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Eagles want (and need) to see Nick Foles be more aggressive

Needed: AIR YARDS

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

“Gunslinger.”

That’s the word Nick Foles used to describe himself during his first press conference after Carson Wentz’s season-ending ACL injury.

That’s not the word that can be used to accurately describe Foles’ performance since taking over as the Eagles’ starting quarterback, however.

Foles has been reluctant to throw the ball down the field, which is evident in his average yards per attempt: 5.43.

His longest completion since taking over as the starter has gone for 32 yards. And that play was a short swing pass to Jay Ajayi, who caught it and ran.

In other words, the throw did not help Foles accumulate many #AirYards. Neither did his longest throw in the Raiders game: 25 yards. Or his longest throw in limited action against the Cowboys: 15 yards.

Foles has repeatedly stated that he hasn’t lost confidence in himself. But talk is cheap and the evidence tells a different story. He hasn’t been standing tall in the pocket in order to take shots down field. Instead, he’s reverted to his old bad habits.

The Eagles’ coaching staff has admitted Foles could stand to be more aggressive.

Q. When you say that Foles needs to be himself, what does that look like in your mind?

FRANK REICH: Not trying to force anything. That’s a fair question. Not trying to force anything but being aggressive. He’s an aggressive -- he’s got an aggressive mind-set. I remember his first day here talking to him about how he plays the game and just picking his brain, just talking quarterback play. And I could just see his eyes light up with this aggressive mindset: “I like to throw the ball down the field. I’m an aggressive -- I play an aggressive style of ball.” So to be more specific to your question, I think that would be one example.

It’s been suggested that all Foles needs to do is “not turn the ball over.” That’s ideal, yes, but not at the cost of the offense being completely ineffective and unable to move the ball.

And it’s not even like Foles is totally incapable of chucking the rock. He doesn’t have the best deep ball, but he’s had some success with it, as we saw in 2013 when he averaged 9.1 yards per attempt. That year was obviously an outlier, but all his other seasons were signficantly better than his current 5.3 average. Even his stint with the Rams in 2015!

2012 - 6.4
2013 - 9.1
2014 - 7.0
2015 - 6.1
2016 - 7.5
2017 - 5.3

We even saw a glimpse of Foles’ deep passing success earlier this season when he unleashed a 35-yard strike to Nelson Agholor against the Broncos. It took a contested catch to make that play, but at least he gave his receiver a chance.

Foles is going to need to push the ball down field more often in the playoffs in order for the Eagles to win. Teams are going to put eight men in the box and try to stop the run. Defenses are going to try to take away Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor in the underneath passing game. The Falcons have the speed and talent do as much.

Atlanta also has two really good cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. With that said, the Eagles are paying Alshon Jeffery No. 1 wide receiver money for a reason. Go give him some chances to come down with a jump ball. Or at least one. Foles targeting Jeffery twice in a single game, like he did against the Raiders, just isn’t going to cut it. Foles even admitted it on Tuesday.

And even though Torrey Smith hasn’t been very reliable or effective, he’s flashed some deep speed ability. Smith drew a pass interference penalty, which is something he’s actually good at doing, that set up a touchdown throw to Jeffery early in the Eagles-Giants game.

It was also a pass interference penalty that set up the Eagles’ final touchdown in their playoff game against the Saints in 2014. You know, the drive where Foles infamously “left the field with the lead.”

Expecting Foles to play lights out in the playoffs just isn’t realistic. The Eagles can’t just count on him to carry the team. Philadelphia really needs to rely on Jay Ajayi and the run game. Jim Schwartz’s defense REALLY needs to continue to be a lockdown unit at home.

But Foles can’t play super conservative and scared. He needs to give this team a chance to make some big plays in the passing game. The hope is he recognizes the difference between aggressive and reckless.