When a quarterback throws seven touchdown passes in a game, that would more often than not be their crowning achievement. When a quarterback goes a full season throwing 27 touchdowns, with only two interceptions, that typically becomes their crowning achievement.
Nick Foles is in the rare company that has accomplished both of those feats, in fact he’s the only quarterback to do both. While those accomplishments were historic, Foles’ career performance came on the penultimate stage this past weekend against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game.
I’m going to take a look at some of the biggest plays Foles and the rest of the Eagles’ offense made on Sunday.
Much like they did against the Falcons, the Eagles did a good job of dictating what the defense would do with misdirection and play-action. In the play above the Eagles use play-action off a sweep to roll Nick Foles out to his right. The Vikings are in man defense and the play fake gets them going in the wrong direction. Nelson Agholor (13), playing the slot for the Eagles, runs a drag with the slot corner playing off in trail coverage. Foles puts the ball over the head of Harrison Smith (22) — who’s on the end of the line of scrimmage — picking up an easy completion that gets Foles in a rhythm early.
I loved Eagles head coach Doug Pederson’s willingness to attack downfield early and test Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes. Early in the game, Pederson dialed up a shot play to Torrey Smith that should have been a completion. I thought the play design above was neat in the way that it gave Foles options. On the left side of the formation, the Eagles ran a fake wide receiver screen, along with a sprinkled in switch concept in which the slot receiver runs a wheel route. Foles fakes the screen to the left and draws the defense up to that side of the field. The Vikings communicate well and switch off on the wheel route, which could have led to a wide open receiver had they not. The pump fake also serves to freeze the single high safety Andrew Sendejo (34) while Torrey Smith works the vertical route on the right side of the field. With Smith’s speed, Sendejo has no shot of recovering to get over the top to help Waynes. This leaves the middle of the field open, which is where Foles should have thrown it to make the play easier for Smith. The ball instead stays too far outside the hash marks forcing Smith to make a more contested catch that he can’t haul in, although he still should’ve. If the ball is thrown a little further towards the middle of the field, Smith likely has the opportunity to make an uncontested play.
As well as Foles ultimately played on Sunday, an offense works in unison. Last week I discussed the intricacies of a gameplan and what it truly means to call a great game. This past week the Eagles brought that same preparation with great execution, and it set the entire offense up for success. Coming in, the scouting report likely mentioned Everson Griffen’s (97) aggressiveness when it comes to getting up the field. In the play above the Eagles block to the right, which fools the linebackers and gets them flowing in that direction. They leave Griffen unblocked at the end of the line and he crashes down too far. If Griffen stays square, he likely drops Jay Ajayi in the backfield for a loss, but the Eagles played to his aggressiveness and Ajayi is able to get wide of him. Give credit to the Eagles’ wide receivers who did an excellent job of holding their blocks to allow Ajayi to get up to the second level and pick up a first down.
There wasn’t anything special about the design of the play above, but what caught my eye was how well it was executed. On the the right side Mack Hollins (10) is the lone receiver, with tight end Zach Ertz (86) close to the formation. Ertz just releases to the flat on third-and-short, but the impressive part of the play was what Hollins did. He ran a hook route that’s only purpose was to create a pick. Hollins immediately located Harrison Smith and camped right in front of him, which created enough separation for Ertz to get the first down. I just thought that was an incredibly savvy play from the rookie wide receiver and — as somebody on Twitter pointed out — serves as a testament to the job that wide receiver coach Mike Groh has done with this unit.
For the second straight week, Eagles tight end Trey Burton (88) had a crucial block on a touchdown run. In the play above, the Eagles run a “wham” concept where they leave Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson (92) unblocked and bring Burton across the formation to block him. Burton does a good job of sealing the block and Mack Hollins blocks down on Vikings cornerback Terence Newman (23) to spring running back LeGarrette Blount free. Once Blount gets to the third level, he only has to win one-on-one against Sendejo, which he easily does.
There wasn’t anything special about the two plays above that caught my eye, except the fantastic offensive line play, but they seem to be apart of a new trend that we’re seeing with Nick Foles. The joke has been made often about Nick Foles back-pedaling his way into disaster. In his last two games, I’ve noticed less of that. He’s stepping up in the pocket and not letting pressure rattle him, which in turn is allowing him to make precise, accurate throws. Quarterbacks tend to revert to bad habits when the bullets are flying or they come under pressure, but Foles stood in the pocket all night long, executing how you’d want him to. I’d like to believe this is attributed to John DeFilippo and the rest of the Eagles’ offensive staff. I’m sure they’ve spent most of the season and the bye week working with Foles on these nuances. One other thing that I believe has helped Foles is that the coaching staff has called plays to get him in a rhythm early, boosting his confidence. If all of this is true, its says a lot about how good this coaching staff truly is.
The play above is a continuation of what I just mentioned with Foles’ ability to hang tough in the pocket with pressure arriving. To the left side of the formation, the Eagles are running their flood concept, with Alshon Jeffery running a deep dig route to the right side. After Jeffery breaks on his route, Terence Newman cuts inside and Jeffery leverages that to his advantage. Seeing Foles in trouble, Jeffery takes his route up the field to give Foles somebody to throw the ball to. A few plays prior to this, when Foles was in trouble he chucked the ball deep to avoid a sack. That play was likely still fresh in Jeffery’s head as he turned upfield with nobody deep. Foles was able to extend the play and keep his eyes downfield, letting it rip and hitting Jeffery in stride for a touchdown.
The Eagles gameplan against the Vikings was well-executed and I can’t say that enough. With less than 40 seconds in the half and facing a cover 1 defense, the Eagles run a receiver deep while Zach Ertz runs what initially appears to be an out route. Harrison Smith plays it as such, because with less than a minute left, situational football assumes the Eagles want to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Ertz ends up running and out-and-up which is exactly what it sounds like. With Smith in a trail position and the deep safety and corner occupied with the vertical route, there’s nothing to stop Ertz from ripping off a long gain that puts the Eagles in field goal position.
Despite the early drop, I thought Torrey Smith had a really good game. On the first play he easily beats Trae Waynes inside and gets behind him almost instantly. The deep safety was drawn to the opposite side of the field, which gave Smith all the room he needed had Foles been able stay clean in the pocket and deliver the ball downfield. If the blitzing linebacker was held in check for just a second longer, Torrey Smith likely has a touchdown if he catches the ball.
On the second play, the Eagles run a flea flicker, but safety Harrison Smith does a good job of diagnosing it. Flea flickers tend to be easier for disciplined players and defenses to diagnose because the offensive line sets up in pass protection, which is one of the defense’s keys. Torrey Smith does an excellent job selling the play as a run when he hesitates halfway through his route and picks it back up to beat Waynes again. Smith almost gets over in time to make a play, but Nick Foles throws a perfect pass and hits the honey hole between the safety and cornerback, giving the Eagles a 31-7 lead to start the third quarter.
The play above is a variation of what the Eagles have done in the redzone all year long. They motioned Alshon Jeffery across the formation which helps them diagnose the coverage early. After the ball is snapped, Zach Ertz runs a hook route to the goalline, while Alshon Jeffery runs deeper route in behind Ertz. This design is geared towards forcing a defense to defend one player at the cost of leaving another open. If the defender swarm to Ertz, Foles can hit Jeffery behind them for a touchdown. Seeing as how Ertz has become a dangerous redzone weapon, teams typically focus on removing him from a play.
The Eagles ran this same route concept with Ertz and Jeffery in their Week 4 win over the Chargers and Jeffery scored on it then. If it’s not broke don’t fix it.
This game highlighted why execution is so key. The coaching staff can put together the best gameplan in the world, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the players to execute those concepts for them to be successful. The Eagles did so on Sunday, and they couldn’t have done so any better. Every unit on offense was clicking in unison as the Eagles dismantled what was considered to be the best defense in football. After watching this game, this may have been the most well executed performance the Eagles had all year, even with Carson Wentz. That’s not to say Foles is better than Wentz, as he’s not and it’s not close, but his play was nearly perfect. The downside to that is that it’s not likely Foles plays like that again. Weaving through Eagles postseason history, I’d be hard pressed to find another quarterback performance that’s quite as good as this one. I don’t believe Foles will play like this in the Super Bowl, but I believe there’s a happy medium between this performance and the Falcons one that he can play at and still give the Eagles a legitimate chance to win. However, if by some chance Foles and the rest of the offense can execute like they did against Minnesota, they can’t lose.
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