In many ways, Monday night’s preseason football game was eerily similar to the one the Eagles played against the Steelers a week and a half ago — only this was far, far worse. With any and all of their relevant starters on the bench, the New England Patriots somehow jumped out to an 11-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Eagles defense had trouble getting off the field, and Michael Vick once again was hurt early with an apparent injury to his ribs, the same type of injury that caused him to miss games in each of the past two seasons.
But hey, don’t sweat it. Rookie/savior Nick Foles entered the game in his place and proceeded to lead three touchdown drives, in the process helping the Birds to a 27-17 victory. Things are totally all right. In fact, we can probably just forget about Foles making a play as the number two quarterback. Andy Reid should name him the starter effective immediately. /eye roll
Although Foles’ faster-than-anticipated ascendency is saving what would otherwise be a torturous preseason to date—and we the football-starved people appreciate that—it comes with a few grains of salt.
To begin, while Foles’ was again impressive last night, his first couple of scoring drives were aided by a pair of turnovers. Fellow rookie Brandon Boykin forced a fumble working as a gunner on the punt coverage team, flying up the sideline and landing a shot on the returner as the ball arrived. From there, the Eagles were able to go 24 yards on three runs for the score. A couple plays later, a Philip Hunt strip-sack gave the Birds the ball on New England’s 12, setting up Foles for a two-play march and TD pass. Great news for folks interested in seeing how the offense looked near the goal line.
Later, with most of the Eagles’ first stringers still in the game, Foles led an eight-play, 80 yard scoring drive against the Patriots’ third string defense to open the third quarter. Take that, Vick!
Don’t get me wrong, like anybody else, I am impressed with the rookie quarterback. His performances have been fun to watch during what has been an otherwise vastly disappointing preseason. He’s shown a ton of poise and promise, especially in extended action following Vick’s injury on Monday night. (Yes, Vick is supposedly okay… again… but more testing will be done.) So far, the Arizona product is 24/36 for 361 yards, four touchdowns, and one pick.
That said, we probably all need a friendly reminder that Foles’ accomplishments have come when he has staring solely down the barrel of second- and third-string defenses during a time of year when opponents aren’t exactly throwing the types of fastballs that typically make young quarterbacks flinch. For a third-round pick, it’s fair to say Foles has exceeded expectations at this early juncture in his career, and if he winds up being the starter in Cleveland this Friday for exhibition number three, he may just have a shot at slipping into the primary backup spot behind Vick with another strong outing.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Mike Kafka’s last preseason was not so bad either — granted not quite this good – but he is quickly being written off amidst the combination of an injury and the guy behind him on the depth chart playing better than expected. Kafka seemingly demonstrated he was a gamer last summer, going 34/49 for 368 yards (7.5 Avg) with two touchdowns and two picks in 2011, good for a passer rating of 87.8. He also very nearly led the Eagles to a comeback victory in Atlanta in Week 2 of the regular season, which holds considerably more weight than what either he or Foles has done in the preseason.
Obviously Foles has greater upside, and that’s why the Eagles drafted him. But, he’s a rookie, and not one being immediately groomed to start. This is year three for Kafka, and while nobody will confuse him as the QB of the future, as long as he gets healthy, I’m not so sure he isn’t still the backup if Vick got hurt in… let’s say Week 1. That’s what Kafka’s been groomed for since his arrival in Philadelphia, and as long as we’re basing one’s ability on preseason action, let’s not forget he too has succeeded to some degree on that level, plus he’s had considerably more time in the offense.
None of which is to say the job isn’t up for grabs, and that Foles couldn’t or shouldn’t be the first name called if Vick continues to get bitten by the injury bug. We just don’t know yet. Of course, there’s also very little to compare Foles against in these two exhibitions — just nine passes from Kafka, several of which apparently were after sustaining the injury that would ultimately keep him out of the Pats game. Missing snaps due to injury certainly isn’t an excuse that will keep the backup role warm for Kafka, but for now, if we’re being realistic, I feel it’s best to view Foles’ success to date with tempered enthusiasm. If we’re just looking for some enjoyment in the preseason, by all means, Foles has been a major bright spot, and that’s even more encouraging in the long term. So have at it.
The competition for backup QB is probably still up for grabs though, and the depth chart will be heavily influenced by Kafka’s health between now and the start of the season, rather than just Foles’ success against vanilla and/or second/third string defenses.
As for Vick, he needs to be smarter or this discussion becomes a lot more than a wait-and-see pondering. With one of Vick’s bigger question marks being his ability to stay on the field, he’s done little to inspire confidence in the few preseason snaps he’s taken. On the play during which he was injured in game 2, Evan Mathis did not hear Jason Kelce change the blocking assignments at the line, resulting in a free rusher with a direct line at the quarterback. Rather than scramble out of the pocket and throw it away — or hell, this is preseason, just spike it for an intentional grounding — Vick turned back toward the pass rush to heave a pass downfield, exposing himself to a huge hit to his ribs. Obviously much of the blame rests on the offensive line here, but sometimes the QB also needs to know when to wave to white flag.
We’ll have a more detailed review of the game later.
(Photos by Mark L. Baer, US Presswire)