Since taking over for Michael Vick as the Philadelphia Eagles‘ starting quarterback, rookie Nick Foles has had a limited, but relatively impressive start to his career. Foles came in for Vick after he was knocked out of a Week 10 game against the Dallas Cowboys with a concussion. Since then, Vick hasn’t returned, and Foles has been named the starter for the moment even if he does. Foles hasn’t set the world on fire, but he also hasn’t been exposed, despite being thrust into the professional game midway through his rookie year in a difficult situation. In four full starts and most of the first game against the Cowboys, Foles has a stat line of 1,174 yards, over 60 percent completion, five total touchdowns and four total turnovers. Foles has proven himself capable of handling pressure while still making good decisions.
It’s also no surprise that Andy Reid has slightly modified his approach with Foles. With Vick under center, the Eagles averaged over 38 attempts per game. Since Foles has come in, they have averaged 36.8, but that number is bloated by his last appearance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ leaky secondary, when he threw the ball 51 times. Prior to that game, Foles had averaged less than 33.5 attempts since coming in. Facing off against the Cincinnati Bengals this week, the Eagles will not want Foles to be consistently dropping back and throwing against their secondary. The Eagles should even consider keeping Foles’ attempts somewhere around his season low 21, set against the Carolina Panthers in Week 12. If LeSean McCoy is healthy again to help Bryce Brown, then the Eagles should have no issues committing to the run, as much as Reid dislikes doing it.
Without even considering who the Eagles are playing, Foles needs to be more cautious this week because he won’t have as much time to prepare for this game as he has had the others, outside of his unscheduled debut of course. Preparation is vital for every quarterback in the NFL, but it’s even more important for those players with less experience. Foles is still learning to be a starting quarterback in this league, adjusting to his teammates, the team’s approach through the week and on game days as well as game-planning for his different opposition each week. After a tough game against the Buccaneers, he needs to fit his recovery process and preparation for the Bengals into just four days, including game day. Thursday night football has been disastrous for many teams this year as terrible displays have followed terrible displays. Many of those came from veteran quarterbacks, so Foles could be beating himself before he steps on the field at all.
Presuming he makes it to Thursday night in good shape mentally and physically, his task doesn’t get any easier from there. Not only do the Bengals have a very talented and deep secondary, they also have a veteran coordinator and one of the fiercest pass rushing defensive lines in the league. Foles has made quick decisions so far as a starter, but in this game he will be forced to consistently make very accurate throws and quick decisions while evading pressure. The pressure will be pivotal. The Eagles’ offensive line gave up six sacks to the Buccaneers last week, having only given up two over the previous two games. The Bengals look set to come to Philadelphia without Michael Johnson, who is second on the team in sacks from defensive end. However, the Bengals have a depth of pass rushers and are led by defensive player of the year candidate Geno Atkins from the inside, opposed to Johnson coming off the edge. Atkins has the ability to dominate the best guards and centers in the NFL, while he is more consistent than most players in the whole league. He, along with Wallace Gilberry and Carlos Dunlap should be able to persistently pressure Foles.
Because of their talented pass rushers in the trenches, the Bengals rarely have to commit defenders to the blitz and can instead use those bodies to crowd coverage. Foles will be forced to throw into tight windows all day against very talented defensive backs. None of Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Reggie Nelson or Nate Clements receive much praise nationally, but each are playing excellent football this year. Not only do they play receivers well in coverage, but they also have the ability to play the football and create turnovers.
Foles is flying high right now as the Eagles’ starting quarterback, but the Bengals defense should be able to ground him.