Nick Foles and The Chip Kelly Mirage

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[Ed. note: Promoted to the front page.]

Full disclosure; I am not an employee of an NFL team. I've never been paid to be a player, coach, scout, analyst or researcher. I have very serious opinions, but I'm no more qualified for them than any other diehard Eagles fan who is a film review junkie. I read every article available by Philly media that breaks down Eagles film. I read every article that discusses Chip's offensive philosophies. I have an account with to watch game film. I read articles from Chip's speeches at coaching clinic's. I watch film tutorial's/breakdowns from on Oregon's offensive philosophies before and after Chip became our coach. I'd like to think I have a master's degree in being a knowledgeable "Joe Fan." Don't take anything I say here as gospel, but consider it, because a lot of thought has been put into it. I'd like to go over some current hot topics for local talk radio that almost NEVER get put into the proper context. Let me know what you think.

First: Old school offense vs. Chips offense. Andy Reid is an easy foil for this point. Andy had what you would call a voluminous playbook. His offense was complex mostly because he had an absurd amount of plays. Here was Andy's way of playcalling- for every defensive scheme/coverage that could potentially be called, there is an offensive play/route combination that will expose that play call. And vice versa. Some offensive play calls/route combo's will never ever be successful against certain coverages. There is always a play that can thwart the opponent, you just have to find it/ guess right. Inevitably, what unfolds is a chess match between the offensive and defensive play caller, with the winner doing the best job of anticipating and predicting his opponent. The best defensive play callers usually got the better of Andy because he was not as adapt at thinking on the fly. That would be the weakness of this approach. It's effectiveness relies on the ability of the play caller. Chip's approach is 180 degrees from what Andy does. Chip doesn't care what the defense is doing, he calls his plays before the defense even lines up. What he does is build packages and options into his play calling. For example, Chip would call an inside zone play action to the left, and 4 receivers out into a route combination with a receiver attacking the defense vertically, a receiver in the flat, a crossing route over middle, and a comeback route at intermediate depth. This is complete hypothetical, the only point is within one play call Chip will threaten your run defense frontside and (with legitimate read option element) backside, threaten your coverage vertically, horizontally, in the flat and in open zones. The idea behind this play call is there is an element included in the play to deal with whatever the defense presents you. The ball is snapped, quickly identify coverage, Cover 1 man - ball goes here, Cover 3 zone- ball goes here, Cover 4 zone blitz- ball goes here, linebacker cheats toward coverage- give ball to RB in read option, linebacker crashes run- pull ball and hit pop pass behind him. Whatever the defense does, if the QB can process decisions quickly, with QUICKLY being the imperative word, then the offense can make easy plays all over the field. As Eagles fans, we've certainly seen that at times. Now that we understand this, I'll explain why we shouldn't expect it to continue with Nick Foles.

The problem with Chip's offense and Nick Foles is this, in order for it to be humming along at maximum efficiency, the offense has to be able to threaten every possible level and area of a defense on a given play. In 2013, Chip's offense took a lot of defensive coaches by storm. The scheme itself, when executed properly, is very sound and most coaches will admit that. The historic numbers posted by Nick Foles were really a failure of defensive coaches. Either they were too caught up in trying to stop the scheme itself or there wasn't enough tape to accurately identify Nick Foles true weaknesses. One thing is for sure, though, in 2014 defenses responded loud and clear by attacking the limitations of Nick Foles. For example, (this is an overused analogy, but the points are still true) if a defense is unconcerned about Nick Foles keeping the ball on read option or they feel confident they can force him into the wrong read, this is now an area where the defense can cheat/exploit. And because Nick doesn't have the ability to run, it severely limits the amount of creativity you can use on running plays. Whereas if he had the speed to threaten backside run gaps, that would cause backside defenders to hesitate and play more honest. Which in turn would help the run game and give Shady more space to work with on the play side. To use an example from Mark Sanchez's play, Mark simply can not throw the deep ball. There were numerous instances late in the year where receivers were streaking downfield either open or with the potential for big plays that Mark could see and wouldn't pull the trigger. He knew his arm couldn't get the ball there. Defenders and defensive coaches watch the tape, they know. So when Mark was in, the defense could anticipate or squat on some of the shorter and intermediate routes that they knew Mark would take. So the defense would cheat and expose Mark, whenever he made an errant throw over the middle there was always a defender there waiting. By not having the ability to threaten a defense on one area of the field, it allows the defense to cheat on all the other areas of the field and make those plays that you can execute, that much harder. This would be the weakness of Chip Kelly's style of offense. It requires maximum versatility in the ways it can attack a defense in order to be most effective. Now that we understand this, here's the part where Marcus Mariota comes in.

I like to use Trent Dilfer's opinion in this instance because it differs so much from mine. He has been asked about this topic recently in different radio interviews over the past week or so and basically he has a lot of faith in Nick Foles (had a 1st round grade on him) and he's not sure Mariota's skills translate to the NFL, with the caveat he would have a much better chance with Chip Kelly. He likes to talk about the fact that Nick Foles can make "graduate level" NFL throws. He insists that to win at the NFL level, a QB has to get to his 2nd or 3rd progression, maneuver inside the pocket, on a third down play, thread the needle into a tight window and throw a receiver open. I do not disagree with any part of this statement, except for the part about Nick Foles being able to do it. I think those traits are awesome for QB's, it's what every QB should strive to be able to do, what every team should be looking for in a QB, etc. I just feel that whole bit of QB poetry applies a lot more to QB's in a traditional, old school, pro-style offense. Mark Sanchez dropped 33 points on the Cowboys without ever needing to make a throw that difficult and the offense actually struggled in the red zone for most of that game. It's the same reason someone can watch Mariota play at Oregon and come away thinking he's a system QB. Same reason Nick Foles can play so well in 2013 but yet still not pass the "eye test." Chips offensive structure is not dependent on the QB being able to rifle a ball into triple coverage, it should never get that difficult. Chips offense makes life easy for a QB. Would it be a nice bonus? Sure. It's just not required. This is what IS required, and why Mariota is so valuable. The bottom line is he can threaten a defense with more things than Nick Foles can. It's really that simple. Mariota will see Dilfer's "graduate level throw" and raise him a "you couldn't make that play without a joystick."

The running game will get a whole new breath of fresh air with a smart and dynamic runner at QB. The play calling variations, (specifically in the run game) can make life miserable for an opposing defense. If they are not sound with their gaps and make a mistake, Nick Foles might be able to get 6 yards while Mariota might have a 60 yard score. It forces the defense to play honest, which is all you want. As much as Mariota might not be better than Nick Foles at "graduate level" NFL throws (which is certainly debatable), he will add more passing element threats than Foles. Mariota loves to buy time in the pocket and roll out to one side or the other (as a right-handed thrower, arguably the best QB I've seen while running to his left) and as soon as receivers become free he loves to throw darts on the run, almost in one motion. Get the ball there as fast as possible. Contrast that with Nick Foles; if he tries to buy time, it takes 8+ seconds to roll out, stop momentum, replant your feet with proper mechanics and deliver the ball. When he does this, 1 of 3 different things happen. The defensive lineman sacks him before he gets his throw off, the open throwing window has now closed because the DB had so much time to recover, or Nick simply doesn't throw with proper mechanics, his ball is flat and gets picked off. Mariota's ability on rollouts as a run/pass option, his ability to buy time in the pocket and deliver the ball downfield to receivers who improvise routes(Russell Wilson factor) and his ability to scramble and pick up yards with his feet on failed plays are all big big factors. Those traits will make the Eagles offense harder to stop from getting 10 yards on 3 plays. In essence, what I'm saying is it would be better to be able to execute all 100% of Chip Kelly's offense 70% of the time. Rather than to only be able to execute 75% of it, 85% of the time. The former will be much harder to defend against, will be much better at capitalizing on mistakes with big plays and at being more unpredictable. In theory, while it could be more scattershot, it is also much more dynamic with big play potential. The only thing that matters is scoring points.

"The Chip Kelly Mirage"- My next point is about Nick Foles. I really do not understand why anyone is enamored with this player. He is a product of what I'd like to call "the Chip Kelly Mirage." This first started back in 2005 while Chip was an offensive coordinator with New Hampshire. Before that season started, NH's 3rd string QB decided to transfer. In the preseason, the backup QB goes down with a season ending injury. During the first half of the season opener, starting QB Mike Granieri (who Chip called "most explosive and dynamic" QB he ever coached to that point) tore his ACL. He was replaced by 4th string Ricky Santos, who proceeded to throw 1 incompletion the rest of the game while completing a comeback against defending FCS champion Delaware. Santos went on to be a finalist for the Walter Payton award that year, for the most outstanding player in FCS football. Santos won the award in 2006. Fast forward to 2011 at Oregon. Chip's star dual-threat quarterback and preseason Heisman candidate, Jeremiah Masoli, gets arrested for theft and subsequently kicked off the team. Chip opts to start then sophomore QB Darron Thomas, who was much less of a dual threat and was also behind senior QB Nate Costa on the depth chart. The result was a trip to the National Title game, which Oregon only lost by a field goal, and got Heisman contention for Thomas. The commonality is that neither of these QB's were very good. They were aided by genius offensive play design and skilled playmakers around them. Neither of them made an NFL roster, although Santos was signed in May of 2008 by the Kansas City Cheifs only to be released less than a month later and never signed again. Both played in the Canadian Football league but never started for their team. Santos gave up pursuing football as a player, Thomas is currently a backup QB in the Arena football league. Chip made it work with these players in the same way he made it work with Nick Foles. Execute within the offense and it will be a yard accumulating, point scoring machine (albeit, much more difficult to do in the NFL than college). Chip ruined all of our realistic expectations the year he made Nick Foles look good.

Beyond any mirage factor, back to X's and O's, there is little to get excited about with Nick Foles. Greg Cosell, in my opinion, sums up Nick Foles in a nutshell with these quotes. "When Foles gets into more long-yardage situations-- it's tougher for any quarterback, that's not just Nick Foles-- but Foles is not the kind of quarterback that is going to stand in the pocket and drill the ball consistently between defenders." "Last year because all of this was new to defensive coordinators, we all agree that it looked last year like there were a ton of open receivers, which doesn't happen that much in the NFL." "I think if you look at Foles the player, what you likely see is this: He's got a good arm but not a gun; he's not a power thrower, not a drive thrower. He's a little more of a finesse thrower than a drive thrower. He does not have quick feet. There is no quick-twitch to his movement. There's no explosive lower-body movement to him. When you look at Foles, I think what you see is a quarterback that needs the system to work for him and provide defined reads and good throws with the route concepts, just the whole system. He needs the system to work for him.."

I agree wholeheartedly with Cosell's assessment and I'd like to take it a step further. Pro Football Focus keeps a stat for QB's to measure their accuracy. They eliminate throwaways, spikes and just try to isolate the instances where a QB is truly trying to complete a pass. According to Steve Palazzolo of PFF, Foles was the worst in the NFL in 2013 in this accuracy stat. In 2014, through the AZ Cardinals game, he was AGAIN the worst in the NFL and on top of that, he was also the worst in the NFL on "INT-worthy" throws. Meaning whether or not the throw was actually picked off, it counts all of the throws that should of been picked off. I also have an issue with Foles decision making. Long story short, I don't think it's good. I'd like to provide some evidence of that here:

All of these things, Foles' athletic limitations, struggles with accuracy and decision making, when considered in totality, make me really struggle to understand the thought process of a hypothetical question such as, "if Marcus Mariota was available at pick #20 would you draft him?" (this is for you, Ike Reese.) It's not so much of a decision as it is a full blown block party.

Now, I used this format to compare/contrast Nick Foles and Marcus Mariota but I feel it's important to stress that it does not HAVE to be Mariota. If he were to be drafted 1st overall and the Eagles take Trae Waynes in the first round, no problem. It is just my opinion, that unless we have a QB that can provide those dynamic elements to the position, we're shortchanging ourselves (enjoyment) and our football team. Whether its Brett Hundley, Bryce Petty, Colin Kaepernick (through trade), someway, somehow we have to get upgraded at that position. Otherwise it will be more of the same next year from the QB who threw 33 INT's in 33 college games. The QB who threw 15 INT's in 15 games in 2012 and 2014. Don't let the "Chip mirage" hide the truth. Enough of Nick Foles. We need better.