The Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles were going to need a huge performance from Nick Foles to take down the Houston Texans. Spoiler alert: they got one.
Facing one of the best run defenses in the league, the offense relied heavily on Foles to keep their playoff hopes alive. What resulted was one of Foles’ best regular season games in an Eagles’ uniform.
Foles has achieved a +100 QB Rating 17 times in his career (min. 10 att.). In those games, he’s 16-1. The winning trend continued for Foles on Sunday. Against the Texans he recorded a QB Rating of 120.4, his highest since in regular season play since October of 2016 when he played in Kansas City. It also was the second highest QBR recorded this season for the Eagles.
Foles reached this high level of play by exhibiting excellent pre-snap mental processing and hitting some extremely tough throws with optimal placement. What follows are three of his Sunday bests.
3. THE UNDEFEATED RB WHEEL
What the Eagles’ coaching staff has done with Foles, dating back to his magical Super Bowl run of last year, is implement play-calls he’s found success with previously. It should be no surprise that one of his best throws came on an Eagles’ staple since the Chip Kelly days.
What makes the the “mesh-sit wheel” concept so effective is it involves both man and zone beaters and a combination of natural rubs. In one of the variations the Eagles ran Sunday, instead of running intersecting shallow crossers, they convert those into whip routes, but that’s not the important aspect of this play. The key to success is creating traffic for the running back to uncover either in the flat or vertically on the wheel.
The idea is to get the linebacker assigned to the running back to make a decision. With two players in the way of his optimal path to cover the running back, he has two viable options.
- Option 1: Play the sticks on 3rd & 1 and shoot under the traffic to take away the flat throw.
- Option 2: Play conservatively over the traffic to take away the wheel throw.
The linebacker circled in red is Zach Cunningham. He’s their athletic cover man that stays in for all of their passing down packages. He decides to take the flat away by coming under the traffic.
December 24, 2018
Plus athlete or not, it doesn’t matter against Darren Sproles. It’s a tough assignment for any linebacker against any running back, especially one as explosive as Sproles. Cunningham does a good enough job getting to the first potential catchpoint in the flat, but simply can’t hang with Sproles vertically.
Simply put, there is no right answer for Cunningham if the offense executes.
For his part, Foles shows excellent patience to wait for Sproles to uncover. Faced with pressure coming from defensive lineman Carlos Watkins, Foles is forced to throw off-platform and still lays in an accurate bucket throw with perfect touch. It’s a difficult toss under clean conditions and an even better one under duress.
This is a concept Foles reads correctly often. He hit Corey Clement for 53 yards in Super Bowl on the same read and hit Sproles in the flat (with Dylan Cole playing over the traffic) on a 37-yard touchdown.
2. HOT ROUTE!
After the game Foles spoke about the 83-yard touchdown bomb to Nelson Agholor, saying that it was an audible made based on having previously seen a similar coverage. I checked the previous plays and with only the broadcast version at my disposal I identified a potentially similar coverage against the Eagles’ 3x1 set only two times.
That coverage idea is to place a cone bracket on Alshon Jeffery on the “X-Iso” side of the trips formation. This leaves man coverage to the trips side and a one-on-one matchup for Agholor on Tyrann Mathieu. I’ve often made the case that the Eagles needed to utilize Agholor as a deep threat more, so props to Foles for recognizing this matchup.
December 24, 2018
Foles is locked in on Agholor the entire way and throws a well placed bomb that drops in his lap. Not to take anything away from the route by Agholor or throw from Foles, but Mathieu worsens his position after losing a step by not tracking well. Instead of staying on Agholor’s upfield shoulder he tracks poorly and tries to undercut to make a play. This robs him of the chance to impact the catchpoint if he had stayed more outside.
Either way, he’s likely not getting his hands on this one and small mistakes become big ones when you dial up downfield shots.
This is a strength for Foles. He knows what he’s looking at and looking for pre-snap and can make the necessary adjustments that lead to shot plays. His deep ball accuracy typically ranks in the middle of the pack, but in the last two weeks his 63% accuracy on throws over 20 yards in the air is 2nd best in the league. If he can continue to throw with touch and accuracy while recognizing potential bombs, it could be huge for the offense moving forward.
Normally a term reserved for Doug Pederson, Foles showcased he’s got a set on him too with a clutch throw on the game-winning drive. It almost didn’t happen due to the route combination nearly causing a four car pile-up.
Not sure there's anywhere else Foles can put this; gorgeous throw taking a shot in a big time situation w/a tough catch from Jeffery - pic.twitter.com/37i0xTRuic— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) December 24, 2018
My educated guess is that Alshon Jeffery and Jordan Matthews are working a “dagger concept”. This means Jeffery is going to run a dig route into the space cleared out by Matthew’s go route. The problem is Matthews gets stuck on a jam. The lucky part is he gets really stuck on a jam.
With Jadeveon Clowney closing in on Foles, a decision had to be made quickly. Either collapse like Eli Manning in the face of a slight breeze or stand tall, take the shot, and have faith that your guy will make the play. Foles took the second option and in doing so delivered a throw to the only place where Jeffery alone could make a play on it.
Big throws, big situations, big... well you know the rest.