Nick Foles is now the Eagles' starting quarterback, a designation that comes with status and responsibilities. Doug Pederson wants to make sure Foles is referred to as the starting quarterback, not as the backup.
But Foles is hesitant to think in those terms.
Foles was once "the guy" in Philadelphia. He knows he's only keeping the seat warm for a few months. Even though he's the undisputed starter for however long the Eagles play this season, he's sensitive to carrying that label.
"This is Carson's team," Foles said. "I get, 'You're the guy,' but that's how I am: I respect Carson Wentz. I love that guy. I work with him every day and I'm going to give him that respect because he is the franchise quarterback. My job right now as the starting quarterback is to lead these guys on the field, and I'm going to do that. I've been here, I've done that. I know what it entails, I know the responsibility. But this is Carson Wentz's team, and I respect him too much to make that statement. …It doesn't change my mentality. My mentality is when I step on that field, let's roll. I don't need to be named the starting quarterback."
Whatever he wants to call it, Foles took care of "Carson's team" in his 2017 starting debut by completing 24 of 38 pass attempts for 237 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. The four touchdowns made the headlines, but the zero interceptions should perhaps stand out most.
Although Foles is best known for a 27-touchdown, two-interception 2013 season when he posted the third-lowest interception percentage in NFL history, he had interception problems during his next two seasons. In 2014 and 2015, Foles combined for 20 touchdowns and 20 picks. A major point of emphasis when he replaced Wentz was the need to take care of the ball.
Pederson said he has talked to Foles about the subject, but hasn't had to say too much.
"It's part of the role now — he's no longer the backup, he's the starter," Pederson said. "It's important that we take care of the football and don't turn it over. He did a nice job in the game not doing that. …That's something you're going to notice with Nick. Nick is OK throwing the ball away, too. Under duress, he's going to throw it out of bounds, or skip it somewhere, and live to play another down. That's kind of built into him."
It's often said of Foles that if he can just limit turnovers, he'll be successful. But that's far easier said than done. Foles said there's much that goes into limiting turnovers, with decision-making atop the list. The key is how Foles responds to tense moments.
"When you're pressing, you're trying to make things happen, you tend to force things," Foles said. "And that's speaking from my experience. But if you prepare well and you play smart, there are times you dirt the ball — throw it away when you feel it's not there — [and] there are other times you have to be aggressive."
Foles added that the "toughest thing" is when a quarterback drops back and wants to throw the ball, but then realizes that he must throw it away. That's when proper decision-making is required.
Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said the team preaches a "touchdown, check-down mentality." They want to be aggressive downfield to try to get chunk plays and to throw toward the end zone from the red zone, but they won't excuse carelessness. So there's a balance that quarterbacks in this offense must find.
"How do you be aggressive and disciplined at the same time?" Reich said. "That's just a lot of preparation, a lot of practice, a lot of mental drilling. Having that unique 'it' factor to be able to do it. That's why some guys make it and some guys don't. They can't figure out how to be aggressive and be disciplined at the same time. Obviously, Nick has proven he knows how to do that."
Foles could have another interception-less week. The Oakland Raiders, who visit Philadelphia on Monday, are tied for a league-low with four interceptions this season. They've all come in the last four games. Oakland was the first team in NFL history to go past seven games without one pick.
The best game of Foles' career came when he last played against the Raiders. In 2013, Foles turned the Eagles' season around with a seven-touchdown (and no-interception) performance in Oakland. He might have thrown for another score if he didn't exit the game after the first drive of the fourth quarter.
Don't expect seven touchdowns on Monday, but Foles is well-positioned for another good outing against the NFL's 23rd-ranked pass defense. He's no longer the backup quarterback, and he's careful not to label himself as "the guy," but he played like it against the Giants and could play even better against the Raiders.
"There's a ton of room to improve," Foles said, "a ton of room to get more comfortable."
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