Film breakdown: Which Nick Foles will the Eagles get in the playoffs?
A week after throwing four touchdowns against the Giants, Nick Foles struggled against the Raiders. Was it a one-game anomaly or should the Eagles be concerned heading into the playoffs?
Each week this season, we'll breakdown a player, trend or scheme from the Eagles' previous game using the coaches all-22 film. This week, we spotlight Nick Foles and the quarterback's struggles in the 19-10 victory over the Raiders on Monday night.
Foles played well in his first start against the New York Giants. He wasn't great, but he didn't need to be great, and how could anyone argue with four touchdowns and no turnovers? But he regressed on Christmas. Both versions of Foles may not be enough in the playoffs, but the Eagles won't likely advance if the latter shows up again.
Foles: I didn't play good enough.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson: It's not about one person. There's enough to go around offensively. Obviously the quarterback is the focal point because he touches the ball every snap.
The Eagles didn't need Foles much on their first quarter, touchdown-scoring drive. They ran on eight of the first nine plays and scored on a 17-yard screen pass to Jay Ajayi. But when the Raiders slowed the rush, Foles was asked to do more. On this third and four early in the second quarter, he went to Zach Ertz on a quick out.
The decision was fine, but the timing was a touch late, the throw a touch behind, and safety Reggie Nelson nearly had a pick six. But was there potential for more vs. a single-high safety, man coverage underneath. On the other side of the field, Torrey Smith had beaten his man on a "go" route.
Foles: I know there were times when they had a safety over the top, and that makes it difficult, so we have to work more inside.
A series later, Foles went deep on third and five. He had Nelson Agholor in the slot vs. single coverage, but his receiver didn't have a step, and the pass was long. Alshon Jeffery, meanwhile, had gotten separation on a curl route over the middle.
Jeffery wasn't targeted in the first half.
Foles: There were times when they were trying to double [Jeffrey] and rolling the coverage. The rest of them I have to look at, too, with different ways to get him the ball because he can make so many plays.
COVER 2 ZONES
The Eagles saw various coverages, but there was an ample amount of Cover 2. Coordinators can afford to play back if Foles isn't going to challenge defenses deep. But there are opportunities to attack two-deep zones.
On this second-quarter play, Foles found Brent Celek underneath, and the tight end picked up 12 yards. But there was again potential for more. Up top, Jeffery had found space in one of the "turkey holes" a Cover 2 typically yields.
It's not an easy throw from the pocket, particularly on "out" routes, but it's a necessary one for NFL quarterbacks.
Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich: There's certainly the idea that you want to take what they give you. But even on Cover 2, there are still ways to create shots and get the ball down the field through different schemes.
Foles' longest downfield throw was a 15-yard completion to Ertz vs. Cover 2 in the second quarter. He moved the underneath middle linebacker with his eyes and connected with his tight end at the second level.
But most of Foles' other downfield throws were errant. When he finally targeted Jeffery late in the third quarter – vs. Cover 3 – he threw a wobbler that he said was on his receiver's back shoulder.
Foles: There was a backer underneath so you try to keep it away.
The ball hit Jeffery in the hands, so he should have caught it, but that isn't typically a route in which you throw to the back shoulder. If they had more practice time together, maybe Jeffery knows that Foles likes to throw it there. It took months for Carson Wentz to develop some sort of chemistry because Jeffery isn't a receiver who can get a lot of separation.
Pederson: Sometimes you do have to challenge the receiver, challenge the [defensive back], and make it a contested catch. I think, as we all know, Alshon has a tremendous catch radius and can catch a high ball [off a] back-shoulder throw.
TIGHT WINDOW THROWS
Sometimes, no matter the size of the window, you just let it rip and trust your receiver. Foles had Ertz twice on post routes in or near the end zone, and both times the passes were high.
Timing/chemistry is an issue on both ends, but those were touchdowns with Wentz.
Foles: If I'm a foot shorter on Zach's throws, we have two touchdowns.
Reich: We had a couple decent windows there. The one throw was a little bit probably harder than it looked on television. There was a linebacker kind of up and over it.
Pederson: There's nothing mechanically wrong. It was just high, just sailed.
As I wrote in my film review of Foles two weeks ago, everything he does is a tick slower than Wentz. But there's no excuse for poor decision making. On this red-zone third down before the half, he had one of three possible choices to get a first down, but he threw the ball away instead.
Pederson: Corey [Clement] I believe was right there. Torrey was right there. It's going to be a catch inbounds. Clock was going to run and probably going to have to use that last timeout. … In order to throw it away, it was fine, because we were well inside field goal range.
RUN-PASS OPTION PLAYS
Foles had his most success with RPOs. They typically came on first down vs. heavy boxes. He hit Ertz for 11 yards and later in the first half on this play for 25 yards when the Raiders missed an assignment.
Agholor caught a 12-yard pass on a similar concept in the third quarter, but the Eagles went to that well one time too many. On this fourth quarter RPO, Foles threw high of Ertz, and the ball was deflected to Nelson.
Foles: That one I tried to get it over [Raiders linebacker Bruce] Irvin and [it was] a little high. That's on me.
Foles will never be mistaken for Wentz in terms of athleticism, but he can extend plays on occasion, as he did here on this 11-yard pass to Agholor (which was negated by a Lane Johnson holding penalty).
Pederson: Believe it or not, he is pretty efficient when he is out of the pocket in finding receivers and guys down the field.
But Foles needed to either check to Clement on this fourth-quarter third and 12 or throw the ball away.
The weather clearly had some effect on the quarterbacks. The Raiders' Derek Carr was as bad, or worse, than Foles. But the elements will likely be the same in the playoffs next month at the Linc.
On this third quarter throw to Agholor, it's unclear if Foles was purposely throwing short to his receiver or that the rush affected his throw, but the pass was well short (even if it should have been caught).
Foles: Playing in Philly is not easy, it's cold weather. But at the same time, we have to execute better. It's as simple as that. It has nothing to do with the weather.
Foles did deliver when it mattered most. The Eagles probably shouldn't have needed a last-minute field goal to win, and a 48-yard field goal attempt was hardly the objective, but Foles did drive the offense 21 yards into range.
Reich: I walked over to Nick, and I said, 'This is it. This is how it works. Just be clutch right here,' and he was. It wasn't a great performance, but he goes down and makes three or four perfect throws to maximize the yardage on every throw.
Foles: It was huge because when you look at the course of the game, it wasn't clean at all; but to finish like that and to get the completions to get in field goal range to win it, that's an exciting thing.