Tuesday, December 17, 2013

QB Corner - Nick Foles (WSH @ PHI)

The Philadelphia Eagles have been a markedly improved team in 2013. With the Cowboys, Giants, and Redskins spiraling downwards, the Eagles have seized command of the division (at least as much as losing by double digits to Minnesota qualifies as "seizing command"). With 2 games left, it is likely that they will challenge for the division crown when they visit Dallas in Week 17, if they haven't won it already.

Part of the Philly narrative is well known: Chip Kelly's explosive offense scheme extends defenses horizontally, vertically, and in terms of preparation and conditioning. However, the offense has taken its lumps, notably going two straight games without an offensive touchdown in October. Some context: Philly was using its 3rd string quarterback, Matt Barkley, who is wholly unqualified to play in the NFL (watch his USC tape - he is terribly inaccurate and relied on great receivers to make catches outside of their frames).

The man who put an end to that ignominious scoreless streak? Nick Foles has not only ascended as Philly's starting QB, but has set league records in the process. This is the same Nick Foles that was repeatedly passed for the Eagles' starting job, including for Week 1 of this season. So how good exactly is Nick Foles? Is he the QB that two separate coaching staffs benched for a washed-up Michael Vick? Is he the guy that tied an NFL record with 7 touchdown passes in 1 game? I think the real answer is somewhere in-between. First a look at the numbers through Week 14 (as always, from Pro-Football Reference):

Note - these stats change in each post b/c I use updated information from recent games (i.e. Brees is now on-pace to equal his own 5,476 season record for passing yards, or in other words, holy crap!)

The first thing that jumps off the page is Nick's interception rate. As of Week 13, he actually had not thrown a pick the whole season (about 7.5 games). He's since thrown one a week the last two weeks, so it's an epidemic, right? Well on the season, he has still thrown 11.5 TDs for every pick, that sounds pretty good.

Next, his Yards/Attempt. 9.0!!! He basically throws for a 1st down every time he drops back. Step aside, Shady McCoy, the Eagles should never run again. Usually, QBs achieve high marks in Yards/Att. by holding onto the ball for a long time, and while Foles' 7.2% sack rate isn't fantastic, it isn't a catastrophe. Goodness gracious, he's even shown something as a runner, amazing for a quarterback who's mobility was seriously questioned going into the 2011 draft. But these numbers can't be right: he can't be 21% better than Drew Brees when measured by Adjusted-Net Yards/Attempt, can he?

Here's Football Outsiders' chart of the top 10 passers by defense-adjusted value over average:

Number 2! If Peyton weren't having a ridiculous season with his robotic arm, Foles would be the best QB per throw in the league (in other news, Marc Tressman has turned Josh McCown into the league's 6th-best passer. Marc Tressman may be from the future). Of course, he doesn't have as many yards above replacement (DYAR) since he's played ~7.5 games. But he still ranks 10th on that list. Think about it. In 7.5 games, he has generated more value than 22+ other starters, including:

  • A 2-time Super Bowl winner: Ben Roethlisberger
  • Another 2-time Super Bowl winner: Eli Manning
  • A number 1 draft pick: Andrew Luck
  • A Heisman winner: RG3, who's generated negative 56 yards on the season
  • A number 1 draft pick who won the Heisman and the college national title game that year (only 2 people have done this): Cam Newton
When these stats were computed, all of those guys had played 13 games compared to Nick's 7.5. I guess Super Bowl wins, draft status, and Heisman trophies are not be good barometers of QB value. Of course I'm mostly kidding - everything is contextual, like Ben losing his best offensive lineman in the first game in the season (Eli throwing 25 picks isn't contextual, it's Eli being Eli. Ladies and gentlemen, a 2-time Super Bowl MVP!). But you still have to acknowledge the fact that Nick Foles is playing outside of his mind.

QB Corner turns to the Washington tape and try to find out why. Like with RG3, I only had time to chart 1st half passes and some notable 2nd half ones. A disclaimer: I know he's playing Washington's defense and Washington's defense is a sieve this year. I'm looking for good, timely decisions, accuracy with the ball, and good mechanics and footwork. Many of these can be judged regardless of the competition, but not having a pass rush in your face, having more open receivers, etc., can make someone look better. After the season, I'll try to revisit this analysis with Nick against a tougher bunch. And we're off:

This is a double-go on the outside against cover-1 man under. In other words, the perfect play call.
Nick looks the safety to the right and has him moving that way.
Both receivers are flying down and have gotten inside leverage + a little separation. Washington is obviously more concerned with DeSean Jackson on top, and rightfully so, but Riley Cooper at the bottom of the screen has been on a tear with Foles in at QB. The safety is now woefully out of position.

But in his effort to turn back to his left, Nick has inadvertently opened his hips too wide.
If you can't see it, this ball actually hit Cooper in the hands, but the ball floats in allowing the CB to catch up and interfere with the catch.
This is a very tough pass to hit. By opening his hips, Nick puts to much air under the ball and also causes it to drift to his left. The receiver has inside leverage and the safety is far away - Nick should have led him back to the numbers. Instead of a huge passing play, it's incomplete. This is something the best QBs don't miss

This is a great play that is designed to stretch the right side of the defense. You have a deep seam combined with two levels, forcing defenders to cover vertically as well as horizontally.
The defense is a classic cover-2 on this side. Philly sneaks a deep out right behind the cornerback playing the flat, and the linebackers and safety playing inside are concerned with the seam.
Nick throws a strike to the deep out that's on-time and accurate. Good read, good footwork, good throw.

Trying another go to the left, Foles is hit while thrown causing the ball to sail. Good effort by him to make sure the ball has enough zip to not be picked.

4. Forced to roll right, throws the ball away.
Look at how badly the defensive tackle has his offensive counterpart beaten. The supposedly immobile Foles is still able to get out of the pocket. RG3 may have run away with this, but Foles at least avoids a bad play.

Washington is playing a deep quarters coverage on the right side of the field.
Foles throws a strike to the stick route right under the coverage. He does a nice job of leading the receiver - look at how he is leaning forward between the defenders. This is how you get YAC (yard after catch).

Wheel to McCoy. Not every QB has a dynamic receiving threat like McCoy in the fold, certainly none of the ones we've analyzed to-date. Foles feet are oriented correctly to lead McCoy downfield.
Well-thrown ball for a huge gain.

Working to the extreme left side of the end zone. On some of these throws, especially isos, it's allowable to open your hips a little; if the CB has inside leverage, you want the ball to go to the sideline and high to give your receiver a play on it.
Pressure gets to Foles. Remember, this guy can't move...
And yet he somehow gets out of trouble by stepping forward and still manages to get his feet pointed the right way. The pass was thrown high and incomplete as the receiver was well covered, but the process is sound. Foles gives himself the best shot to complete a throw to a constrained space even under duress.

Eagles are trying to get a Sluggo (slant + go) on the left with the RB clearing to the flat. Again, Foles does a good job leading safeties deep when he has options to go to his left.
He has his hips turned left but the LB is in good coverage.
The pocket starts breaking down. Sack...
...but wait! Who's that charging forward? It's Nick Foles! The immobile QB from Arizona scrambles for 10 yards and a 1st down.

Well-thrown deep post. Hips are a little open but his trying to drop it in over coverage and lead his receiver to the left, so it's allowable. DeSean drops the pass, though.

They fake a bubble screen to the right and work to a RB screen on the left.
The go route on the top of the field clears the safety and occupies the linebacker.
Look how well the blocking forms downfield. Chip Kelly's Oregon teams are well known for getting offensive linemen downfield in a hurry. Heck, they send their O-line to the same speed school the WRs and DBs get. In this case, the blocking downfield is fantastic and the RB gets all the way to the one yard line.

Coverage is good on the left, does a great job turning 90 degrees to the right and hitting the release valve (RB in the flat). The play was negated by a hold, but still a good process.

Good footwork and a quick decision, it looks like Foles just guns this too much. The coverage is very tight and he knows he can't take a sack in the end zone, so he tries to throw as hard as possible into a tiny window. Perhaps throwing to the RB checkdown on the 10 yard line may have been better, but again, cannot take a sack.
Fortuitously, the pass is tipped right to another receiver. Sometimes you have to get lucky.

Foles gets lots of time on this throw. I didn't get him at the top of his drop, but he does a good job identifying space forward in the pocket and moves up.
Pass is complete to a receiver that ran a fake dig the spun to the sideline. The pass is well thrown, leading him away from the defender. The ball only travels ~6 yards in the air but good placement leads to 20 YAC.

Fake bubble screen to the left. Foles doesn't open his hips nearly as much as some young QBs on the fake; I remember RG3 and Cam Newton with front feet pointing backwards. 
Real read is a RB screen to the right. Look at the Washington defense - they're reading it well, but there just aren't enough defenders on the near side of the field. This is what Chip Kelly's offense does: finds numerical advantages.
Great blocking leads to a big seam for McCoy who really needs no seam at all.

This is an isolation throw on a go to the receiver at the top. Foles has his hips pointed way to far to the left, causing the ball to sail.
This goes off Cooper's fingers, and really should have been caught. It does drop in nicely over the coverage. I don't think the ball could have been thrown better, but would have liked to see better footwork.

Trying to look the safety to his right and go down the middle. There's a delayed blitz coming, though.
Washington DBs are playing early breaks aggressively, knowing the throw will have to be quick because of the pressure.
Foles takes a sack. He's shown good decision making speed, but this sack makes me wonder how much of that is his natural talent versus coaching. It's easy to say to a QB: look right first before throwing to your real read; it's hard to determine whether that first look is really a read. On this throw, Foles seemed to have time to get a throw off, but after seeing the middle covered, didn't know what to do with it. I can't tell either way, but it's something to monitor.

Another fake bubble screen to the left. The Eagles are really selling these - look at the three Redskins defenders at the top of the screen.
The real play again is a RB screen to the right. Only gets 4 yards this time.

Great hips on a deep comeback. Well thrown.

I only have one shot of this. It's an overthrown seam route. It looks like Foles may have given up on the route and just thrown it away.

Foles takes a deep drop, dances around and is sacked. This isn't a terrible outcome though. Right before half, Philly could be super aggressive, but with a 17-point lead, I think it's fine to take one deep shot and end it. Of course, Nick could have been injured, but I think the potential reward of potential deep pass to the Eagles' speedy receivers is decent upside.

2nd Half: Again, I'll only include tape of notable passes.

21. Nobody open, scramble for 6 yards. Immobile!
22. Levels read to the left, well thrown ball to a receiver that ran a fake post to corner. 12 yard pass was dropped.

Strike on the dig with 8 YAC. This ball was actually thrown too far ahead of the receiver. It may have been part of the route design, but if the ball is thrown slightly behind, it avoids a potential big hit from the middle linebacker. Foles' feet are actually set to throw this way, but the ball is just a yard to far to the right.

This was a great play-action deep throw. Foles is clearly under duress in this frame but look at his feet: firmly planted and pointed downfield, ready to drive on the throw. The play was called back because of holding, but Foles did his job.

25. Easy pass to a crossing DeSean off play-action.
26. Designed pass to McCoy in the flat. Got the ball around a defensive end that got a nice jump.
27. Nicely thrown slant in the red zone.
28. Play-action, nothing was open though, sack.
29. Checkdown to RB, took too long, batted.
30. Wheel to McCoy, short on 3rd and 11.
31. Buys time in the pocket, good throw to a wide-open receiver on a comeback route.
32. Another good throw on a comeback, tighter coverage forces it incomplete.
33. Trying to run clock on 3rd down. The throw isn't there so Foles doesn't force it; instead he rushes forward and is 1/2 a yard short of the first down. Good situational awareness to realize they need to keep the clock running.

The Good

  1. Reads: Foles has improved dramatically since the Dallas game in terms of reading defenses and progressing through his receivers. He missed some important opportunities in that game, but for the most part made good decisions in this one. It's still unclear how much of it is coached on a play-by-play basis, like look to the right before your real read to the left, versus his innate ability to read the defense and know what coverage it is playing. What is clear is that he makes quick, correct decisions, and handles Philly's run/pass option/package plays very well.
  2. Interceptions: It's clear why Foles didn't throw a pick in this game: there just weren't many bad decisions. In 34 passes, I didn't count a single one that was thrown into traffic. There were some balls thrown to well-covered receivers, but all were delivered so that only his guy could get it. RG3 benefited from some interception luck in this game, with guys dropping a couple. Foles needed no such luck.
  3. Mobility: Foles showed decent pocket awareness and was able to keep some drives alive with his feet. Philly averages just under 22 first downs per game; by giving the Eagles an extra one the would not have otherwise have, Foles creates an extra 5% of value.
  4. Footwork: Despite some mobility, Foles knows he's not going to run away from everyone. Instead, he stands strong in the pocket and exhibited good footwork on really all but one pass.

The Bad

  1. Not much. Honestly, there wasn't that much bad from Foles this game. He did miss his first pass, and it would have been a big play, but settled down from there. One thing he can get better at: pre-snap adjustments at the line. I didn't see a lot from him in this regard, and it's unclear whether he can't do it or if the Philly system just doesn't call for a lot of these adjustments. There just were a few blitzes were it seemed like no one was hot, but nothing deplorable.
  2. Pocket presence. Part of this has to do with pre-snap reads. Sometimes when teams bring pressure from creative sources, Foles looks a little lost back there.

The Context:
LeSean McCoy, who deserves his own section of film:
There he is. Can barely see LeSean in there. It's 2nd and 20. Good luck, Eagles
LeSean spins around the tackler. Look at all the empty green grass on the near side.
LeSean is tackled at the 50. Only a 7 yard gain, but should have been a 3 yard loss.
Here's another:
Play has barely started and Shady's in trouble. Washington is ignoring Nick Foles (wasn't an option play anyway).
He's about to meet punishment.
Whoops! he squirts free! Shady is not only a dynamic pass catcher, durable, reliable back, he is the best open field running back in the league. This cannot be overlooked: defenses have to account for him at all times, especially since he can make people miss like the above defenders. He is the best back in the league at "jump cuts": these are rugby-styled jukes (rugby players call them "steps") where a player gets both feet in the air, allowing him (or her) to dynamically position his hips and feet in mid-air, often with violent, ankle-breaking results. This is not really taught in American football and for the life of me I cannot understand why. Lots of American runners chop their feet trying to decide which way to juke. Rugby steps are quick, decisive, and lethal, though they require a high level of anticipation and tremendous reflexes.

Back to Nick Foles. Having Shady McCoy on your team definitely makes a QB's job much easier. The Eagles had several big passing plays to backs in this game.

The Washington Defense
This defense is horrible. Both Cooper and Jackson were getting free releases off the line seemingly effortlessly. And the coverages were very basic looks; NFL defenses frequently feature two or three different man/zone combinations on the same play, but the Redskins seemed to have a very vanilla scheme.

The missed tackles against McCoy are forgivable, but Shady wasn't the only one running free through tacklers. Foles took a few sacks but his line is much better at run blocking than pass blocking. The linebackers were frequently overmatched in coverage and you saw what happened in the run game.

Overall, I think Nick Foles has proven worthy of being the franchise QB for the foreseeable future. He's only 24 years old, a year younger than Matthew Stafford (and 6 years younger than Brandon Weeden), and as his understanding of defenses grows, he could get even better. His arm isn't as special as say RG3's, but he certainly does more with it than Griffin can at this point. I don't think a 11.5:1 interception ratio can continue, but I have no reason to believe it will balloon simply because Foles stays out of trouble. And while the skill position players are very good, the Eagles are missing arguably their second best receiver (Jeremy Maclin) and the offensive line is in flux. Watch out, league. The Chip Kelly and Nick Foles Eagles offense is just getting started.

#QBCorner #YMTC #YouMakeTheCalls

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