the bottom line is, this is a problem. "It's just those two guys working out the details of body language and understanding route combinations, and how [Jeffery] runs certain routes," Pederson said. "We've just got to keep shooting, keep throwing, and keep trying to find ways to get him the football."
That you could convert twice as many fourth downs (2) as third downs (1) and still win?
According to the Associated Press, it had been 16 years since an NFL team started as many as six drives at its own 40 or better without scoring a point on any of them, until Oakland accomplished this feat Monday night.
Lane Johnson wasn't happy when reporters reached his locker cubicle Monday night, and it wasn't just what Johnson termed the "[bleepy]" overall play of the Eagles' offense.
Johnson, whistled for a false start and two holding penalties, was not pleased with ref Ron Torbert and his crew.
"I think I had a really good game against one of the best players in the league," said Johnson, the Eagles' right tackle, who usually lined up against Oakland's three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, Khalil Mack. "You go back and watch those penalties and you tell me if they're holds or not. I think that ref will be reviewed on his calls and we'll see what happens."
Later, with another group of reporters, Johnson labeled the holding calls "ticky-tacky bull[bleep]."
Johnson would seem to have a point on the first holding call against him, which wiped out a Nelson Agholor first-down catch with 1 minute, 44 seconds left in the first half. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said: "I didn't see anything there."
Though the Eagles eventually got back the first down they lost on that call, it might have cost them points, because only 38 seconds remained when they did so; had the Agholor catch stood, Nick Foles would have had more time and more timeouts to work with, before giving way to Jake Elliott for what became a missed 33-yard field goal, tried with 15 seconds remaining in the half.
The second call was definitely a hold. It negated a 22-yard LeGarrette Blount run on the Eagles' first snap of the third quarter, what would have been the Eagles' longest gain of the second half. Johnson's grab of Mack made it first-and-20, and began a long sequence in which Foles always seemed to be trying to play from behind the chains.
Asked about the Johnson penalties Monday, Doug Pederson said "they were" penalties, but the rest of his response seemed only to refer to the third-quarter call, on the Blount run. "It's unfortunate, especially to start the second half that way, and have a nice run, and get called back," he said. "They called it. It looked like a hold, so it was."
Get insights on the Eagles delivered straight to your inbox with Early Birds, beat writer Zach Berman's newsletter for Eagles fans. Click here to sign up.