By Mary Cunningham
Eagles coach Chip Kelly held quarterback Sam Bradford out of the first preseason game against Indy, which the Birds won easily 36-10.
But the St. Louis Rams, with former Eagle QB Nick Foles at the helm, lost at Oakland 18-3.
So, let’s check in with the former Philly signal caller.
Foles will likely be one of the six players starting for St. Louis in Week 1 against Seattle who weren’t in the starting lineup for the Rams during last year’s season opener. He’ll likely be St. Louis’s starter for the next two seasons after signing a two-year extension last week. The contract pushed $4.5 million in guaranteed new money into Foles’s pocket this season, with the Rams gaining the opportunity to have Foles signed to a below-market deal in 2016 while retaining the flexibility to move on. They’ll owe Foles only $8.8 million next year; if he totally flops, the Rams could cut him without sinking their entire team. And if he plays well, the Rams basically buy a year at a fraction of the franchise tag rate.
While we’re all going to be comparing Foles to Bradford, given that the deal represented a rare challenge trade of quarterbacks, the reality is that Foles doesn’t have to outplay Bradford in 2015 to represent an upgrade for the Rams. He just has to be an upgrade on the combination of Bradford, Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis, and Shaun Hill, each of whom have started between seven and nine games for the Rams over the past couple of seasons.
On talent alone, Foles should be able to do that. But even outside of the tutelage of Andy Reid and Chip Kelly, Foles should be better than a group of (Bradford aside) replacement-level quarterbacks. Even if Foles was never the star that Eagles fans deluded themselves into thinking he might be after the 2013 season, he’s certainly a quarterback with strengths. He’s developed a better sense of anticipation in terms of throwing routes open; there aren’t many players who make this throw to Jeremy Maclin against the 49ers, even if it required an insane catch from Maclin.
Over his first three pro seasons, Foles has posted a 93.7 QBR on throws 15 yards or more downfield, the league’s seventh-best rate over that time frame. During his career, Bradford generated a QBR of just 59.5 on those same throws, ranking 27th out of 29 qualifying passers. And after Week 7 of the 2013 season, when Bradford last suited up for the Rams before tearing his ACL the first time, Rams passers have put up a 78.2 QBR on those same 15-plus-yard throws. Bradford may very well turn things around and be more effective throwing deep in Philly — he’ll have to if he wants to run Kelly’s offense — but that hasn’t been the case in St. Louis.
The same thing helping Foles to succeed on those deep throws could hurt him in St. Louis. Like other large quarterbacks of his ilk, Foles is tough to a fault. He takes hits in the pocket in an attempt to extend plays and get guys open, which is why he was sacked on 8.1 percent of his dropbacks in 2013, even while playing behind what was then the best offensive line in football. That sack rate fell dramatically to 2.8 percent last year, but that was because Foles was more aggressive to get rid of the football before those hits. Football Outsiders notes that Foles was knocked down 34 times in eight games; had he been able to stay healthy and been hit at the same rate, his 68 knockdowns would have ranked second in the league behind Andrew Luck.3
That, sadly for Rams fans who are sick of worrying about their quarterback’s health after Bradford, would be my biggest concern with Foles. It’s not that Foles has struggled to stay healthy for an entire season. It’s that he hasn’t even been able to make it past a half-season without suffering a meaningful injury. As a rookie in 2012, a hairline fracture in his hand ended his season after six starts. During that breakout 2013 season, Foles suffered a concussion during his second start that knocked him out of the lineup; he came back two weeks later and threw for seven touchdowns against the Raiders, starting the final eight games of the year. He matched that eight-game streak before breaking his collarbone against the Texans last season.