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Dampening Nick Foles' Regression

One of the big storylines emerging as the regular season approaches is how Nick Foles will perform after his historic 2013 campaign. I offer some conjecture on the subject as Training Camp starts to take off.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Lately, a lot of articles have been cropping up about Nick Foles where his 2013 campaign is put into historical perspective in an attempt to predict how well he will play next year. Being a stat junkie, I devoured these articles as they proved to be pretty insightful. They covered a wide range of passing statistics, including an article by our own Brent Cohen who previewed the Eagles Almanac (pre-order here) with an analysis of Foles' yards-per-attempt.

What was great about these articles was that they provided some actual numbers that we can expect Foles to replicate if he plays at the level of an elite quarterback. We've all had the questions, now there were answers (sort of) in the form of numerical projections. It was all based on fact - this is what we know.

But who else knows this? Chip Kelly. He knows that what Nick Foles did last season was a statistical anomaly. I'm not trying to slight Foles here - it was an incredible season that he accomplished through hard work and determination - but those numbers are not exactly sustainable. Kelly also knows that for his offense to operate as efficiently as possible, it helps to have a quarterback consistently play at or near the level Foles played last season. So I would be hard-pressed to believe that he isn't doing something to make it as easy as possible for Foles to perform at a high level, because one area that was always a weakness for Andy Reid is a strength for Kelly: adjustments. If he's not staying ahead of the curve, he's at least staying with it, and that is something that works immensely in favor of Nick Foles.

Remember those articles that came out a few weeks ago featuring our favorite analyst, Jaws? He talked about how he was reviewing tape for every quarterback and was pretty much blown away when he watched the Eagles:

"Chip Kelly did a great job of getting people wide open. ...I don't think anybody did a better job at getting receivers open than Chip Kelly.  When you look at 400-500 throws of each quarterback and I see guys that are making these stick throws into double coverage and all these things, and I plug in Eagles tape and I'm seeing guys running open."

Next year I don't think we'll see as many receivers running open as we did last year (since teams will have had a lot of time to study film), but Chip Kelly will be trying to make adjustments so that happens as often as possible. Nick Foles should benefit from that, possibly to the point where he turns in an incredible season even after his "regression." We can look to the past and say, "Nick Foles will perform this way because this is how it always goes." And the past is certainly a good place to start. But I don't see any harm in being cautiously optimistic. After all, nobody has implemented the concepts of Kelly's hybrid spread-inside zone read-West Coast offense in the way he has. The jury may still be out on how good a coach Kelly will be, but all indications at this point suggest that he is incredibly intelligent and focuses his philosophy on making things easier for his players.

Chip Kelly's philosophy focuses on making things easier for his players.

With this in mind, let's look at Brent's projection. He said that Foles' yards-per-attempt should be around 7.9, which is in line with what great quarterbacks have done historically after monstrous seasons. The simple question I ask is, can Chip Kelly's innovation help Foles do even a little better than that? Say, maybe 8.1 or 8.2 YPA? And can he do better in other statistics too, such as touchdown percentage?

Of course, it's easy for me to sit at my computer and postulate these things. I don't play football and I recognize how incredibly difficult it is for a quarterback to record a stat line of 8.2 YPA, especially after a season where he averaged 9.1. But at the same time, I want to give Kelly credit where credit is due. And that leads me to believe that stat line like that for Foles is well within the realm of possibility. At the same time, Foles could implode and do a lot worse, too - I consider that to be less likely (as do most people, I think), but there's always a chance. I just think that it's practical to complement our reasonable doubt with some reasonable optimism.

The one negative response I can see to this is that it implies Foles is a "system quarterback." The phrase "system quarterback" has almost turned into an insult, and many Eagles fans have been quick to denounce this label for Foles. I personally am in the middle. I see a lot of intangibles in Nick Foles that he would take with him to any team he played for, but I think Kelly's system helps bring out the best in him. But let's put that opinion aside for a moment and say that this article is one-hundred-percent an indictment of Foles as a "system quarterback." My response: so what?

If Nick Foles puts up great numbers, who honestly cares where the responsibility lies? How is a choice between, "His stat line is good because he's a good quarterback," and "His stat line is good because Chip Kelly's offense is quarterback friendly" a bad thing? If Foles goes out there and lights it up, I would tune out any "system quarterback" debate as background noise, because it literally doesn't matter. If the stats are good, then I don't see how you could argue against them.

Whether or not Foles is a system quarterback, we'll all be holding our breath to see how he does come September. History tells us we'll see a decline in those numbers, but I'm willing to wager all my chips on Kelly that he'll find a way to keep those numbers on the high end of the spectrum.

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