Don't expect Foles to be perfect, but he's been good

Posted: August 25, 2014

I WAS A BIT surprised, late in Thursday night's 31-21 Eagles preseason victory, to see a link on Twitter to a take on the game, the author asserting that Ben Roethlisberger had really struggled on this night, and that Nick Foles hadn't fared much better.

This, after Foles led back-to-back scoring drives, and staked the Birds to a 17-0 lead. He sat down at halftime 19-for-29 for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception, which occurred when Darren Sproles tripped over one of his blockers and fell in front of Troy Polamalu.

Then again, I wasn't all that shocked. Right after the interception, I'd seen a tweet in which a colleague wondered "what the excuse was going to be this time" for Foles' pick.

Last month, I traveled with the family to Prague, and we stayed in a neighborhood away from the touristy areas, where it seemed nobody spoke a language I could even remotely decipher. That was kind of how I felt Thursday night. Say what, now?

When looking at Foles, it seems suddenly people remember only the 27 touchdowns and two interceptions line from last season, which was a fluke that will never, ever happen again. They don't seem to remember how Foles actually played, which was pretty well, overall, in 10 starts. He made good decisions. Looked really lost only once, at home against Dallas. Lit it up his next start, in Oakland. Produced points, won games, got into the Pro Bowl after originally being chosen as an alternate.

Was he perfect? No. Was his arm strength gasp-inducing? No. Was every pass perfectly placed? I sure don't remember it that way. Would he have thrown a lot more picks last season had more receivers fallen down, etc., as Sproles did Thursday? Yes.

If the expectation for Foles in 2014 is perfection, it's gonna be a lonnnng year.

Foles wasn't great against the Steelers, but he was plenty good enough. He seemed to rush throws early, went 1-for-4 and 4-for-10, with some drops, before settling in and completing 15 of his final 19. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's hard to struggle while completing 15 of 19.

Playing with both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper in the lineup for the first time this preseason, Foles spread the ball around to eight receivers, shook off occasional pressure.

"I think spreading the ball around happens because you get to the right guy, you get to the guy that is open instead of hanging on a guy too much, and keying on one receiver," Foles said afterward.

Thursday continued the progression from the New England game, in which Foles cleaned up the problems he'd experienced in the preseason opener against the Bears, but didn't manage to generate multiple scoring drives.

"He didn't play well against Chicago, but I thought he did play well in his snaps against the Patriots game," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said Thursday night. "Thought he did a nice job here getting around to some different receivers, keeping drives alive. So, happy with where he is, but he'll be the first to tell you he needs to continue to get better."

Foles, unlikely to play in the preseason finale Thursday against the Jets, completed 68.8 percent of his preseason passes (33 for 48) for 304 yards, two TDs, three picks. The last two games, those numbers were 27-for-39, 260, two TDs, one pick. That'll do just fine, really.

Older than the average Bair

You haven't heard an awful lot about defensive end Brandon Bair in this camp, because we tend to focus on the guys we think will make the team, and Bair, who spent 2013 on the practice squad, turns 30 in November. After playing for Kelly and defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro at Oregon, Bair was signed by the Chiefs, then spent a season on the Raiders' practice squad. He hasn't played in a regular-season NFL game yet, so we thought that the Eagles would rather carry a younger guy, and that Bair would have to set the world on fire to make the team.

Well, three games into the preseason, the earth is ablaze. Bair has been a consistent standout, blocked a pass against the Steelers. Bair, 6-6, 290, really seems to get this 3-4, two-gap business. And Kelly was at his snarkiest Thursday night when someone tried to bring up Bair's age.

"I hope he doesn't age more than 4 or 5 years during the season. My concern is the season. So I think if he continues to put himself in positions to play, then our focus with those guys is what's going to help us immediately. We're not building for the future," Kelly said. "Our future is right now."

(Great speech, but a team that cares only about this season doesn't draft Marcus Smith 26th overall, does it?)

"He's done a really good job in all three games he's played," Kelly said, noting Bair's pass block against the Steelers. "I think he's doing a good job, and he's right in the mix."

Bair served a Mormon mission in Jacksonville and got a late start on college. He's married, with three daughters, and owns both a training facility and a used-car dealership back home in Idaho.

Bair said he thinks he fits better here than at his previous two stops: "It's a system that I excelled in, in college. I knew what coach [Azzinaro] required of me . . . There was definitely a reason that I came here; I thought it was the best opportunity for me, and so I'm just making the most of it."

Other stuff I noticed

* Critics of the Eagles' defense decry a lack of Pro Bowl-level playmakers. What if Mychal Kendricks becomes that guy, in his second year with Bill Davis? Kendricks is doing everything really well right now.

* Looks as if the Eagles guessed wrong on Alex Henery. The sense is, they thought that, with a strong offseason to refine his technique, Henery would be OK, and they really didn't bring in serious competition. Carey Spear hasn't even been as good as the camp legs they used back when David Akers was in his prime, and there was no way the second guy was going to win a job. Now they're scrambling. This upcoming week of Cody Parkey will be interesting.

* It didn't look this way a month ago, but I would say Vinny Curry stays on the roster and gets quality snaps when the season starts, and Brandon Graham's chances of staying have really improved. Get rid of them, you lose every Eagle who has sacked a quarterback this preseason except ex-Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, who is not ready to play in the NFL.

* Kelly said Thursday that Nate Allen has had an "outstanding camp," and it's hard to disagree. A system that doesn't ask safeties to fill run gaps and cover deep at the same time probably helps, as does, frankly, better coaching. If Allen had debuted with this staff in 2010 he might be viewed very differently now.

"Competition has just made us better as a secondary," said Allen, who entered camp as the only starter in open competition, with 2013 rookie Earl Wolff. Wolff hasn't been bad, but Allen hasn't let him much room.

* The Eagles' second-team offensive line, which contains Lane Johnson right now, really dominated the Steelers' first-team defense in a pair of second-half scoring drives, particularly on Matthew Tucker's second touchdown run.


On Twitter: @LesBowen


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