Inside the Eagles: Eagles receivers love quarterback Nick Foles

Posted: December 10, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. - If Nick Foles turns out to be as good as Sunday's last-second victory made him out to be, there won't anyone as joyous than the Eagles wide receivers.

Well, there may be several million back in Philadelphia as thrilled by the prospect of a budding Foles under center for the near future. But a receiver's best friend is always a quarterback who puts the ball in a spot where he can catch it.

And Foles made a number of throws that made Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and company look very good in the Eagles' 23-21 thrilling win over the Buccaneers.

"You guys are seeing Nick Foles grow into a phenomenal quarterback right in front of your eyes," said Maclin, who caught the 1-yard game-winning touchdown. "I think the sky is the limit for him."

Before we get carried away - and Maclin understandably got caught up in it - there were a few caveats to Foles' first NFL win. At the risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer, Tampa did have the worst pass defense in the league, statistically speaking, heading into the game.

That dubious honor will likely remain for the Buccaneers after Foles passed for 381 yards and two touchdowns. But there was so much to commend about the rookie's day that it should give Maclin, Avant and the injured DeSean Jackson visions of future 100-yard receiving days dancing in their heads.

Maclin caught nine passes for 104 yards and eclipsed the century mark for the first time since the Lions game on Oct. 14. Avant finished with a season-high seven receptions for 133 yards.

They were Foles' first 100-yard receivers of his career. For several reasons, he hasn't had many opportunities to throw downfield in his first three starts. The offensive line's struggles were one. His inexperience was another, and the ascension of Bryce Brown and the running game was yet another.

"Obviously, we ran the ball pretty well against Dallas and Carolina, so that was in the flow of the game," Maclin said. "But today we saw opportunities . . . to make plays down the field, and that's what we took advantage of."

Brown could do very little in the first half (10 carries for five yards) and had only two rushes after the break.

Coaches Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg hadn't put too much on Foles' plate in his first three starts. But with the running game nil, they had no other choice.

"Early in the game we weren't running, and we weren't passing, and we weren't protecting. It was just awful, really," Mornhinweg said. "It was just very simple. We'll open it up, and most of it is going to be on Nick."

Foles relied in his receivers, though. When he got in trouble in the second quarter and spotted Avant with single coverage, he tossed one up for grabs, and the veteran made a one-handed circus catch.

A series later, Foles was forced from the pocket. But he kept his eyes downfield and floated a 39-yard pass to a wide-open Avant, who somehow managed to keep his feet inbounds.

When the Eagles fell behind, 21-10, with seven minutes to play, Mornhinweg went back to the wide receiver screen that had worked off and on for much of the game. On the first play, Maclin took the short pass, zoomed 24 yards, and the Birds were off and running.

This was how the Eagles' offense was supposed to look in 2012, with Michael Vick, Jackson, Maclin and company zipping up and down the field with a multi-faceted aerial attack.

There still weren't many deep throws, and when Foles did chuck the ball downfield he was off target. That's something he must improve if he's to become a complete quarterback.

But he has the intangibles. So says guard Jake Scott, who once spent four seasons blocking for Peyton Manning.

"We had some third and longs, some fourth and longs, some fourth and shorts, and he was composed through all of it," Scott said of Foles on the game-winning drive. "He made good decisions on all of them. That's what you need, somebody who can make a good decision under pressure."

And a quarterback with the confidence to throw to his receivers, even if the windows are tight.

"I'm certain that it gives other people around him, which is as important, great confidence, as well," Mornhinweg said.


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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