Mike Tanier's post at the Sports on Earth blog comes at the perfect time for me to unveil #7 on the Chip Wagon Top 25. Here is a comment Tanier made when discussing how the Eagles rank amongst other NFL teams in running the football:
The Eagles would rank higher if Nick Foles could run. Foles does not have to be able to run like Wilson or Cam Newton. He just has to be able to run about as well as Andy Dalton. Unfortunately, Foles runs like Joe Flacco trying to carry Philip Rivers up a flight of steep stairs. This would not be a problem in other systems, but Chip Kelly needs those 32 designed carries from his quarterbacks, plus a few more. Foles averaged 3.95 yards per carry on 21 designed keepers, which is not terrible, but it sometimes looked like 39.5 yards were available before the lumbering commenced.
Funny stuff. I do realize that Mike is exaggerating to make a point, but I must admit it still bothers me that we still need to obsess over how much the potential of Chip's offense is limited without a running QB. We heard that all last offseason as the reason why Foles wasn't a fit in Chip's offense, and after a Pro Bowl year, we are still hearing it in some circles. (Note, I am not calling out Mike here. I think Mike understands the dynamics of Chip's offense as well as anyone, based on his excellent piece in the 2013 Eagles Almanac).
I've discussed this many times before on the blog but for me, one of the main qualities Nick Foles has is "functional mobility". He's not a statue like Drew Bledsoe. Dan Marino was very slow, but he had "functional mobility" because he could work the pocket as well as anyone. Guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning are the same. I am certainly not arguing that Foles has the pocket presence that those HOFers do. It's actually one of the things he really needs to work on. However, with Foles the question should be whether he possesses the minimual athletic requirement to keep Chip's offense dynamic. My answer would be yes, provided he continues to do all the other things as well as he did in 2013.
A couple of examples. If Nick Foles really was the statue that many in the media describe him, why would Chip even consider calling the inside zone read-option in key areas when the is even a remote chance that Nick has to pull and run?
Let's break this one down. It is a classic inside-zone read where the OL downblock and leave Ryan Kerrigan unblocked. He is Nick's read.
As you can see he collapses down to protect against the handoff to McCoy and Nick makes the wise decision and pulls. He appears to have blocking ahead of him but has 8 yards to get to the goalline:
This shot does not look to good. You have slow, unathletic Foles with a free defender in front of him:
Instead Foles slides inside dives over the line and use his large body to extend the ball over the plane for a TD:
Let's look at another one:
Now that's an ugly slide. But again, an inside zone read, unblocked edge defender crashes and Foles converts a 10 yard gain and moves the chains. Of course the argument here is that Foles had a huge amount of space to work with, and if that was Michael Vick maybe that's a 25 or 30 yard gain. Here's another still to feed that point:
So are these types of examples proof that Nick is really limiting the potential explosiveness of Chip Kelly's offense? In a vacuum, yes. But in the grand scheme of things what Foles limited on plays like this, he gained through explosive plays in the air. Despite not being a dynamic running threat, the Foles-led Eagles were amongst the best teams in the NFL in explosive plays.
The point is, it is really difficult to have your cake and eat it too. Would this offense be more dangerous if Nick Foles ran a 4.3 40? Absolutely. But does Nick's lack of speed really limit this offense? I don't think so because he contributes in others ways. He does enough to move the chains and make a play with his feet when he needs to but brings a lot more in the passing game.
A great example was in the Packers game where Nick warned the Packers on the first drive of the game that if they ignore him, they will get burned:
And then at the end of the game when we were trying to run out the clock, he burned them again:
Sure Terrelle Pryor and Dennis Dixon are going to make plays like this more explosive, but they don't have the passing skills Nick does. Sure, I would love to see Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck in this offense, but again, all these things balance out. Certainly Aaron Rodgers is going to turn that 10 yard gain into a 20 yard gain, but it's not as though that is a weapon you are going to routinely to boost your run game production.
The QB keeper on the read-option is and will continue to be a last resort option for a franchise QB. There are simply too valuable to treat it any other way. The really challenge moving forward now that Chip has settled on Foles as the starter is coming up with more creative ways to ensure that Nick has options when defenses account for him in ways like, for example, the scrape exchange. This is where the defense has the unblocked edge defender crash down on the run aggressively, but assigns a second-level defender, in this case Daryl Washington, to protect against the QB keeper:
Nick will never win this match-up:
Fortunately, Chip is already on this as we showed previously, Chip has implemented more creative ways to apply dynamic pressure on a defense and stretch the field horizontally.
Even still, it was incredibly satsifying after all the talk about how Nick Foles was not a fit for Chip's offense that Nick was not only able to put forth a Pro Bowl year, but also a series of highlights of him keeping on the read-option for TDs and key first downs.