Bye Week Serves as Needed Pause Button for Foles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The end of the regular season wasn't exactly inspiring for those trying to talk themselves into believing Nick Foles could step into Carson Wentz's shoes and the Eagles would suffer nary a hiccup.
It got downright ugly when unseasonably cold weather descended upon the Delaware Valley and refused to ease its grip. A backup quarterback trying to cut through wind chills into the teens against both Oakland and Dallas went about how it reads on paper.
Despite that Foles insisted his confidence remained intact after the 6-0 whitewash at the hands of Dallas in the meaningless Week 17 finale repeating the word almost like a mantra in his post-game press conference despite a passer rating through four series that was even lower the wind chill.
The bye week has brought anxiety to much of Philadelphia pondering the thought of Foles vs. Drew Brees, Cam Newton or Matt Ryan but for the man himself it's been a welcome respite from the whirlwind of taking over for Wentz in-game against the Los Angeles Rams back in Week 14 when the MVP candidate went down with a torn ACL.
In an instant, Foles went from an afterthought often seen but not heard from to the face of the No. 1 seed in the NFC, stepping to the podium at the NovaCare Complex to answer questions from the largest media contingent in the league.
He's done it before, of course, as Chip Kelly's starter for "the next 1,000 years" but this time it's a little bit different because Foles is taking over a team that seemed liked a runaway locomotive heading toward Minneapolis and Super Bowl LII under Wentz.
"The opportunity to take a breath, step back and just rest is a great thing," Foles admitted on Wednesday.
It was also an opportunity to self-scout for both Foles and the coaching staff in an attempt to get the most of a quarterback who has had success in this league but also possesses limitations, especially when compared to Wentz.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson even admitted he's gone back to Foles' storied 27-and-2 season under Chip Kelly in 2013 to get a better feel for what Foles does best.
"I've gone back and watched a lot of his tape here, [from when he was in] St. Louis, and when he was here before when I was here. I just wanted to go back and just see the types of plays," Pederson said. "... the quick throw was there, a little play-action pass, the shotgun stuff.
"Those are all things that are in our system. We might just have to dust a few more off and get that ready to go. But that's kind of what this week is for: to get some of those ideas and thoughts down on paper and execute them this week in practice."
Foles seems at his best on a one-read, quick-throw environment while throwing to receivers who are open. He's not an anticipatory passer who throws receivers open, a trait that defines most top-tier QBs.
That makes Pederson's game-planning as well as the route running from Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor even more important when the football is kicked off on Jan. 13.
Public sentiment has already bailed on the Eagles as has the money in Las Vegas. For instance, if the chalk holds and Brees and the Saints were to arrive in South Philadelphia in the divisional round, Philadelphia would be a 4- to 5-point underdog.
The last time NOLA was here in the playoffs was in 2013 and it was Brees vs. Foles with the latter leaving the field with the lead before Brees engineered a late-game comeback.
Foles finished that game 23-of-33 for 195 yards with two touchdowns with a go-ahead touchdown pass to Ertz before Brees sent everyone home disappointed by driving the Saints for a game-winning field goal.
A similar performance with a team that has a better supporting cast would likely have the Eagles hosting the NFC Championship Game.
"I've had time to sort of reflect, thinking about me then, playing in that game, what that season was like, playing in the playoff game, the atmosphere, the visualization of it all," Foles said. "That's important because it's going to be here before we know it."
The bye is proving to be fortuitous, not only for the obvious reasons that the Falcons have to battle the Rams while the Saints host the Panthers. The weather forecasted for this Saturday in Philadelphia is even worse than it was against the Raiders and Cowboys but a week out is calling for more seasonable temperatures in the high 30s.
Perhaps most important of all, however, Foles has finally had an opportunity to catch is breath.
"[Practice on Wednesday] I felt was a lot better than on Sunday [against the Cowboys], and I think that's the thing, you just gradually progress and keep improving," he said. And you have to keep looking at yourself critically. Obviously, on Sunday and the week before, that's not how I want to play, but if anyone has ever played a sport, you can't just sit here and say, 'OK, that's what it is.' I've had games like that and I've come back from it and I've played at a higher level. So you keep looking at it, you keep grinding, you keep working."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen