Eagles Should Stick With Nick





GORDONVILLE – How old am I?

Old enough that I went to junior high, not “middle school.”

And it was at that unforgiving rest stop between the bliss of grade school and the coming-of-age happenings of high school that I fell behind the pace in the sore subject of math.

Addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, percentages – heck, I can do those in my head, without a calculator, to this day.

The other stuff – the X, Y and Z of algebra and the virtual foreign language of geometry and anything beyond – remains such a haunting ghost on my psyche that I have recurring dreams about being back at school, trying to remember my locker combination because I have to pass math in order for everything that happened in my adult life to be valid.

Pretty scary stuff.

I credit the basic math prowess to being a sports fan at a young age, and learning the lost art of keeping a scorecard at games while keeping seasonal statistics for myself playing wiffle ball and street hockey and replaying seasons through Strat-O-Matic, (I’m so old that, yes, Strat-O-Matic was a sports board game).

That translated to a fascination with – and general success in – fantasy sports. (I’m so old that I remember when it was called “rotisserie” sports).

Favorite page in the sports section – and yes, I’m so old that I still read it – is the agate page. It is free of pontification from columnists that I think I know more than anyway, and give the cold and harsh truth of the sheer numbers.

There is one sports statistic – more of a formula, actually – that I could not figure out if the reward were no more of those dreams about going back to school to pass geometry.

Passer rating.

All I know is that it is pretty sophisticated, taking all of a quarterback’s relevant statistics – completion percentage, touchdown-interception ratio, yardage, etc. – and mixing them up in a blender to come up with a final number.

A perfect passer rating, which has been achieved in single games 61 times by 50 different quarterbacks (as of the end of the 2013 seasons) since 1948, is 158.3. For a season, it would be a super-human feat, as 100 over a full slate pretty much equates to an “A” on a report card.

Aaron Rodgers came into the season with the best career passer rating (105.2) – sure to improve, once the league’s actuaries adjust this season’s 112.2 mark – and best single-season passer rating (122.5).

Critics of the stat will argue that it doesn’t take into account many other factors, such as sacks taken and fumbles lost while it credits 8-yard completions on third-and-18 (Donovan McNabb’s version of the “tuck rule”).

Most of all, it doesn’t factor in winning, which is the reason for playing the game – even wiffle ball or street hockey (I’m so old that I played those game at a place called “outside”) – in the first place.

Quarterbacks, it can be successfully argued, can pad their numbers in games where their teams are trailing.

So, it would seem, the best form of evaluation would be quarterbacks who score well on the passer rating exam while passing the “is he a winner?” portion of the evaluation process.

This brings us to the current situation swirling around the Philadelphia Eagles, who matched last year’s record at 10-6 but missed out on the postseason.

Aside from a porous defense, a big reason the missed the playoffs this season was turnovers, mainly committed by the quarterbacks – Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez, who played the second half of the season after Foles broke his collarbone.

Foles has a year left on his rookie deal. As a third-round pick in 2012, he is making the league’s version of slave wages for at least one more season. Sanchez was signed, for a year, to back Foles up after his once-promising star crashed a burned with the New York Jets.

After the Eagles finished their season with a 34-26 win over the New York Giants, in the same stadium where Sanchez was witch-hunted out of town, the questions came hurling at Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly – and everyone else around the team, from owner Jeffrey Lurie to the water boys – about the quarterback situation.

For all the talk-show fantasies of the Eagles swinging some sort of magic deal to get the first pick in the draft and select Marcus Mariota (Kelly’s quarterback at Oregon and the Heisman Trophy winner), or maybe trading a bag of air for Colin Kaepernick, the reality is that the choice is really Foles or Sanchez.

The kind of quarterback who will be in the NFL recycling bin – Jake Locker, Michael Vick (he’ll be available), oft-injured Sam Bradford, etc. – would be of lesser talent and carry too much baggage.

In the wake of the season that went from carefree dance party to a funeral dirge, Kelly and Co. put the QB question off better than politicians on gun legislation after a school shooting, saying they would address it – after a period of thorough self-examination – in March.

There is a problem with that scenario.

My birthday is in March, and I’ll be 50 – yep, the big 5-0.

That’s how old I am.

And the Eagles remain the only Philadelphia team of consequence (although I admit to a soft spot for the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL, whom I just ordered up in a Strat-O-Matic retro set) that I have not seen win a title in my lifetime.

So they will have to excuse me if I take this a little personally.

I’ll save them the time and effort of waiting until my birthday month, and I do this as public service, so they can focus on the glaring holes on the defensive side of the football that really cost this team a playoff berth, with or without turnovers.

There is only one option at quarterback: Foles.

If Sanchez can be convinced to return as a backup, that would be ideal. It may be a tough sell, at least at first, but he may not have anyone beating down his door with the offer of starting job.

Why Foles?

Well, let’s go back to that passer rating thing, shall we?

During the 2013 season, Foles’ second in the league and first in Kelly’s unique system, he replaced an injured Vick and never relinquished the job.

He went 8-2 as a starter, tied a league record with seven touchdown passes in one game and threw 28 for the season. Largely based on a mere two interceptions, his quarterback rating was a league-best 119.2.

It was the third-best of all time, behind Rodgers and some Peyton Manning guy. If you throw that away based on some shoddy play this season under peculiar circumstances (including a new quarterbacks coach), Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman could and should be flagged for intentional grounding.

A year back, Foles played well enough in the playoffs against New Orleans to provide the Eagles with a lead that the special teams and defense combined to squander as time expired.

Then, to cap it all off, he went to the Pro Bowl as an alternate and was named the game’s Offensive MVP.

But he was still young, and young quarterbacks have learning curves. It is not uncommon for initial success to be met with a precipitous drop.

This year, while I suspect he was playing hurt long before absorbing his knockout blow in Week 7 against the Houston Texans, Foles was playing behind a pieced-together offensive line that was creating no holes in the running game and little prolonged pass protection.

Foles seemed to force throws, perhaps trying to take too much upon himself to make things happen. While among the league leaders in several categories, mainly yardage, his 13 touchdowns were marred by 10 interceptions.

While Sanchez had a better passer rating (padded in losses, like a humbling setback to Rodgers and Co. in Green Bay), his lack of a deep arm respected by opponents was apparent.

By contrast, Foles (81.4 passer rating, which is jaw-dropping after last year but far from hideous) was second to only Rodgers in completed passes of 50 yards or more. He had seven in just eight games (less considering he was injured during the game in Houston on Nov. 2).

And there is that winning thing. The Eagles were 6-2 in games he started, as opposed to 4-4 in games started by Sanchez.

I’ll do the math, thank you.

Foles is 14-4 as a starter under Kelly, meaning other quarterbacks – Vick and Sanchez – while more quotable and exotic, are 6-8.

Why does he win a lot? Because even in games where he doesn’t play well, he finds a way to make the throws he needs to make in crunch time.

The Quarterback Graveyard is littered with passers who had gaudy numbers and losing records.

If they want to dip into that box chocolates, and not know what they are going to get at the vital QB position, then maybe Kelly and Roseman aren’t as smart as they make themselves seem.

Given the lack of viable options, and Foles’ learning curve, it’s time for the heart and minds of the team’s decision-makers to give Foles a vote of confidence, and deploy a virtue geezer know as patience, or move on.

Using the passer rating as the barometer, there is a myriad of applicable scenarios where an investment in a quarterback’s psyche yielded a big-time payoff.

I could give you names like Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning. Some had seasons that would make the one Foles had in half a year, with a makeshift line, look like John Elway material.

You can argue that some of those guys were first-round picks, meaning the commitment was almost guaranteed. You could counter that by saying that Foles, by not being a high pick, earned his chance for at least a one-year reprieve by actually showing what he could do on the field without anything being handed to him.

Even as a rookie, when he finished up the nightmare of a 4-12 season under outgoing Andy Reid, Foles set several – albeit random – league and franchise marks for rookie passers.

In the final analysis, it comes down to pragmatism.

Foles committed the crime of being nearly perfect too soon in his career. He’ll always be compared to that standard, and then unfairly judged as not being “the guy.” That’s OK for the average ding-dong trying to spell out E-A-G-L-E-S while legally intoxicated by 8 a.m. on game day but you have to hope the team’s brass knows better.

If Kelly and Roseman could go to Costco and fill up their shopping cart with all their team needs, and cap it off with a special deal on a quarterback who is an ideal fit for Kelly’s system, I’m all for it.

But it doesn’t work that way, no matter how you figure it.

Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not on Nick Foles’ payroll. I don’t get a portion of his paycheck every time he completes a pass or wins a game.

I wish I did, though.

Because he is going to win more than he loses, which is the type of basic math I prefer.

This column originally appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com


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