Philadelphia Eagles faithful received Foles for Christmas. The fanbase couldn’t have asked for more since the Eagles secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with Monday’s 19-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders at Lincoln Financial Field
Monday’s performance showed the Eagles’ success doesn’t rely on the quarterback position. Carson Wentz may have been an early MVP favorite, but Philadelphia can compete with Nick Foles under center.
Doug Pederson’s squad has a chance because of its schematic design, offensive weapons and an impressive defensive front. Great quarterback play makes life easier for everyone. It’s not a necessity to secure a Lombardi Trophy, though
However, room for error is far smaller, and this became evident during Monday’s mistake-filled affair. The overall approach does need to change.
A week ago, many believed a Foles renaissance occurred when the sixth-year signal-caller completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns against a pitiful New York Giants defense. He didn’t fare nearly as well against an equally awful Raiders D. Foles connected on 50.0 percent of his passes for 163 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Safety Reggie Nelson also dropped a sure pick-six.
Foles is a downgrade from Wentz.
The life of a backup quarterback is usually one of inconsistency and just trying to keep an offense afloat. Still, Foles has plenty of help to keep the Eagles flying high well into the playoffs.
What truly makes Philadelphia a dangerous squad moving forward is a coaching staff that is counted among the league’s best and the depth found at numerous positions.
This starts with the running attack and how it’s devised.
Philadelphia features three physical backs, and each can carry the load when called upon to do so. LeGarrette Blount leads the way with 729 rushing yards. Jay Ajayi is the team’s most explosive back, and his 6.4 yards per carry since joining the Eagles tops the league if he had enough carries to qualify. Rookie Corey Clement cemented his status among the rotation, and his four rushing touchdowns lead the group.
Pederson helps his backs by creating natural lanes and giving these punishing backs more room to run. A favorite play is known as “crunch.” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh described the concept in the video below, courtesy of James Light Football:
The goal is to force defenders into false steps simply by reading their keys, thus creating better angles for the offensive linemen and runners.
This specific play pulls the frontside guard. The defensive tackle is taught to squeeze the gap after the blocker vacates. In doing so, he unwittingly creates more space for the oncoming wham block from the tight end.
Also, the linebacker behind the defensive tackle is reading the back through the guard. Thus, he’ll take a false step or two in the pulling guard’s direction.
Big backs often struggle with lateral movement. They’re downhill runners. These type of play calls create more space in a league where defenders close in the blink of an eye.
The play of the offensive line is crucial. Injuries have taken their toll, particularly on the left side with Halapoulivaati Vaitai at tackle and Chance Warmack at guard. But the staff does a good job playing to the group’s strengths.
Jason Kelce is arguably the game’s best center (and a Pro Bowl snub). His one-of-a-kind athleticism separates him from the rest, as seen below, per The Ringer’s Robert Mays:
Why should a coach try to bang its team’s proverbial head against the wall by trying to be physical and uproot defensive linemen when he can scheme toward his blockers’ strengths?
Kelce can move. Lane Johnson is fantastic in space. Warmack is at his best driving forward. Brandon Brooks is quite nimble at 335 pounds. Give Vaitai some help, and this group can accomplish special things.
A symbiotic relationship then forms between an offensive front and a team’s run game. Eventually, it allows the offense to expand its repertoire. For example, the Eagles scored their only offensive touchdown courtesy of an Ajayi screen pass, per the NFL:
While nothing should be taken away from Ajayi’s first career receiving touchdown, the blocks seen above are beautiful. Kelce raced downfield and led the way, while Warmack obliterated a defender.
Philadelphia claims a talented backfield, and it should be relied upon moving forward, but its success is derived from tremendous blocking schemes and an underrated front.
The passing game is a little more difficult to predict due to Foles’ inconsistency and the weak spot found at left tackle. However, the Eagles feature one of the game’s top mismatches in Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz.
Ertz ranks top three among tight ends in receptions (72) and yardage (800). He may not receive the same recognition as the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski or Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, but the Eagles offense simply couldn’t operate without him.
The fifth-year target’s versatility makes him difficult to contain.
Pederson places Ertz in many different spots. Against Oakland, the 27-year-old tight end lined up on the wing, in the slot, in-line, and motioned across the formation. A defense must account for him at all times, even though it doesn’t know where he’s going to be once Philadelphia breaks the huddle.
The Eagles feature numerous other weapons in Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor. But they don’t present the opportunities an athletic 6’5″, 250-pound tight end does.
Even with the talent found on offense, Jim Schwartz’s defense will be Philadelphia’s calling card as it enters the postseason. Monday’s performance showed exactly why the Eagles are still dangerous even when Foles isn’t playing efficient football.
The unit forced five turnovers, sacked Derek Carr once and pressured the Raiders quarterback seven more times.
Sacks are a wonderful stat. Defenders love to bring an opposing quarterback to the ground and do their little dance. Pressure is the key, though. Pressure leads to big plays. Ronald Darby’s last-minute interception was a direct result of pressure applied by Vinny Curry, as seen below:
Curry is one of many defensive linemen the Eagles can bring. Ten-year veteran Chris Long isn’t even a starter, yet he finished with four quarterback hits, a sack and a forced fumble. First-round rookie Derek Barnett sealed the game with a fumble recovery and touchdown. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is a monster at the point of attack and regularly controls the line of scrimmage. Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Graham can take over games, too.
Schwartz’s defensive front is filled with war daddies, and the pressure they create allows the entire defense to be more aggressive. Sometimes, the defensive backs can be too aggressive—which leads to plays like Amari Cooper’s 63-yard touchdown reception—but it’s all by design.
The defense can keep Philadelphia afloat. By attacking opposing signal-callers and making them uncomfortable, the advantage they may present over Foles can be neutralized.
The Minnesota Vikings aren’t overwhelming with Case Keenum behind center. The Los Angeles Rams are about to enter the playoffs for the first time since 2004 with an unproven second-year signal-caller. Cam Newton is the former 2015 MVP, but he’s also been sacked 33 times and intercepted 13 times. Matt Ryan hasn’t been nearly as effective with Steve Sarkisian calling the plays.
Really, the New Orleans Saints with Drew Brees is the only team the Eagles should be worried about while holding a home-field advantage.
A first-round bye will certainly help. Also, the weather may play a factor. An outdoor team like the Eagles holds a natural advantage against the three dome teams in the playoff mix. Keenum, for example, didn’t perform well against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Saturday. Goff hasn’t played a cold-weather game.
As of now, Foles and Co. will await the lowest-remaining seed out of the Wild Card Round.
Whatever the future holds, the Eagles don’t expect to do their best impression of Santa Claus with a one-and-done postseason appearance.