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Why The Eagles Were Right To Move On From Nick Foles

After a season that went south, Nick Foles heads west.

Evan Habeeb/Getty Images

Like Chip Kelly's offense, the Eagles off-season has been fast and furious. Substituting big moves for big plays, Chip Kelly, newly anointed football personnel czar, kicked off the free agency window with a bomb: trading Nick Foles to the Rams for Sam Bradford. It was the opening salvo in a dizzying series of moves to completely remake the Eagles in one off-season. The Foles/Bradford trade has so far been massively unpopular in Philly and well received in St. Louis, in part because of Bradford, in part because of the jettison of Foles. The Rams, Rams fans and a sizable portion of Eagles fans have high hopes for Foles to rebound from a poor 2014 season to something resembling his storybook 2013 season. If he could, wouldn't Chip Kelly have kept the most successful QB he's had in the NFL? Instead, he trades him for the oft-injured, expensive and disappointing Bradford?

If Kelly gives up on you as a quarterback, that’s probably not seen as a ringing endorsement of what your future holds - Don Banks

This move seemingly confirms a report from November that the team had "soured" on him, as if trading your starting QB isn't condemning enough. Sure, it's possible that Foles rebounds. His 2012 rookie season was encouraging, all things considered, and it's not unheard of for a QB to find success reborn in a new environment. A variety of reasons have been given for why he will bounce back, and they range from the absurd to the logical.

He’s young, 14-4, 27/2, he was the Pro Bowl MVP, he’s tough...

These are all nonsense. None of them have anything to do why he struggled and why anyone should assume he will not struggle going forward. Foles will be 26 and entering his fourth year in the NFL. That’s not a young player. Teddy Bridgewater is a young player. Blake Bortles is a young player. Nick Foles is at an age where the vast majority of players have already firmly established themselves.

"14-4" excludes the playoff loss to the Saints and includes the Texans game where Foles was injured in the first quarter, Mark Sanchez took the majority of snaps and should be "credited" with the win. But really no player should be credited with a win, assigning team records to an individual player is incredibly misleading. Carson Palmer is 14-4 in his last 18 regular season games. Vince Young was 31-19, an 62% win percentage, Andy Dalton is 40-23-1 for 62.5%, those are better than Drew Brees' 58%.

27/2 is an outcome, an outlier one, just as 29/7 and 23/4 are, which are also absurdly good TD/INT ratios. Those outlier seasons were put up by Vinny Testaverde and Steve DeBerg, respectively. Testaverde ended his career with a 275/267 TD/INT ratio, DeBerg with 196/204. Outcomes are not exact representatives of a process. The best team doesn't always win and a great performance doesn't always succeed.

Nick Foles is tough, and that's not nothing. The pounding he took against Washington this season was a serious one, and he held his own as a rookie with a team disintegrating around him in 2012. But toughness alone doesn't make a quarterback.

The loss of DeSean Jackson took away the deep threat, and that hampered the offense.

Certainly losing DeSean Jackson on the field hurt, and it’s easy to point out that the Eagles didn’t have as many deep passes in 2014 as they did in 2013 as proof. But Jackson was sufficiently replaced by Jeremy Maclin, who had his own career year.

Player Rec Yards Y/R TD
Jackson 2013 82 1332 16.2 9
Maclin 2014 85 1318 15.5 10

The main reason the Eagles didn’t have as many deep passes is because they played the second half of the season with weak-armed Mark Sanchez, and before that the first half of the season with Foles consistently failing to complete or even see deep passes. And now Foles doesn't have any weapons like Jackson or Maclin in St. Louis, or one of the best offensive coaches in the league.

Opposing teams knew Chip Kelly’s offense better.

Giving the league an off-season to study the Eagles offense even further doesn't help, but this assumes two things: one, that 2014 Eagles offense was the same as the 2013 Eagles offense. It wasn’t. In 2013 the Eagles got next to no production from their slot receiver, Jason Avant, who had only 38 catches for 447 yards and 2 TDs. In 2014, Jordan Matthews replaced him and caught 67 passes for 872 yards and 8 TDs. Additionally, Zach Ertz received more playing time and Darren Sproles provided an alternative threat out of the backfield. The changes weren't just positive. The offensive line suffered injuries, LeSean McCoy struggled for most of the season, and Riley Cooper was completely ineffective. Every season is different. Every season, coaches and players have to adapt to new challenges. The good ones overcome them and succeed.

That the offense was "figured out" also assumes that Nick Foles was figured out too.

Beset by injuries, the offensive line faltered, which significantly affected Foles’ play.

Without a doubt a stable (and good) offensive line is much better than one with a rotating cast of starters. And it does help explain some of Foles’ poor play. Both guards suffered injuries and teams pressured the interior of the Eagles line because of it. But it doesn't account for all of it. Foles consistently ran from pressure that did not exist, leaving a clean pocket to scramble and often just throw the ball away, take a sack or make a poor throw. That's not the fault of the line.

The running game struggled, which effected the passing game.

It certainly did, and having a good running game is better than not having one. The instability at the offensive line hurt the running game, as did LeSean McCoy's lack of explosion. But passing has much more correlation to winning than running does, a good running game is nice, but not necessary to win. While Chip Kelly operates a little differently than the rest of the league, he can't singlehandedly change a league-wide correlation, no one person or team can.

Only one of Tom Brady's offensive lineman started all 16 games, and very late in the pre-season the team traded away their starting right guard. Andrew Luck led the league in TD passes with only one offensive lineman starting all 16 games, and with a terrible running game. Having a strong offensive line and running game are great to have, but they don't prohibit success.

And if Foles will excel with a strong running game, why did Chip Kelly trade him then sign DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews?

The loss of Bill Lazor affected him.

Did it? Before being hired by Chip Kelly, Bill Lazor was a nobody with a mediocre at best resume. As a QB coach for the Redskins and Seahawks, his QBs weren’t any good. In the season prior to Lazor's arrival, Matt Hasselbeck had one of the best seasons of his career. The next season, with Lazor as his QB coach, he had his worst. Jason Campbell never progressed under his watch, but did play better immediately after Lazor left. His offenses at Virginia were lousy. Prior to joining Chip Kelly’s staff, Lazor was never part of a staff that developed a young QB or made an established veteran better. In Miami, Joe Philbin publicly talked about benching Ryan Tannehill. And on Chip Kelly’s staff, he butted heads with Foles. Perhaps Foles needs a hardass coach to succeed. But if so, that’s another example of how Foles needs everything to be just right for him to succeed. That’s not a "franchise QB". That's not even a starting QB.

So why did the Eagles decide to move on from Foles? (links are GIFs to not slow down the page)

Early in his season he scrambled from clean pockets, threw off his back foot, did not see open receivers and his deep passes were poor. And his short passes too.

In the middle of his season he was better about scrambling from a clean pocket, but still threw off his back foot, did not see open receivers and his deep and short passes were poor.

And at the end of his season he again scrambled from clean pockets, threw off his back foot, did not see open receivers and his deep and short passes were poor.

Every player has a bad game now and then. But throughout the season, Foles never corrected any of these mistakes. It would be one thing if he had a bad stretch. But this was a bad season. Yes, the offense wasn't catching anyone by surprise this season, there were injuries and subtractions, and the running game wasn't as good. If Nick Foles needs a strong offensive line, a strong running game, a particular style of position coach, a top tier deep threat and an offense that no one has seen before to succeed.... then the Eagles were absolutely right to move on from him.

But even when he had all those things, the mistakes were still there. In 2013 he had a healthy, strong offensive line. He had a dominant running game. He had DeSean Jackson on the field and Bill Lazor on the sideline. And the offense was new.

And yet, he still made the same mistakes he did this season.

The Eagles say Sam Bradford is their QB for 2015, though there is reason to doubt that. So maybe we don't really know who the Eagles starter will be in 2015. Nick Foles' performance made sure it wasn't him.

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