By ALEX VIGDERMAN
Another year, another late-season Carson Wentz injury forcing Nick Foles back into the spotlight. The Eagles squeaked into the last spot in the NFC playoffs thanks to Foles regaining his form from the end of last season. It’s a fascinating turn of events after he looked like he had turned into a pumpkin earlier in the season. This week’s matchup with the Bears doesn’t do him any favors, but let’s see where Foles has made his bones over the last month and see how that matches up with Chicago.
In the first two weeks of the 2018 season, Foles had a 71.2 Independent Quarterback Rating (SIS’s adjusted Passer Rating that isolates the impact of factors within the quarterback’s control). In his last three games, his IQR has been 109.2. He leads the league with 86 percent catchable throws in that time frame.
Part of the narrative has been that head coach Doug Pederson has given Foles quicker reads, simplifying the game for him. There’s definite truth to that. Foles has taken a three-step drop or shorter as frequently as anyone in the last few weeks, whereas in the first two weeks he was taking short drops at a below-average rate. And that doesn’t even include the Run-Pass Options (RPOs) that have been such a big part of Philly’s game plan with Foles at the helm.
The thing is, it’s not like he performs better on those short drops. In 2018, his IQR on zero-to-three-step drops is 98, compared to 100 on rollouts or drops of five or more steps. So where has he excelled since returning as the starter?
Downfield Throws are Looking Up
While Foles has not made a lot of throws downfield in his late-season surge, he’s made them count.
His excellence on throws at least fifteen yards downfield shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed his career. In 2013 his monster season (27 TD, 2 INT) was full of deep tosses to Riley Cooper and Desean Jackson. This year, he’s thrown 15 passes at least 15 yards downfield in each of his stints as a starter. Look at the difference in performance from early to late season.
Nick Foles Performance on Throws at Least 15 Yards Downfield, 2018
For context, his completion percentage on those throws was worst in the league through Week 2 and best in the league in weeks 15-17 (minimum 15 attempts both times). Results on deep throws tend to fluctuate a lot over time, so it’s as likely as not that this is just extreme variance one way followed by extreme variance the other way.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, their Wild Card opponents, the Bears, are as good as anyone against downfield throws. Of course, they’re the best defense in the league this year, so they’re as good as anyone at almost everything. They trail only the Bills in Passer Rating allowed on downfield passes across the entire season (59), with an absurd rating of 22 on those throws from Week 9 forward.
“The Man” Versus Man
Early in the season, the Eagles were missing Alshon Jeffery and lost Darren Sproles almost immediately to injury. In his own way, each of them is an asset against man coverage because of Jeffery’s size and physicality and Sproles’ agility.
Since Foles returned to the starting job in Week 15, while Zach Ertz has continued to be peppered with targets regardless of the situation, Jeffery, Sproles, and Nelson Agholor have feasted in particular against man coverage. When seeing man, Foles has thrown for 309 yards and 5 touchdowns on 19 throws to those three alone (good for over 16 yards per target). Everyone else has seen 29 targets but yielded only 187 yards and two touchdowns (a mere 6.4 yards per target). Overall, he has the best IQR in the NFL over the last three weeks against man.
You might have seen this coming, but the Bears are bad news here as well. They are also second in the NFL in Passer Rating allowed in man coverage (at 76), and have also improved in this arena over the second half of the season (47 since Week 12).
Foles has been a revelation for the third time in his career. It’s impossible to count him out at this point given his track record, but the Eagles’ Wild Card opponent presents a particularly strong challenge based on what Foles has done well so far this year.