Matt Cassel. Brian Griese. John Skelton. Joe Webb. The mere mention of these names makes Eagles fans cringe. Every team loses a game every so often to a backup QB, sometimes they don't even play for the Vikings. It's just the nature of sports: upsets happen, and sometimes underdogs are just bad match ups for the better team. Could Austin Davis and the Rams be next?
It's only been two games, but Davis is off to a nice start, leading the Rams to their only win on a 4th quarter drive, and throwing 3 touchdowns against the Cowboys in a loss. He is averaging 8.0 yards per attempt, 6th best in the league, on a league best 72.3 completion percentage. This is particularly impressive considering that he entered training camp as the 3rd stringer and historically third string QBs, who are replacement level players, have been absolutely awful.
Even though Davis started the regular season as the #2, he still fits the profile of a replacement level player. Undrafted in 2012, he was cut by the Rams in 2013, and signed with the Dolphins practice squad. When Sam Bradford was hurt last year, he was signed to the 53 man roster. He entered camp this year without a roster spot guaranteed, and even after Bradford's most recent injury his status was up in the air, the Rams looked around the league for trade opportunities.
His play this year in two starts has been anything but replacement level. Why? And can he keep it up against the Eagles?
As noted before, the Eagles defense default play is Cover 3. Cover 3 is an excellent defense, many top defensive minds use it: Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, Pete Carroll and the mentors Billy Davis tries to emulate, Dom Capers and Dick Lebeau all use it, and use it a lot. But there is no perfect defense, and at the end of the day if your players aren't good enough, the greatest play calling won't be enough. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher aren't good enough. Versus the 49ers, the Eagles played it at least (because it's not always easy to determine on a quick run) 34 times out of 83 plays. Meanwhile, Austin Davis has completed his fair share of 10+ yard passes against Cover 3 in his two starts. Maybe Austin Davis is actually a pretty good QB. Maybe he isn't. But so far, he's looked pretty good against the type of defense the Eagles will throw at him on Sunday. Greg Cosell has liked what he's seen so far.
This is a look that should be familiar to Eagles fans, three deep, four under. Davis hits his receiver down the near sideline.
Thanks to poor tackling, Brian Quick picks up extra yards before being clobbered.
Kenny Britt on a comeback for a first down. It wasn't just passes that the Rams used for big gains against Cover 3.
In one of the few times the Rams have utilized Tavon Austin, he picked up 18 yards on a reverse.
One thing to note here is that one three of these four plays, and on others that aren't on here (for brevity), the linebackers bit hard on play action, opening up a lot of space underneath. The Eagles defense, thanks to a strong line, isn't nearly as quick to jump on the run. So the shallow routes won't be there as often as they were for Davis vs the Buccaneers, and when he is able to complete a short pass, receivers shouldn't gain as much yardage as they did.
Which we can see on one of his two interceptions against the Cowboys.
Austin somehow doesn't even see Bruce Carter, who was in coverage the entire play, and throws it right at him.
Still, he had a good game, thanks in part to more 10+ yard passes against Cover 3.
Deep for a TD to Brian Quick.
Another deep pass to a receiver with inside leverage on the CB.
Underneath defenders lined up at the sticks
And to defenders who have dropped too deep.
The jury is far from out on Davis, he's only started two games. Players with his background rarely sustain success, and even if Davis is Kurt Warner reincarnated, he's going to regress. His league high completion percentage is unsustainable, particularly on third down (15 for 19) though that is an issue for the Eagles. So his already below average interception percentage (11th worst) will at some point increase, as a few of those incompletions will fall into the hands of defenders. Against a more disciplined defense than Tampa's and one that isn't tackling like they're covered in baby oil like the Cowboys, Davis should come back down to earth on Sunday.
That said, if the defense hasn't been able to find any consistency. They played well against the Colts and the 49ers, keeping the two best QBs they have faced so far in check. But against the Redskins and backup Kirk Cousins they struggled, and while Chad Henne didn't scare anyone, there were a few significant lapses. It could be the same story against the Rams. Austin Davis has looked more like a starter than a guy who entered camp unsure of a job, and done it against coverages the Eagles regularly play. At some point he's going to regress. Just don't be surprised if it isn't on Sunday.