Big chance for Eagles' Foles

DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Vick and Nick Foles work out at NovaCare yesterday. Foles is expected to start in place of Vick on Sunday at Tampa, where he beat the Bucs last December.
DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Vick and Nick Foles work out at NovaCare yesterday. Foles is expected to start in place of Vick on Sunday at Tampa, where he beat the Bucs last December.
Posted: October 11, 2013

NICK FOLES hardly could have asked for a better chance.

He will face a viable defense. His offensive line just had its best game of the season. He has two of the league's more dangerous weapons primed to continue their MVP pursuits.

He returns to Tampa as the Eagles' starter 10 months after he recorded his lone NFL win there. He managed a 98.6 passer rating on that December day, including the winning touchdown pass as time expired; the best of his six starts at the end of that rookie season.

Michael Vick has a hamstring injury, the sort of ailment that can last . . . well, really, it can last as long as his coaches want it to last. Heck, it could nag Vick right through the end of the month, what with defensively deficient Dallas and the rematch vs. the Giants up next.

What better situation in which to examine Foles' largely unplumbed abilities?

Foles is almost certain to start Sunday, since there is little reward for risking the rest of Vick's season.

It could be his best opportunity to prove his worth.

The Eagles need to make decisions about Vick, a talented veteran on a 1-year contract; Foles, a third-round pick last year with arm and experience issues; as well as Matt Barkley, a fourth-rounder this year.

Certainly, the Eagles would like to have a younger, bigger man than Vick play for them as Chip Kelly formulates his offense; but if Vick finishes the season with a 90.6 passer rating, which is where it currently stands, and runs for 700 yards or so, it will be difficult to subtract him.

Perhaps the Eagles would prefer an athlete with a stronger arm and/or quicker feet than Foles.

Perhaps Foles can convince them they don't need an improved version of him. Perhaps he can convince them they don't need Vick, either.

Sunday provides him with a perfect setup.

"Any chance, for me, is a good chance," Foles said. "It is what it is."

What it is, is, a high-quality foe.

Tampa Bay's defense is fast and smart and effective. Anchored by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, it gives up yards, true, but it is stingy on first down, it stops teams on third down, it is tough in the red zone, so it doesn't give up many points.

"I think their overall team speed is outstanding. They can run at every level," Kelly said. "Gerald McCoy may be the best defensive player in the league. He's explosive, dynamic, he can run. They've got athletic ability on the defensive line. They're not as big as some of the teams we've played, but they're faster than teams we've played."

By comparison, the 2012 version that Foles beat finished on the league's lower tier, in part because injuries eroded it. The loss to the Eagles came in the middle of a five-game swoon that cost the Bucs a playoff spot.

These winless Bucs, as a whole, aren't much better, but the defense certainly is.

The Bucs traded for Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, signed Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson and drafted corner Johnthan Banks in the second round. They reinforce a light but agile front seven.

This is exactly the sort of defense that could trouble Vick, a 6-footer, by limiting his running chances and production while baiting him into making unwise throws.

It is precisely the sort of scheme that better suits Foles. At 6-6, with fine peripheral vision, Foles can better locate and anticipate the secondary reads.

He will be doing so in Florida, which is another possible benefit.

"It's always nice to be at a place where you've done well," said guard Evan Mathis. "Can't hurt."

Not only is it the scene of his greatest success, but it also will lack the expectant buzz of Lincoln Financial Field. The old saying is, the most popular player on a losing team is the backup quarterback.

Well, the most pressured player on a losing team is a backup quarterback who gets his chance at home.

"Bah," Foles scoffed. "If you let that sort of pressure get to you, you won't make it."

Be that as it may, Foles' chance is nicely timed for several reasons; among them, that he will be the least of the Bucs' worries.

Since DeSean Jackson caught 16 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns the first 2 weeks of the season, he has been assigned safety coverage virtually every play. That didn't keep him from catching seven balls for 132 yards and a touchdown Sunday at the Giants. Rest assured, Revis and Goldson won't want him talking his trash at Raymond James Stadium.

Since LeSean McCoy averaged more than 170 yards from scrimmage in the first 3 weeks, he has been assigned a defender to track him on every play. That essentially means Foles can account for three defenders on every snap.

That simplifies things.

For a young man in his seventh start, against such an improved defense, simple is better.

Better is better, too. Foles played last season without his most dangerous weapons.

McCoy missed last season's game. Jackson did, too, with injured ribs. Tight end Brent Celek suffered a concussion on the first play. The offensive line was a tattered mess. All are sound for Sunday.

None ensures that Foles will make the best of this chance. Besides, if Foles shines this weekend and beyond, it might not even be the best thing for the franchise. Vick might be better, period. Somebody else might be, too.

This is Foles' first chance to build a case to the contrary.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

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