Monday, October 21, 2013

This Just In: When Your QB Is Horrible, You Lose

Foles' Gold
In today's Eagles-Cowboys game, the woeful Eagles' defense clearly played their best game of the year. They kept up some good work against the run, got off the field on third down, achieved some success in rushing the passer, had a game-changing interception when the team needed it the most, and held an explosive offense to 17 points despite being put, time and again, on the field quickly. The corners did some good work, the safeties hit, and the front seven more than held its own. Dallas QB Tony Romo had some chances and missed, but even if he had played well, this defense showed heart and grit and was all kinds of encouraging, really. For the NFL in 2013, this was a good defense.

And today, they never had a chance.

Why? Well, because the Eagles got a truly terrible game from their most important player, QB Nick Foles. Tentative, slow, inaccurate, inexplicable, limited athletically... it was all on notice today for the reigning NFC Player of the Week, and if the team had a healthy and viable back up instead of shell-shocked rookie Matt Barkley (who would get in to turn the ball over like he was trying to set some kind of record late), he would have been out of the game a lot faster than the fourth quarter.

And sure, it seems wrong and silly to bury a young QB for any single game, but this was far from that. If the Eagles had won this one, they would have been ahead in the division, with a 3-0 record. They would have taken a lead going into a relatively fallow portion of their schedule. They would have looked like they were rounding into shape under first year coach Chip Kelly, and that if they continued to improve, could be more than a speed bump in a home playoff game against a wild-card team from a good division. And they were playing one of the worst defenses in the league, at home, without their best player (LB DeMarcus Ware), and with the offense as free of injury as you get in Week 7 of the NFL season.

The final numbers for Foles were 11 of 29 for 80 yards, no touchdowns and no picks. But if you can believe it, the actual tape looked worse. Time after time, Foles wandered around the backfield as if no one could be open enough to merit a throw, then checked down to pointlessness. In the read option, he started slow and got slower, letting Dallas key its defense strictly to Follow Shady McCoy with as many guys as seemed necessary. Passes were never in stride, progressions not followed, pocket awareness not shown. I longer for Bobby Hoying. I longed for Koy Detmer. Mike McMahon would have been fine. Pat Ryan, even. (Yes, this franchise has seen no end of terrible QBs.) It even seemed as if the poor play was contagious to RB LeSean McCoy, who kept trying to hit home runs as if he knew that he had to overcome a lot, and HC Chip Kelly, who went into brain lock mode with his play calling at the end of the first half.

A few moments of reality for those in the audience who'd still want to see Foles out there instead of starter Michael Vick... Foles has nearly half a season of starts under his belt now. He's only ever beaten the Bucs in Tampa. He's lost every other start he's made. He gets no great credit for the comeback against New York, since he came in with a lead, lost it, then got it back in the fourth. The lack of picks is relatively nice, and yes, he's probably got a longer career from now until the end of his time in the league than Vick does... but this isn't Maximize Career Value, it's football. There are tons of other jobs that are filled by guys who won't be around when the next very good Eagles team takes the field, and you don't get the entire roster selling out to win while you wait for better times at QB.

The biggest issue to me, beyond the bad taste of the game itself, is this: are the Eagles as beholden to the QB as the game and history suggests? The truly exciting part about Kelly's offense was that maybe you didn't need a top pick and/or personnel to run it, and that maybe the team could get away with a lesser pedigree and still win. If you can staff that slot without having to go in hock, or better yet, have multiple players who could come through for you... well, that has to put you a better place, right?


Except when it doesn't work, and you wind up getting your face rubbed in it.

That's how bad Foles was today, and why in an era of dispiriting Eagles home losses, this might have been the worst.

The Giants are here in a week. For the sake of meaningful games for a few more months, we better hope that Vick's able to get well and stay there. Or that some other story comes out as to why Foles was so awful today...

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