Is Kelly's system behind Foles' success?

Some NFL insiders say that coach Chip Kelly's scheme is ideal for Nick Foles.
Some NFL insiders say that coach Chip Kelly's scheme is ideal for Nick Foles. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 28, 2013

Fair or not, Nick Foles' success has been credited in some NFL circles to the chicken - as in Chip Kelly's offense birthed Foles' egg.

Either way, it really doesn't matter as long as the Eagles coach believes he can win a Super Bowl with Foles. And as foolish as it may have sounded two months ago, that title could come this season.

More than likely, though, the season will end sometime in January. Even if they lose to the Cowboys on Sunday, the Eagles appear to have their quarterback for 2014 in Foles. But other than Kelly's saying after the season that Foles is his quarterback, there is no other way for the team to give him a public commitment.

He wasn't a first-round draft pick, and thus there hasn't been a long-term financial commitment, and the Eagles can't extend his contract after just two seasons, per the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.

So there could be months of speculation about Foles' future, despite his historic season, because there is still the sentiment that his success is more a product of Kelly's scheme than it is of his abilities.

Three NFL executives were polled for their opinions on Foles' season - he leads the NFL in passer rating and is 7-2 as a starter - and all three had positive things to say about the second-year quarterback. But two suggested that Foles has been the benefactor of Kelly's system.

"I think Chip's scheme is a huge help to him," an AFC executive said. "It gives him a chance to look great when he is probably good but maybe not great. Most good quarterbacks are smart and accurate and he is both of those things."

Kelly's scheme doesn't require his quarterbacks to make complex presnap reads. But the quarterback must be a quick decision-maker post-snap and he must be accurate. Foles has completed 63.9 percent of his passes and tossed 25 touchdowns against only two interceptions.

The Eagles offense is ranked second in yards and in points.

"Once defensive coordinators are able to figure out their scheme, things will change," an NFC executive said. "But you're definitely glad he's on your team. Ultimately, the offensive staff is doing a great job of scheming and there are a lot of weapons around him. He's a less mobile version of Alex Smith. Not a franchise quarterback, but one that you can win games with."

Andy Reid and the Chiefs were willing to trade for Foles last offseason, per reports, but they ended up deeming the Eagles' asking price too high. Every player is available for the right price and the Eagles would likely ask for the moon if another team were to approach them about Foles.

Another AFC executive who won't be in the market for a starting quarterback this offseason said that he considered Foles' worth in a trade to be a first-round draft pick.

"Does that mean there will be a team willing to pay that this offseason? I don't know," the second AFC executive said. "But the draft won't be as stocked with franchise quarterbacks as it once seemed. The Eagles would be crazy to trade, especially at his salary, but there's always that question about Chip's ideal quarterback."

Kelly has never said anything about his system needing an "ideal quarterback," though. And even if he were to want one more mobile, would he be able to find him next year and get as much production as Foles gave him this season?

Kelly and the Eagles are likely to ask these questions during the offseason, because teams cover their entire basis. But the answer will probably always lead them back to staying with Foles.

"I want to be here," Foles said. "I've always wanted to be here."

FREE AGENCY DECISIONS

Despite the optimism heading into Sunday's game, the Eagles' offseason could start Monday. And with it would start the obvious questions about the future of many free agents.

The questioning, in truth, has already started. So here's a primer on the eight free agents the Eagles will have to make decisions on and the likelihood of each's returning in 2014:

He's down to maybe his last life as a starting quarterback, but Michael Vick will certainly have a future as a backup somewhere in the NFL next season. Vick said Tuesday that he would like to be back with the Eagles, but if he gets the opportunity to compete for a starting job like he did this year, he'll likely go in that direction. Even so, the Eagles may want to draft another young quarterback, which would leave Vick without a spot on this roster. Chance he'll be back: 20 percent.

Jeremy Maclin entered the final year on his rookie contract saying that he would show the Eagles what he was worth. But the wide receiver tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the first week of training camp, and has now suffered the same injury to his right knee twice in his football career. Maclin never busted out in his first four seasons, but at only 25 years old he may find a team willing to give him a long-term deal. Maybe that team is the Eagles. He may need to take a one-year offer to prove that the knee is healthy. Chances: 50 percent.

Nate Allen started slowly, improved during the middle part of the season, but has returned to his inconsistent ways. He isn't a bad safety. The Eagles just may not think he's good enough to warrant a free-agent contract as a starter. But another team might fall in love with the size and speed. Chances: 33 percent.

While LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson had proven themselves prior to Chip Kelly's arrival, Riley Cooper could find his impressive numbers attributed to the coach's offense in contract negotiations. He has made some impressive catches, though, and is on pace to finish the season with around 50 catches for 850 yards and eight touchdowns. Chances: 60 percent.

He's a Kelly guy, so Kurt Coleman could return in the same role as a backup safety and special-teams contributor. The Eagles, though, may be looking to revamp a position that continues to give them problems (like most NFL teams). Chances: 15 percemt.

Donnie Jones may have been the Eagles' best free-agent signing last season. He's 11th in the league in net punting average and fourth in punts inside the 20-yard line. Jones is 33, but he has plenty of life left in that leg. Chances: 75 percent.

He once again leads the Eagles in special-teams tackles, but when he had to play on defense, Colt Anderson struggled. The Eagles need better safety depth, but Kelly places a lot of emphasis on special teams and could welcome Anderson back into the fold. Chances: 50 percemt.

Phillip Hunt missed the entire season with a torn ACL. Another of the defensive-end-to-outside-linebacker experiments, he never gave the Eagles much of a look at whether the transition worked. Chances: 5 percent.

INSIDE THE GAME

With success comes the inevitable mentioning of various assistant coaches as candidates for jobs around the league.

The two Eagles assistants who will likely draw attention around the league - and possibility at the collegiate level - are offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor.

Shurmur may never get another chance to be an NFL head coach after what happened in Cleveland, but working in Chip Kelly's offense could make him appealing to other teams looking for an offensive coordinator. Kelly calls the plays, too, so Shurmur may be willing to go elsewhere to have that authority.

"I'm working for the Eagles now," Shurmur said. "Any of those things that happen down the road, I'll worry about them when they happen."

Lazor has both NFL and college coaching experience before coming to the Eagles. He was the offensive coordinator at Virginia and would likely go back to college only to be a head coach. There should be a handful of coordinator openings in the NFL.

It had been seven games since Michael Vick last played. He missed the first three because of injury and then the next three after Kelly deemed Nick Foles the starter for the remainder of the season.

But Vick was inserted late into the Bears game after the Eagles were up, 47-11. Aside from two kneel-downs that ran out the clock, he played only one play. He handed off to Bryce Brown, who ran 65 yards for a touchdown.

"They must have really thought that I was going to run with the ball because I had two people playing me and it opened it up for Bryce," Vick said.

It was an inside zone-read play, but the read defender actually went for Brown instead of Vick. With the Cowboys expected to start backup Kyle Orton at quarterback after Tony Romo's back injury, Vick knows he's only an injury away from being called upon.

"In this league, you got to stay ready because anything can happen," Vick said. "You'd hate to see anything happen to the starter. But if it does, it's your responsibility as the backup to be ready."

James Casey's playing time has increased in recent weeks and he played his most number of snaps (30) against the Bears. The Eagles often used him as a blocker on run downs, especially a split-zone play that had him going across the formation to seal off the edge rusher.

The tight end typically keeps the defender from crashing down on the running back if the quarterback is to read him.

"I think every team has a version of that play when they send somebody across the formation because if defenses are in man coverage it holds one of the guys because they have to stay over there," Casey said. "You're also trying to cut the defense in half, too, because if they don't close down fast enough that obviously creates a lane there."

INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM

Like Trent Cole and a few other veterans who started slow this season, Todd Herremans seemed destined to end up elsewhere next season even though he had time left on his contract. But the right guard has been much steadier as the season progressed. Herremans, who has played every position along the line except for center, said that he started to feel comfortable at his new spot by Week 6. He and right tackle Lane Johnson have grown more accustomed to playing alongside each other, too. "That goes for anybody that's playing next to each other," Herremans said. "But I wouldn't say any of my early struggles came because I was playing next to a rookie. I think Lane's done a phenomenal job this year." . . . DeMeco Ryans may be the most respected defensive leader the Eagles have had in their locker room since Brian Dawkins. Many of the young players go to the middle linebacker for guidance and they often talk in hushed tones when Ryans' name is mentioned. He would seem to be an obvious candidate to coach in the NFL (or anywhere) someday. "I've thought about it," Ryans said. "If that opportunity presents itself I may take a look at it." For now, he said he's enjoying the being in "one of the best locker rooms I've been around."

BY THE NUMBERS

14

Number of deep touchdowns (over 20 yards) Nick Foles has thrown this season, tops in the NFL. Drew Brees and Andy Dalton are second with 12, but they have 328 and 259 more than Foles' 291 pass attempts.

17

Number of targets/per interception by Brandon Boykin (85 targets/5 INTs), better than Cary Williams (36.7, 110 targets/3 INTs) and Bradley Fletcher (46.5, 93 targets/2 INTs).

68.7

DeSean Jackson's percentage of catches made when targeted (79 of 115), second best in the NFL and ahead of Larry Fitzgerald (63.9), Brandon Marshall (63.1), Andre Johnson (61.7), A.J. Green (58.4), Josh Gordon (57.1), and Calvin Johnson (56.4).

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