After having one of the greatest postseason passing performances in NFL history en route to winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history for the Philadelphia Eagles, it appeared that Nick Foles was content with serving as the back-up for young quarterback Carson Wentz.
It was reasonable. After all, Wentz was the best quarterback in football in 2017. His injury was unfortunate considering he was on pace to win Most Valuable Player honors. On the other hand, Foles is the very definition of streaky.
In 2013, Foles produced one of the most surprising seasons in recent memory. The 24-year-old scored 27 touchdowns and threw just 2 interceptions. Foles led the league in touchdown percentage, passer rating, and adjusted net yards per pass attempt. Then in 2014, Foles was outplayed by Mark Sanchez and subsequently traded to the St. Louis Rams.
Nick Foles’ highs are extremely high; his lows are very low.
The uncanny magical aura that surrounds him makes for good entertainment, but his inconsistency makes his ability to be a franchise quarterback questionable. That’s why there was no doubt that Wentz would be the starting quarterback in 2018.
But when it was announced that Wentz would likely miss the rest of the season due to a previously unidentified back fracture, Foles was once again thrust into the starting job. With the Eagles sitting with a 6-7 win-loss record and having slim chances at making the playoffs, the season was already a disappointment. Expectations were low for Foles. Just like last year, many fans lost hope when they found out that Wentz wouldn’t come back. Nobody truly believed that Foles would be able to turn the tide.
Foles has led the Eagles on a three-game win streak to end the season over teams with a combined 28-14 win-loss record. With this improbable turn of events, the Eagles have been able to snatch a spot in the playoffs after it looked as if their season was over.
Over this stretch, Foles completed 77% of his passes and threw for 962 yards and a 6-3 TD-INT ratio, good for a passer rating of 108.4.
However, these basic box score stats can’t quantify the highlight plays that he continues to make. Every single week, Foles has continued to complete improbable throws. NFL’s Next Gen Stats determine the completion probability of every pass attempt. Over this three-game span, Foles’ Completion Percentage Above Expectation has been the best in the league by far.
|Expected Completion Percentage||Actual Completion Percentage||Completion Percentage Above Expectation|
|Week 15 (at LAR)||68.5%||77.4%||8.9|
|Week 16 (vs HOU)||63.4%||71.4%||8.0|
|Week 17 (at WAS)||76.3%||84.8%||8.5|
Despite the improved play at quarterback, the Eagles have looked like a different team all-around, not just under center. There is a sizable disparity between the Eagles of the last three weeks and the Eagles of the first thirteen games.
|Weeks 1-14||Weeks 15-17|
|Points Per Game||20.1||28.7|
|Points Allowed Per Game||22.7||17.7|
|Completion Percentage Allowed||67.5%||63.1%|
|Passer Rating Allowed||96.7||79.8|
|Rushing Yards Allowed Per Carry||4.9||3.4|
The entire team has simply looked better. It’s not entirely clear why this is the case. Has Nick Foles somehow motivated the defense to play at a higher level? Maybe. Or maybe they were just underperforming earlier in the season and they’re now playing up to their true ability.
In any case, the team is looking scary now.
Still, they certainly have flaws. They’ve gone from averaging the 3rd-most rushing yards per game in 2017 to averaging the 4th-least this year. They lost both of their leading rushers from last season, Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount. Losing offensive coordinator Frank Reich to the Indianapolis Colts appears to have had a negative impact as well, although it’s difficult to quantify.
While their secondary was never elite, it’s gotten worse this year. Injuries certainly haven’t helped. Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, and Rodney McLeod were all important members of the secondary last year. All three players were placed on the injured reserve list this season. Also, Sidney Jones entered the cornerback rotation this year in his second season in the NFL. However, he’s been classified as questionable for their wild-card game against the Bears due to a hamstring injury. The other starter at cornerback from last season was Patrick Robinson, who the Eagles lost in free-agency to the New Orleans Saints.
Regardless of their deficiencies, if the Eagles can maintain their performance over the last three weeks, they can beat any team in the league. Especially if Nick Foles continues to play at a high level.
Last year, the Eagles’ magical postseason run was fueled by their underdog mentality. After they won the Super Bowl, fans joked that they couldn’t act like underdogs next year because they established themselves as the team to beat. Well, the Eagles are now the six-seed in the NFC. They’re certainly underdogs now. That’s bad news for the rest of the NFL.