Who the $#!% is Nick Foles?

As Seattle hurtles toward their 2015 season opener in St. Louis, there is a pressing question that will have a significant impact on the Seahawks season even though it has nothing to do with their team. Nick Foles was acquired in offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for former #1 overall pick, Sam Bradford. The assumption is that Foles is a big upgrade for the Rams, if for no other reason than that he is healthy enough to start a game. Dig a little further, though, and the expectations for Foles get a little murkier. His first game against a talented Seattle defense will tell us a lot about how much noise the Rams will make in the NFC West this season.

Tale of the tape

Foles is a 6’6″ 243 lb quarterback who University of Washington fans remember from his playing days at Arizona. Philadelphia drafted him in the third round of the 2012 draft. That was Andy Reid’s last year with the Eagles, so Foles was inherited by Chip Kelly, who also had a lot of first hand knowledge of Foles from college.
It looked like a match made in heaven as Foles took over the starting job from Michael Vick and finished the year with an eye-popping 27/2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 119.2 passer rating. People were calling him one of the best young quarterbacks in the game.

Foles tumbled from his lofty perch as quickly as he ascended. His 2014 season was marred by poor performance and injury. He threw for 13 touchdowns in his eight starts, but threw five times as many interception (10) as he had the previous year in two fewer games. It was enough to deem him expendable.

Making sense of Foles

Foles has shown the ability to achieve rare heights as an NFL quarterback, but has been mediocre for long stretches as well.

Nick Foles Jekyll & Hyde Career

2013 203 317 2,891 9.12 27 2 119.2
2012+2014 347 576 3,862 6.7 19 15 80.4

He threw interceptions in seven of his eight games last season, and at least two in three different games. The idea that Foles has to be better than the dreck St. Louis put out there are quarterback last season may not be as legitimate as many people think.

His combined passer rating in 2012 and 2014, the bulk of his career thus far, is 80.4. Shaun Hill had a passer rating of 83.9 last season, and Austin Davis had a rating of 85.1. For at least long stretches of his young career, Foles has been a lesser quarterback than either Hill or Davis were for St. Louis last season.

For at least long stretches of his young career, Foles has been a lesser quarterback than either Hill or Davis were for St. Louis last season.

Davis and Hill, though, were sacked. A lot. The two players were brought down a whopping 47 times. Russell Wilson was sacked 42 times, albeit in roughly 50 fewer attempts. Wilson, though, is known to hold onto the ball for long stretches and make life harder on his lineman.

Only six quarterbacks got rid of the ball faster than Hill last season, and two of them were Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Davis was ninth-slowest (Wilson was the slowest for the third straight year). It is no wonder that Hill’s sack rate (7.9%) was significantly better than Davis’ (10.2%) behind the same offensive line. Keep that in mind for those that question how much the quarterback contributes to sacks and pass pressure.

Foles played behind a pretty good line in Philadelphia, but he managed to get sacked quite a bit as well. Per ProFootballFocus.com, Foles was the second-slowest quarterback getting rid of the football during his breakout 2013 season. Wilson took an average of 3.18 seconds, while Foles took 3.11s. He showed some progress in that regard last year when he shaved his time to 2.80s, but making quicker decisions seems to have contributed to a drastic uptick in turnovers.

St. Louis forecast

Projecting a new player on a different team, with different coaches, schemes and supporting cast is tough. The perfect fit for any young quarterback is a team with a strong running game, a competent offensive line and a good defense. It not crystal clear that Foles has any of those in St. Louis.
As many times as we have all anointed the Rams defense as the next great thing, they have yet to really earn that title. Assume that they rise to the occasion this year. That would help. Assume that Todd Gurley will come back and contribute to at least a stronger running game this season. That would help. Assuming that the Rams offensive line is going to be anything but terrible is too far-fetched to entertain. The combination of unproven youth, proven mediocre veterans, and compete inexperience playing together is too much to overcome.
Foles will have players like Tavon Austin to help with quicker throws that should increase his confidence and reduce the chances he will get sacked each time he drops back. Kenny Britt is a really nice receiver and should help, and Stedman Bailey is a promising receiver as well. 
Frank Cignetti takes over as offensive coordinator, the first time he has held that position in the NFL. How he manages this situation is a complete unknown, and the preseason results were mixed. Foles had his best game in the dress rehearsal third preseason game against the Colts. He completed 10/11 passes for 128 yards, with 1 TD and 0 INT for a 145.5 rating. He was also sacked twice.  Most of his success came on throws to speedy Chris Givens down the field, including a 44 yard touchdown. 
The fair expectation for Foles this Sunday is to get sacked a lot and turn the ball over at least once. The Seahawks defense is stellar, even without Kam Chancellor, and should cause major havoc rushing the passer. It will be a good test for the new Rams signal caller to see if he can be more than the replacement level passers St. Louis has dealt with the past few seasons. 

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