He emerged in 2013, was traded in 2015, and then he crashed — hard. His improbable re-emergence in the 2017 postseason now has everyone asking: How good is Nick Foles anyway?
So you think that you’ve had a bad day?
Just imagine being Jeff Fisher right now.
Imagine your dream is to be an NFL head coach. So you work hard. You pay your dues. You make a name for yourself. At last, your dream is fulfilled. You take over a soon-to-be expansion franchise and nearly lead them to a Super Bowl title.
You go on to have a long tenure with the club, with a modest level of success along the way. Modesty is no longer good enough — not enough to keep your job, at least — and eventually they fire you. But you land on your feet, finding new employment in a hurry.
You’re back in charge, living the dream, again. With a new club now, one with many needs. But at least you have your quarterback. Or so you think. Turns out that you were wrong. Your quarterback cannot stay out of the operating room, so you must move on from him. And it hurts. He had soooo much potential.
What’s done is done, though. You make a trade and Plan A quickly shifts to Plan B. There’s now a new era on the horizon, a new quarterback, one that brings with him an intriguing combination of tangible on-field success, prototypical size, arm talent, and an equaling measure of mystery.
Shortly after, Plan B goes up in flames. Kaboom! You’re back at square one, developing a new plan, searching for a new quarterback, yet again.
Big news: you find out that your club is moving out of town and into a new city. Things are looking up. It’s on to the next plan: Land your franchise quarterback, once and for all. You do whatever it takes, mortgaging future assets to acquire him. He’s the number one overall pick; a future star, you say to yourself. You just know it. Take it slow, is the daily reminder. We’ll groom him. We’ll play him when he’s ready, when the team around him is better.
In the meantime we’ll run so-and-so out there, he can handle the job … for the time being. So-and-so is a capable quarterback, and he takes the field. You compete, but wins are hard to come by. You need your new ace, your shiny new pick to go out there and show you what he has, to show you he’s the stud that you believe him to be. Disaster follows. The boos from the fanbase are overwhelming as your top Qb prospect fails miserably on the field.
The boss isn’t happy.
You’ve completely run out of chances.
Time is up.
Wow is what you say to yourself after being notified that you’re no longer the head coach. You tried your best. You gave it your all. You feel that you’re firing was premature, however, and you secretly sulk in private. And as you’re waiting for another opportunity to arise, you’re watching — watching three of the quarterbacks you once coached now tarnish your reputation with their stellar play on the field, except they’re all wearing different uniforms.
One by one, with every touchdown thrown, with every completion made, all three quarterbacks make you appear inept and foolish to the public. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. There’s nothing you can do to change the perception that now exists of you. It’s forever, unfortunately. It’s a legacy stain.
This is Jeff Fisher’s cross to bear.
So, you still believe that you’ve had a bad day?
The former head coach of the Tennessee Titans and St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, respectively, had himself a dog shit YEAR — of massive proportions — thanks to Jared Goff, Case Keenum and Nick Foles, the quarterbacks that ran his offense during his tenure with the Rams.
Prior to the start of the 2017 season, all three quarterbacks were considered to be in the laughing stock of the QB ranks, unequivocally.
Jared Goff is a bust, said the critics.
Case Keenum? Who in the hell is that?
Nick Foles? Oh yeah … I remember him.
My oh my how quickly things change in the NFL. Especially in the life of a quarterback: One minute they’re the hero and the next, the whipping boy.
Nick Foles knows this feeling all too well. He’s experienced the high-and-low emotional spectrum of the NFL quarterback quite vividly. From rising star under Chip Kelly to benched and cut by Jeff Fisher, Foles has been through it. If his career were a movie, Volumes 1 & 2 would now be available on Netflix. Film started rolling for Volume 3 on December 10, 2017, when he stepped in for an injured Carson Wentz — in LA of all places.
The irony of it all is confounding to me. Finding out that Nick Foles’ parents adopted a teenaged Nelson Agholor would be the only thing that could possibly make this story any more Hollywood than it already is.
As film continues rolling, with a Super Bowl MVP trophy resting on his mantle, the question has now become: What do we make of Foles’ 2017 resurgence? After a blundering season in St. Louis, how is it that in a two-year time span Nick Foles can look like Kurt Warner by simply changing teams?
How is that both Sam Bradford and Case Keenum can look average in a Rams uniform yet great in Minnesota Vikings gear?
And how is it that Jared Goff has looked like two entirely different quarterbacks from year 1 to year 2?
Is Sean McVay really that good?
Did ineptitude exist within the Rams coaching staff under Jeff Fisher?
Did Chip Kelly mistakenly overlook Nick Foles? Did we?
These are all legitimate questions deserving of legitimate answers, and they’re all so very intertwined — to the fullest extent.
Comprehending the Chip Kelly era
IT’S EASY TO SEE how an NFL quarterback such as Nick Foles can excel in once instance and vanish in the next. The tricky part is understanding it.
When Chip Kelly was named the successor to Andy Reid, Eagles fans were expecting to see an explosive offense upon arrival. The depth chart was chock-full of playmakers: Michael Vick at quarterback, LeSean McCoy at running back, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at receiver, and a really good offensive line that would make everything shimmer.
Kelly’s scheme needed to be the match that ignited these weapons, and it was … just not the way that Eagles fans expected it to be. Not exactly.
Vick, who struggled to pull away from Foles in the preseason but was named opening day starter, had been uneven through the first four games of 2013 regular season. He was Jekyll and Hyde: a dual-threat playmaker in the first two games and a shell of himself in the following two.
Visions of a creative offense with next-level play-innovation — and a trendy read-option quarterback at the helm — soon became an apparition when Vick’s body gave up on him in week 5 at the Meadowlands. The element of the option was no more with Nick Foles under center, although, it didn’t seem to matter much. Foles produced, and the Eagles won nine out of the final eleven games of the regular season, averaging 34 points per victory. Foles set a then-record 27–2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and had a memorable 7 passing touchdowns in a single game, which is still tied for the NFL record.
The slow-footed pocket QB was defying belief.
What Eagles fans soon realized, and everyone else for that matter, was that Chip Kelly’s offense wasn’t fully understood until Michael Vick’s exit from it. The read-option element wasn’t this fundamental thing; it was an accessory. Nick Foles’ strengths — his ability to make every throw and his overall accuracy— subdued his lack of foot speed and allowed the offense to flourish.
The National Football League is filled with smart people, though, with smart coaches that spend countless hours figuring out how to negate what you do well. And that’s what happened to Chip Kelly in the 2014 offseason.
By now, teams had figured out that the best way to attack the Chip Kelly offense was to negate LeSean McCoy and the Eagles ground game the only way they knew how: by putting an eighth defender in the box and forcing Nick Foles to throw it as often as possible.
Whether or not the plan worked is up for debate. The Eagles were 5–2 through the first seven weeks of the 2014 season, and the offense was still humming under Foles, averaging 33 points per victory.
With defenders keying in on LeSean, however, more was asked of Nick. His pass attempts per game had skyrocketed, from 29 attempts per game in 2013 to 42 per game in 2014. Plus, he had obstacles to overcome: DeSean Jackson became a casualty of the Chip Kelly Culture and was cut from the team in the offseason; Lane Johnson, the team’s Pro Bowl right tackle, was suspended for the first four games of the regular season; a rookie wide receiver, Jordan Matthews, was still learning the nuances of the position at the NFL level.
It was realistic to expect Foles’ numbers to somewhat dive. Even the casual NFL fan was aware that his absurd touchdown-to-interception ratio would inevitably fluctuate in his follow-up act. And it did. Nick’s touchdown percentage went down, by half — from 8.5 percent in 2013 to 4.2 percent in 2014. And that pristine INT percentage from a year ago went up, from a 0.6 to a 3.2 rate. The NFL is an adjustment league — that’s just reality.
Injuries occur — also an NFL reality. Foles was sent shoulder-first into the turf at NRG Stadium in week 8 against the Houston Texans, ending his 2014 season with a fractured collar bone. Just how the rest of the year might have played out we’ll never know. The Eagles were a .500 team without Foles at quarterback, finishing 4–4 with Mark Sanchez in his place. That much is fact.
Despite all of the analytics demonstrating the value that Nick Foles created, Chip Kelly, looking to out-smart everyone, again, decided to ship Foles (plus a second round pick) to the Rams for Sam Bradford. This is the move that altered the course of Eagles history, and ultimately, Foles’ career.
Nature versus Nurture
As of this very moment the public perception of Nick Foles is split into two sides. There are those who believe that Nick is generally, at best, a mid-tier QB who can heat up and manufacture quality offensive production in waves — the perfect back-up quarterback, perhaps. And then there are those, such as myself, who feel that Nick, when placed in the proper settings, can be an upper echelon quarterback with sustainability going forward.
But to understand what the proper settings are, one must first understand what poor settings look like for an NFL quarterback.
Now back to Jeff Fisher …
All that you need to know about why Nick Foles and Jared Goff failed to produce or make progress under Jeff Fisher can be easily understood by watching one episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks season 12 — any episode.
Fisher’s outdated tough-guy methods are apparent from the jump, as are the methods of his ineffectual coaching staff — in particular his offensive coordinator, Rob Boras, and his quarterback coach, Chris Weinke.
Watching Boras and Weinke trying to get through to Jared Goff was akin to watching your grandfather trying to figure out how Snapchat works.
It was painful to witness.
Maybe, just maybe things would’ve played out differently for Bradford, Foles and Goff (Keenum, too) if the Rams had a roster that was better equipped to win while they were there. Perhaps the staff’s archaic coaching style would’ve produced better results than it did. But it failed — terribly.
There’s little coincidence in knowing that all four quarterbacks succeeded this year under the umbrella of a more youthful, player-friendly ecosystem. Having coaches that teach modern offensive philosophies embedded in college-style spread concepts was invaluable to their 2017 success.
Sean McVay, Pat Shurmur and Doug Pederson didn’t insist on the quarterback fitting their system; Instead, they created a system that was built around the quarterback and what he does well. Putting egos aside, these three coaches accentuated their quarterback’s attributes while simplifying the terminology in the playbook, which in turn made life happier for everyone.
Without the stress of heavy play verbiage to remember and recite, their field-generals were more comfortable in the huddle, and thus, more confident on the field. The results speak for themselves, really.
Comfort in the pocket is also of great importance, as is having weapons to lean on, which were both non-existent in St. Louis and LA during the Fisher regime. When you’re a quarterback who’s consistently getting hit because the protection leaks like a sieve and your receivers are never open, panic rapidly consumes and overwhelms you. It changes how you perform.
So, it’s easy to understand why Foles nearly retired in the 2016 offseason. I get it. I’m honestly surprised that Bradford didn’t contemplate retirement during his time with Fisher and the Rams organization.
By the time Nick had rebounded, the 2017 offseason had arrived. He and his agent were contacted by the Eagles staff wanting to reach a deal. It was Howie Roseman on the phone. He was offering a two-year contract to back up Carson Wentz, and the money was pretty good. Besides, backing up Ginger Jesus didn’t seem all that bad when compared to his time in St. Louis.
Wow, look at all of these weapons we have.
Wow, look at the offensive line and the protection they create.
Wow, look at the defense … they’re stacked.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
When Carson Wentz was injured in LA and Foles put on a helmet for his first meaningful snap since returning to Philly, Eagles fans, covered in tears and vomit, were expecting to see the shit roll downhill. Instead, what they saw was a Nick Foles who never left — a 2013 Nick Foles, just slinging it.
He was poised. He was accurate. He was confident. He was everything they remembered, and everything they hoped he would be. Those rolling shit balls quickly grew wings and navigated their way to Minneapolis, and none of it would be possible if Nick were anything less than astonishing.
Whether or not the “real” Nick Foles is the version that we see now or the early version that we saw then or the broken version from in-between — or simply some combination of all three versions — it’s surely a conversation worth exploring, and a topic worth debating, as we wait on the answer.
Foles’ story — as well as countless others — is proof that a quarterback’s environmental structure, and the pivotal role it plays in determining their success and failures, is a topic that should no longer be debated.
Nick Foles 3.0
BOTH FAILURE AND SUCCESS have certainly played integral roles in Foles’ journey thus far. His pro experiences have molded him into the player that you see today. But who exactly is that player? That is the question everyone’s been asking since February 4. The people want to know: How good is Nick Foles, and how good can he become?
Well, we know that Nick is good enough to hoist the Lombardi trophy. We also know that he can play at an MVP level on the game’s biggest stage, and there is no precedence more grand than that. We’re in an era of football where quarterbacks are judged more for their hardware than they are their statistical accomplishments, and Nick now has both playing in his favor.
How good you believe Nick Foles is and just how good he can be going forward all depends on your viewing lens.
Those who are truly observant to the game, that understand the nuances and the complexities and the challenges that players face — especially at the quarterback position — recognize that what they saw this year from Foles can be classified as special, as unique, as defining. Because if you understand and appreciate of all the above elements, then you are fully aware of the two components that are fundamental to a QB’s chances of success: mastery of the mental side of the game, mastery of the physical side.
The mental side isn’t just X’s and O’s, either. It’s overcoming failure. It’s determination. It’s showing grit in the face of adversity. It’s leadership. And, perhaps most paramount of all attributes , it’s confidence.
It’s a mountain to climb, really, and it ain’t easy.
That’s why quarterbacks are the hero’s in the end: the successful ones have scaled miles of rock just to reach the summit.
If I were a betting man, and I’m not, but if I were, then I would bet it all on Nick going forward. I see his story, and all that he’s had to overcome, and I’m reminded of Kurt Warner’s story in a peculiar sort of way. Their individual journeys are fairly analogous, particularly from a confidence standpoint.
Kurt’s story is a well-told one, and repeating it here will only bore us all to no end (yet again), so I won’t engage. Rather, the part of their stories that parallel — mainly their confidence hurdles — is the focus of my analogy.
Kurt Warner succeeded in the NFL despite a lack of many things, but arm talent was never one of them. Confidence was, however. So he drifted, and he sank, never making it past being a camp arm, and for a while his window had closed. Confidence was missing. But it had finally surfaced. And it swam, and it developed. Luck played a part in it all, sure, but that’s what it takes sometimes. You need luck and good coaches and talented players around you to succeed in the NFL. This is especially true for quarterbacks.
Name a Hall of Fame quarterback and think about who his coaches were, who his receivers were, who his running backs were. Think about the defense and ask yourself this: Could so-and-so have made it to the Hall without these guys? If you’re being honest with yourself, then the answer is no.
Help is important. Coaches are especially important to quarterbacks.
Gloss over the history of the game and you’ll find plenty of good quarterbacks who were accompanied by good coaches. It’s an alliance symbiotic in nature: Good coaches provide the right environment, and good quarterbacks score touchdowns. In the end, they both help keep each other employed.
Initially, Foles couldn’t have landed in a better place than with Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles. As a 3rd round pick in a draft class that was simply loaded with top-notch QB prospects, Foles was widely recognized amongst the evaluators as a high-ceiling prospect with oodles of arm talent working in his favor. And the evaluators weren’t wrong. The arm talent was never in question — confidence was, however, and it intermittently reared it’s ugly head early in his career. Nick’s leadership style nor his ability to read a defense were ever in question. It was always a confidence issue with him.
Once Reid was fired, and Chip Kelly was named his successor, Foles no longer had a safety net from the coach that once drafted him. He had to prove himself to Kelly — the pudgy-faced demigod that he was — as well as Kelly’s staff. They ultimately didn’t see it in him, though. And perhaps for good reason. Maybe “it” wasn’t there. The mental toughness that was needed hadn’t developed yet.
A trade led Nick down a road of self-discovery, however, and eventually back to the only coordinator on Andy Reid’s staff — the only NFL staffer, period — that scheduled a private workout with Foles in his 2012 pre-draft process, and that staffer was Doug Pederson. The rest is history, as they say.
Now that he’s reached the mountain top, how far can Nick take it from here?
Only time will tell. Until then it’s a waiting game.
Foles will see the field next year, likely in Eagles attire, as the club’s golden goose recovers from a complex knee injury that will presumably sideline him for the start of the 2018 regular season. And when Nick does play, he will play well. He’ll play poorly, too, that much is inevitable.
But, for his own sake, maybe there’s a smart coach — somewhere out there — that sees Nick for what he is, and understands what he can become.
And in a year, if the stars align, if this anonymous person gets a head coaching opportunity, Foles will become an unrestricted free agent. Perhaps this coach pursues Nick and is wise enough to develop an offense around him, rich with playmakers , and the two create a legacy together. Then, and only then, will we fully comprehend how good Nick Foles can truly be.