The Eagles think Nick Foles can be their quarterback of the future, but they don't really know.
Foles wasn't the first or second pick in the draft like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. He was the 88th pick. The seventh quarterback off the board.
You pick a quarterback with the first or second pick and you feel fairly certain you got a franchise guy. You pick one 88th and you're basically betting a hunch.
The Eagles really need this shaggy-haired third-round hunch to come in. Michael Vick almost certainly won't be back next year. And if Foles, who will make his first NFL start Sunday against the Redskins, isn't the answer, well, that's one more pretty important thing they'll have to put on their fast-growing 2013 shopping list.
With 7 weeks left in the season, it's too early to gauge where the Eagles will be drafting next April. Currently, they are tied for the fifth worst record in the league with five other teams.
The two top-rated quarterbacks in the draft are USC's Matt Barkley and West Virginia's Geno Smith. But neither of them is a can't-miss player like Luck and Griffin. Barkley once was viewed as that, but no more.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has Barkley and Smith rated 14th and 15th, respectively, overall.
"There are a lot of questions at quarterback," Kiper said. "Barkley hasn't had a great year. A lot of quarterbacks, for whatever reason, have struggled.
"If you were picking first or second and needed a quarterback, there isn't one to take. Barkley once looked like he might be that guy. [Virginia Tech's] Logan Thomas looked like he might be that guy. But it hasn't happened."
If the Eagles have any hope of ending their five-game losing skid and beating the Redskins, they have to get off the field on third down.
In their last three games, the Eagles have allowed opponents to convert a disconcerting 17 of 35 third-down opportunities. In those three games, opponents have converted 16 of 26 third downs of between 1 and 8 yards.
They faced three pretty good quarterbacks in those games in the Falcons' Matt Ryan, the Saints' Drew Brees and the Cowboys' Tony Romo.
But the defense's inability to stop them, particularly on third down, was alarming. Ryan, Brees and Romo completed 19 of 25 third-down passes for 253 yards. That's 10.1 yards per attempt. Fifteen of those 19 completions went for first downs.
"It's been one particular guy here or there," defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. "Either we've got him covered and he breaks out of the pocket, or we're getting ready to sack him and the guy leaves his coverage, trying to see something else.
"It's just a matter of wandering eyes. We've got to keep our eyes on our man, and we've got to stay in our lanes when we rush the passer."
The good news this week is the Redskins offense is 31st in the league in third-down efficiency (28.6 percent). The bad news is the Eagles not only have to worry about quarterback Robert Griffin III throwing the football for first downs, but also running for them.
What can Brown
do for you?
The Eagles have been pleased with the development of rookie running back Bryce Brown. Brown, a seventh-round pick who had only 104 college carries, already has played 96 snaps in the first nine games and has 27 rushing attempts, four more than Dion Lewis had all of last year. The 6-foot, 225-pound Brown had a 40-yard run against the Saints 2 weeks ago and had a nice block on a blitz by Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick that gave Foles time to complete a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin last week.
"That run definitely meant a lot to my confidence," Brown said. "I want to continue to make strides like that. When I get in there, I just want to make big plays and put our team in a position to be successful."
Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who usually are slow to trust rookies, have shown surprising faith in Brown. They've used him in every situation, including in the red zone and when they've been backed up against their own goal line.
"He was raw and had so little experience," running backs coach Ted Williams said. "But you knew his upside was really good and that in time, he would become what you hoped he would be. I think it's to his credit that he worked hard enough to show enough ability to accelerate the process.
"Once you got him into the preseason and saw how well he was assimilating what we were doing, and how well he performed at the level we thought he could perform, it made it easier [to put him out there]."
Particularly impressive has been how quickly Brown has learned how to pass-protect and pick up blitzes.
Since Howard Mudd became the Eagles' offensive-line coach last season, the running backs are a part of the twice-a-week blitz meetings with the quarterbacks and offensive linemen. That wasn't the case in the past.
"He's actually being a part of the process instead of just being told what to do," Williams said. "He's hearing what this guy thinks and what that guy thinks. What Bill is going to call, what Joe is going to call and how it's going to affect him. He's a little bit more comfortable, and I think he's grown a lot because of that."
Figuring the Eagles
LeSean McCoy has been better as the game has gone on this season. He's averaged 3.5 yards per carry in the first quarter, 4.3 in the second, 4.6 in the third and 4.8 in the fourth.
Only 10 of McCoy's 162 rushing attempts have come on third down. In fact, only 17 of the Eagles' 126 third-down plays this season, or 13.5 percent, have been run plays. Last year, with a healthy Jason Peters and Jason Kelce to run behind, 44 of 185 third-down plays, or 23.8 percent, were run plays.
The Eagles have lost five games in a row, the last three by 13 points or more. The last time they lost three straight games by 13 points or more? Way back in 1976 in Dick Vermeil's first season as head coach. They finished 4-10 that year.
In their three wins, the Eagles have converted 19 of 46 third-down opportunities (41.3 percent). In their six losses, 24 of 80 (30.0 percent).
TE Clay Harbor has been targeted 19 times this season and has 14 receptions.
A look at the Eagles' run defense:
1st Quarter: 54-181 (3.0)
2nd Quarter: 57-382 (6.7)
3rd Quarter: 58-240 (4.1)
4th Quarter 70-211 (3.0)
1st Down: 140-623 (4.5)
2nd Down: 78-316 (4.0)
3rd Down: 20-72 (3.6)
4th Down: 3-3 (1.0)
The Eagles have allowed 24 run plays of 10 yards or more, and have held opponents to zero or negative yards 57 times.
The Eagles have seven sacks in the last six games. Defensive ends have only two of them. Last year, d-ends accounted for 35 of the Eagles' 50 sacks.
Few losses have been harder to swallow for Eagles fans than that 27-10 loss to the Bucs in the '02 NFC Championship Game. Joe Jurevicius and Ronde Barber still play starring roles in your nightmares. So guess what team willl be honored on Dec. 9 when the Eagles play the Bucs in Tampa? That's right. The freaking '02 Bucs.
No one despises the Redskins' FedEx Field more than Eagles radio play-by-play man Merrill Reese. Before Daniel Snyder bought the team in 1999, the visiting team radio booth was on the 50-yard line. After he bought it, he turned the booth into a luxury suite and moved the visiting team radio booth into the end zone, along with the press box.
"Me and Stevie Wonder have the same view," Reese said.
Ex-Eagles offensive tackle Winston Justice has been kind enough to weigh in on the struggles of his former team. In a radio interview this week with 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis, Justice, who was traded to the Colts in the offseason and is the 6-3 team's starting right tackle, suggested that the August heroin-overdose death of Andy Reid's oldest son, Garrett, has had a lot to do with the Eagles' disappointing performance this season. "Every year there is always some type of drama with Philly," he said. "Something was going to happen. Reid went through a very hard time losing his son. I bet that has a lot to do with the whole performance of the team."
Anybody who's looking for an NFL-related Christmas present for a friend or relative, I heartily recommend the new book "Coaching Confidential" by longtime New York Daily News football writer Gary Myers. Myers' easy-to-read book takes you inside the lives of many past and present NFL coaches, including Andy Reid and former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil. He details Reid's personal struggles with his sons and the influence it had on the team's 2009 signing of Michael Vick after he was released from prison.
FROM THE LIP:
"I'm getting the cuts taken care of. I'm on the stool right now, but the bell is going to ring at 1 o'clock on Sunday again." - Eagles special-teams coach Bobby April, whose unit gave up a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown last week
"What do you think? I mean, what do you think the answer to that question is? Answer it for me. Is it acceptable? No it's not acceptable?" - Chargers coach Norv Turner when asked whether his team's 4-5 record is acceptable
"That can't be farther from the truth. One thing about me is I don't ever hide behind stuff that I've ever said. I'm not afraid to put my name on it, go to a person and say it to them." - Jets LB Bart Scott on former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson suggesting in a radio interview that Scott probably was the source of anonymous quotes in a newspaper story ripping Jets backup QB Tim Tebow
"I think Eli is kind of like rice - he's just good with everything. No matter what you put on top of it, it's always going to be good." - Giants TE Martellus Bennett on QB Eli Manning
BY THE NUMBERS:
Since the NFL went to its current 12-team playoff format in 1990, 16 teams with losing records after nine games have managed to rebound and make the playoffs. But only three of them had 3-6 records. The three who made the postseason after 3-6 starts: the '94 Patriots (finished 10-6, lost in wild-card round), the '95 Lions (10-6, lost in wild-card round) and the '96 Jaguars (9-7, lost in AFC Championship).
Falcons QB Matt Ryan has a 30-4 (.882) regular-season record as a starter at home. That's the best home winning percentage of any QB in the Super Bowl era. The Ravens' Joe Flacco is second at 32-5 (.882). The Patriots' Tom Brady is third at 72-12 (.857).
Bucs RB Doug Martin has 858 yards from scrimmage in the last five games. That's the most by a rookie in a five-game span since Edgerrin James (914) in '99.
The Broncos' Peyton Manning has completed 70-plus percent of his passes in six straight games. That's the longest streak in league history. Michael Vick has completed 70 percent of his passes in a game nine times in his career.
In last week's Saints-Falcons game, Saints TE Jimmy Graham had 146 receiving yards and two touchdowns and Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez had 122 receiving yards and two TDs. It was the first time in history that two TEs had at least 120 receiving yards and two TDs in the same game.
1. Texans 8-1-0 (2 last week)
2. Ravens 7-2-0 (4)
3. Falcons 8-1-0 (1)
4. 49ers 6-2-1 (3)
5. Patriots 6-3-0 (6)
6. Bears 7-2-0 (5)
7. Packers 6-3-0 (7)
8. Broncos 6-3-0 (9)
9. Steelers 6-3-0 (11)
10. Bucs 5-4-0 (10)
11. Giants 6-4-0 (8)
12. Seahawks 6-4-0 (12)
13. Vikings 6-4-0 (13)
14. Colts 6-3-0 (14)
15. Saints 4-5-0 (17)
16. Cowboys 4-5-0 (22)
17. Bengals 4-5-0 (25)
18. Chargers 4-5-0 (15)
19. Cardinals 4-5-0 (18)
20. Rams 3-5-1 (20)
21. Dolphins 4-6-0 (16)
22. Lions 4-5-0 (19)
23. Bills 4-5-0 (27)
24. Redskins 3-6-0 (24)
25. Eagles 3-6-0 (21)
26. titans 4-6-0 (30)
27. Jets 3-6-0 (26)
28. Browns 2-7-0 (28)
29. Panthers 2-7-0 (23)
30. Raiders 3-6-0 (29)
31. Jaguars 1-8-0 (31)
32. Chiefs 1-8-0 (32)