As we spend the next week leading up to the draft pondering what "football reasons" Jeff Lurie, Chip Kelly, and Howie Roseman used to justify the outright release of Desean Jackson, one of the unvalidated hypotheses circling the wagons is the idea that Chip doesn't want to rely on the long-ball offense. Since Chip was hired, much was made about his 1.5 second rule. The thinking goes that Chip prefers a quick strike offense and wants the ball out of the QBs hands in less than 1.5 seconds to avoid the cardinal sin of taking a QB sack.
To extend on that point, Desean, who is one of the best deep threats in the league, forced the Eagles to call too many long-developing pass plays which lead to Nick holding the ball too long and taking too many sacks. This is the old McNabb argument that Andy Reid called too many long-developing plays and McNabb would wait too long for his receivers to come open before throwing the ball.
Instead, Chip wants Wide Receivers who can get separation quickly, the thinking goes.
Much has been made of the theory that Nick Foles holds the ball too long. After all, PFF stated that Foles actually took the longest average time to attempt a pass in the league at 2.88 seconds. I always take statistics like that with a major grain of salt because it depends on a number of factors:
1) What's the play-call? If it's a long-developing play, the QB is naturally going to hang onto the ball longer
2) We run a lot of read-option fakes, and they take time to sell
3) Did the QB extend the play with his legs?
4) Was anyone open?
Furthermore, for whatever reason, this statistic seems to carry a strong negative connotation with it. But should it? Maybe the QB who holds the ball the longest does so because he has some of the best pass protection in the league. Or maybe the QB who holds the ball the longest is also the QB who leads the NFL in explosive plays downfield? The point is, holding the ball too long is only a negative if it results in a QB sack or other negative play.
So let's take a look at those sacks. In 2013, Nick Foles was sacked 28 times. I took the time to review every single one of Nick's sacks to try and evaluate what exactly happened on each play. Let's start here.
Sacks that Appear to be Nick's Fault:
Let's start with a key red zone play against the Cowboys. Nick has 5 options on this play (including Lesean out of the backfield). At this point, no one is open:
A second later it appears maybe he's got Lesean in the flat but there is a defender in the vicinity:
Nick has a chance to roll right and extend the play, a wise decision it seems. But at this point it's clear that no one is getting open and Nick needs to fire this ball into the stands. Instead he holds it:
and takes a terrible sack along the sideline. What's worse, is Nick suffered a concussion on this play forcing him to miss the game the following week.
Here against the Reskins, Nick is sitting in the pocket and it appears he might have Lesean coming open with a mismatch on the wheel route at the bottom. Notice Desean also coming open in the middle:
Nick is locked into Lesean on the wheel route, but doesn't pull the trigger:
Instead he moves on to Desean who is open, but again doesn't pull the trigger and gets drilled by London Fletcher on a blitz:
Against the Vikings, Nick has 5 eligible receivers, who are initially covered:
Again, Nick does a good job of buying time and gets out of the pocket away from pressure. Here Nick is completely out of the pocket and still, none of his receivers are open. Nick HAS to throw the ball out of bounds here. Instead he gets greedy and ends up taking a sack:
Here Nick tries to extend another play since nobody is open:
He gets flushed out:
But manages to evade the rush again. He's in the clear. Again Nick NEEDS to throw this ball out of bounds and live to play another day. Instead, he goes down in bounds and takes another nasty hit. Unecessary:
A couple really big missed opportunties from the Saints playoff game. This one cost the Eagles a field goal at the end of the half. Nick simply cannot take this sack:
In the end, Nick held the ball for longer than 7 seconds against a 3 man rush, and eventually took a sack that took 3 points off the board at the end of the half. That just can't happen.
However, before moving on, it's important to note that this goes both ways. If you want the most explosive offense in the NFL, there's a trade-off, because while holding the ball too long costs you from time to time with a bad sack, it can also lead to a big play as pointed out here where one of our TDs against the Saints came on a play where Nick held the ball for 5.5 seconds.
One more from the Saints game:
So in the end, those are the 6 sacks (out of 28) that I put on Nick Foles. Not too bad at all.
One of the more misleading aspects of the PFF stat, is that it does not take into account the play call. Some plays take longer to develop than others and require the QB to hold the ball a little longer. Let's take a look at a few, starting with one of my favorite concepts I've highlighted numerous times on the blog.
Look familiar? It's the wheel route and mesh concept we ran with great success this past season:
The problem with this play, is it does take some time to develop as Cooper and Celek are going to run their shallow drags and Foles needs to wait for the "rub" to see who comes open. Unfortunately, as you see below, Foles is getting sacked just as the rub is occuring:
Here it is again, against the Bears:
As you can see, the Bears play this perfectly. Polk is picked up on the wheel route and the LBs have all their bases covered and aren't getting sucked into the mesh:
The other aspect, is if you want your QB to get rid of the ball quickly, you better call plays that are designed to get the ball out. One of the disturbing things about watching the 2013 offense was the number of times where Chip and Pat simply didn't give Nick a short, quick option. Like these:
You can't argue on these plays that Foles needs to get the ball out in less than 1.5 seconds. The routes are still developing at this point and the receivers aren't even looking for the ball.
For the most part, Shady was used as Foles' security blanket in the flats. Outside of bubble screens, we just didn't seem to have WRs running a lot of routes designed to get them open quickly. I've already hypothesized that this is where Darren Sproles comes in.
Of course the other source of sacks is pass protection breakdowns. I'll save those for a different post some other day.
Is it Desean's Fault?
Getting back to the original point, how many sacks were a result of Nick Foles being locked on Desean and waiting for him to come open downfield? By my count, not a single one. So you can put that theory to rest.
In conclusion, while it's clear that Nick has some work to do and on occasion needs to make better decisions with the football, we've also shown that Nick does not hesitate to throw the ball to covered WRs and let his guy make a play (Albeit he appeared to prefer Riley Cooper over Desean Jackson in these situations).
It seems to me, the biggest area to expect improvement in bring that PFF statistic down is up to Chip Kelly. He and Pat Shurmur need to do a better job with play design to feature more plays that focus on getting the ball out quicker. Maybe there is an argument that suggests Chip Kelly feels he needs a different type of WR than Desean Jackson to make that happen. I think the acquisition of Sproles is a step in the right direction, but we clearly need more to replace and re-distribute Desean's production. Looking ahead to next week, it will be interesting to see what kind of receivers they covet in the draft. Will it be a bigger WR with a large catch radius who will go up and get the ball in tight situations (i.e. Mike Evans), or perhaps a quicker WR who get can get open over the middle, but also stretch the field vertically? (i.e. Brandin Cooks). Maybe even both.
Because right now, while people may argue that Chip's plans and preferences are clear, they certainly are not to me when you take a look at the WRs currently on the roster. The guys over at Birds 24/7 do a great job of breaking this down.
Finishing with a couple quotes from Chip Kelly:
"You want someone that can separate from one-on-one coverage, be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there with separation and catch the football," he said. "And that’s the biggest aspect for it. It can come in a lot of different ways. It can be the speed element of it. It can be the power and size element of it. There’s a lot of different ways to cut it."
"So anybody we’re gonna look at at wide receiver from the future here on or that’s currently on our roster is: What’s your ability to get open in one-on-one coverage? Because we see a ton of it. That’s a huge thing for us in the offseason."
“There’s certain guys in our league that have both and that’s why they’re elite,” Kelly said at the owners meetings. “They have the size element of it, they also have the speed element of it. There’s a lot of different ways to do it.”
So in other words, there is more than one way to skin a cat. It's highly unlikely to expect the Eagles to land one of those elite talents that Kelly describes next week, in fact, Sammy Watkins is probably the only one in this draft). However, he did have a player that brought that elite speed element and he chose to jettison him from the team so logic suggests he is going to avoid the pure speed guy if we are to believe the "football reasons"
Needless to say, it's going to be interesting to see the direction the Eagles take next week.