Nick Foles is not going to be Carson Wentz.
Obviously, right? I mean, the talent gap between the two quarterbacks is clear, and no amount of reminiscing about 2013 is going to convince anyone that Foles will be anything other than the worst quarterback playing in the 2017 NFC playoffs.
But that doesn’t mean Foles can’t win the NFC. That doesn’t mean he can’t get the team to the Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean the season is lost.
It’s going to be tough, but Foles doesn’t have to be Wentz in order to pull this off. Wentz was the NFL MVP, and no back-up QB in football could match what Carson accomplished. And the Eagles are certainly going to be focusing on the running game over the next few weeks and hoping that a very good defense can take their game to another level over the next two months.
Nick Foles doesn’t have to put the team on his back in order for the Eagles to win a couple regular season games against sub-par opponents and then two home playoff games. But he does have to do three things well in order for him to hold up his end of the bargain.
Interceptions and fumbles are killers, perhaps the one aspect of football that most results in wins and losses. Generally speaking, when you lose the turnover battle, you lose the game.
Wentz did a terrific job avoiding turnovers this season, throwing only seven picks in 14 games. He also lost four fumbles, making 11 turnovers total. That’s damn good.
Sure, Foles had his incredible 27/2 TD/INT ratio back in ‘13, but that was long ago. In 2014, he threw 10 interceptions in eight games and tossed another 10 picks in 11 games for the St. Louis Rams in 2015.
If the Birds are going to keep their heads above water, Foles has to be smart and not hand the ball over to the defense.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
The Eagles’ success on third down this season has been pretty incredible, converting 45.31% of their third downs into first downs this season, the third-best mark in the NFL (Atlanta & Minnesota were the only teams better). Wentz had an NFL-best 123.7 passer rating on third down, 81-for-124, good for a 65.3% completion percentage, with 14 TDs and 3 INTs.
More impressive, Wentz averaged 9.5 yards per attempt and 10.67 air yards per attempt on 3rd down, a striking difference from the rest of NFL QBs who routinely throw short of the sticks.
An effective running game can help Foles out by chewing up yardage on 1st and 2nd downs, leaving him with a lot of 3rd-and-shorts. And even if that happens, Foles isn’t going to put up Wentz-like numbers on 3rd down, it’s just not possible. But if he can keep the Birds in the top-10 in terms of 3rd down conversions, it would allow the Eagles to keep more drives alive and avoid having to settle for field goals.
RED ZONE TOUCHDOWNS
The other huge improvement made by Wentz this season was converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
As a team, the Eagles lead the NFL in red zone percentage (67.39%), way up from a 49.09% mark in 2016 that ranked 22nd. Wentz himself had a passer rating of 116.2 inside the red zone, completing 65.5% of his passes with 23 TDs and not a single interception inside the opponents’ 20-yard line (although he did fumble just shy of the goal line against the Seattle Seahawks two weeks ago, his one and only turnover in the red zone).
Again, Foles can’t be expected to replicate Wentz’ numbers here. Nevertheless, one of the biggest keys to the offense’s success this year has been turning red zone opportunities into touchdowns and keeping the field goal unit on the sidelines. Two scoring drives that turn into touchdowns rather than field goals is a difference of eight points. That’s huge.
If Foles can maintain a red zone rate above 57%, that would be good enough to rank in the top 13 in the NFL this season, and would probably be good enough to help the Birds pile up enough points to win some playoff games.
The drop-off from Wentz to Foles is going to be striking. There’s no way around it. But if Foles can effectively manage these three key areas of the offense, he will have done his job.
And that’s all anyone can ask.