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What exactly do Eagles have in Nick Foles?

geoff mosher csnphilly

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 11:05 AM

Mosher

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What exactly do Eagles have in Nick Foles?

December 22, 2012, 7:00 am

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One day he’s the conquering hero, the franchise cornerstone, the glimmer of hope that the cupboard isn’t bare at the game’s most important position.

Four days later he’s ordinary, pedestrian, weak-armed and wildly inconsistent.

Such is life for Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles, who was crowned with the title of “franchise quarterback”  after swashbuckling the Buccaneers in Tampa for a rookie record 381 passing yards and throwing the buzzer-beating touchdown to Jeremy Maclin and then stripped of the title just four days later after a mediocre showing against the Bengals.

With just two practices and making only his fifth NFL start, Foles came crashing back to reality against the Bengals last Thursday in a 34-14 loss that was hardly his fault -- he had just one of the team’s five turnovers, which didn’t include a blocked punt -- but also left fans and observers to wonder: who is the real Nick Foles?

Is he the marksman who completed 64 percent of his passes, threw for 642 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in consecutive road games against the Cowboys and Bucs?

Or is he the dink-and-dunker who has won just one of his first five games and averaged less than six yards per pass attempt in three of those starts?

“I think the great ones can get better each and every day, so I don’t know if you can sit up here and say you know this is exactly the kind of quarterback he is going to be,” wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “I think he has a very very bright future as long as he stays at it, stays hungry like he is and continues to grow as a quarterback.”

The truth is Foles, like any rookie quarterback of any era, is an incomplete picture after just six NFL games. Nobody -- not even quarterback gurus Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg -- can say for certain if Foles possesses the “it” factor that separates good quarterbacks from special ones.

Mornhinweg, who has coached a star-studded cast of quarterbacks that includes Steve Young, Brett Favre, Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb and most recently Michael Vick, shrugged off the idea that an official judgment on all quarterbacks can be made after a certain number of games.

Still, Mornhinweg has seen enough of Foles to forecast a sunnier future -- even if he and Reid won’t be around next year to witness the sprout from the seeds they’ve sown this year.

“Well, I know this, that Nick’s got an opportunity here to develop and I know this, that he’s got an opportunity to be very good,” Mornhinweg added. “With my experiences, and I’ve coached a lot of great ones, the difference between really good and great is up to that individual player and [is] almost unknown until you get them in league games for over a period of time.

“I know more than most from afar because we’re in the building together every day. I will say this: he’s built the right way. He’s got some great qualities and great strengths.”

On Sunday against the Redskins, Foles will make his first appearance against a team he’s already seen and one that’s already seen him. The Eagles and ’Skins already clashed Nov. 18 at FedEx Field, a game more remembered for the Eagles’ allergy to tackling and Robert Griffin III’s maximum passer rating than Foles’ pedestrian starting debut.

After taking over for a concussed Vick against Dallas the week before, Foles threw interceptions on his first two offensive drives --  the first one hit tight end Brent Celek squarely in the hands but bounced into the grasp of a cornerback -- and completed just 46 percent of his passes to finish with 204 passing yards and no touchdowns.

“I feel like I’ve improved as a player [since],” Foles said. “I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable playing the game, just over time, playing different games and working at practice, working on the fundamentals, taking the reps and studying the film. I feel like I’ve improved a lot.”

If he had been a first-round pick, Foles wouldn’t be the subject of such a wide variety of opinions. When first-round rookie quarterbacks have an occasional clunker fans don’t lose hope because they assume the future is still promising.

The faith of Colts Nation wasn’t lost on Oct. 10, when No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck failed to throw a touchdown, was picked off twice and registered a 51.3 passer rating in his fifth career start, a 35-9 Indianapolis loss to the Jets.

Foles was picked in the third round out of Arizona, 87 slots lower than Luck. Even with last year’s emergence of second-rounder Andy Dalton, outdone this year by third-rounder Russell Wilson of Seattle, there’s still a stigma about quarterbacks drafted outside of the first round and the limit to their potential.

But the numbers for Foles after 217 passes compare favorably to the first 221 throws made by Luck.

Here are the stats for Foles: 1,354 yards, 59.4 completion percentage, 77.6 passer rating, 6.24 yards per attempt, five touchdowns and four interceptions.

Here they are for Luck: 1,488 yards, 53.4 completion percentage, 71.9 passer rating, 6.73 yards per attempt, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Luck had more yards and a higher yards-per-attempt average but Foles posted a higher completion percentage, higher passer rating and better touchdown-to-interception ratio.

“You’ll look at [other rookie quarterbacks] but you’re not going to compare like, ‘Oh, he threw for that. I need to do this.’ You’re not going to do that,” Foles said. “You’re just going to worry about yourself, worry about winning the game and helping your team win. Those guys are doing the same thing. They’re trying to get better themselves. They’re not comparing themselves to anyone else.”

Luck, Griffin, Wilson and two other rookies drafted ahead of Foles -- Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden -- each had the benefit of starting since Day 1 and the chance to grow and develop with their respective teammates throughout the season.

Foles was tossed into the fire nine games into the season, with his team at 3-5 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak and with injuries decimating the offense. Along with playing behind a patchwork offensive line with four backups at five spots, Foles has played four of his six games without Pro Bowl halfback LeSean McCoy, three games without McCoy and Pro Bowl wideout DeSean Jackson and two games without McCoy, Jackson and tight end Brent Celek.

After his rocky starting debut against the Redskins, he bounced back to complete 76.2 percent of his throws against Carolina and cobbled together a streak of 169 consecutive passes without an interception until he threw one in the third quarter against the Bengals last Thursday.

The interception came on a deep sideline pass to Maclin that wobbled like a bloated duck and was underthrown by about five yards, which prompted a sudden outcry over the 6-foot-6, 243-pound quarterback’s questionable right arm.

Reid went out of his way this week to dismiss fears that Foles lacked the arm strength to make all the necessary throws, even comparing the rookie’s first go-round to Donovan McNabb’s inaugural season.

“They doubted his deep ball,” Reid said of McNabb’s 1999 season. “He wasn’t real accurate with his deep ball [early on]. You see that with some of the young quarterbacks where they put it up, they put it up into coverage and some guys make plays, sometimes they don’t. That’s how it worked.”

McNabb eventually developed into the one of the NFL’s best deep-ball tossers and most dynamic quarterbacks for the next decade.

What becomes of Foles probably won’t be revealed over the next two games, but the picture should become a little clearer.

“He’s got tremendous accuracy and control of the ball and so that’s a plus for him and his game,” Reid said. “Listen, Donovan was 10 years, 12 years into it and a great player. This kid’s just starting off, so you give him a little time to grow and see what he can do.”

E-mail Geoff Mosher at gmosher@comcastsportsnet.com.