The Eagles QB Situation

It’s time.  I’ll save my comments about yesterday for later, because I just can’t wait any longer to address the QB situation.  The general narrative seems to be: Sanchez sucks, but Foles is also bad, so the team isn’t going anywhere until it gets a QB.  If you take the next step and assume the Eagles won’t be drafting in the top 10 anytime soon, you start to see a relatively depressing future taking shape.

Before we go that far though, let’s take an in-depth look at the Eagles QB performance this year.

Ill start with Mark Sanchez, because I think he’s less controversial.  However, it’s important that we properly evaluate just how bad he has been, because we’re inevitably going to compare him to Foles from early this season.

So, here are Sanchez’s headline stats:

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.37.56 AM

You might notice that his numbers aren’t bad. 64.1% completions and a rating of 87.3 are nothing to complain about.  The Sack Rate and Interception Rates are the serious weaknesses here, they’re both far too high.  But even more important to highlight is the level of competition.  Let’s take a look at defense-adjusted performance.  How do you think Sanchez does?

Note that these stats are from before this week’s game.  They haven’t been updated yet, but they won’t change significantly enough to alter the overall takeaways.  From Football Outsiders: Mark Sanchez has a DYAR of -40.  That’s defense-adjusted yards above replacement, and it puts him 28th in the league, just behind Colt McCoy and just ahead of EJ Manuel.  Sanchez has a DVOA of -13.7%.  That places him 31st in the league.  You can check out the source stats here: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/qb

I’m guessing most readers expected bad numbers, but not THAT bad.  What gives?  Well let’s take a look at the schedule Sanchez played against.  Here are the teams he played against, along with their Pass Defense ranking from DVOA (also from before this week’s games).

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.56.46 AM

Starting to get it now?  I haven’t checked (and won’t), but there’s a very good chance that Sanchez has played against the easiest defensive schedule in the league.  In particular, half of his games have come against teams with pass defenses ranked 22nd or worse.  He also faced just one defense ranked in the top third of the league.  Let’s take a look at how Sanchez performed against these teams.  I’m using QB Rating because its relatively comprehensive and easy to find, but it’s obviously not a perfect stat.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 12.12.19 PM

Also note that while Sanchez’s total QB Rating is weighted, the opposing numbers are not.  As you can see, Sanchez’s headline numbers are obscuring the fact that he actually performed worse than average against nearly every opponent.  I’ve seen a number of comments about yesterday especially.  Sanchez recorded a very strong 99.9 Rating.  However, on the season, Washington is allowing opponents a Rating of 108.9.  Sanchez dramatically underperformed.

We could go a bit deeper here, but I don’t see the need.  The takeaway is that, overall, Sanchez was pretty bad, and much worse than his surface-level stats make it seem.

Now let’s look at Nick Foles.  The big question here isn’t “is Foles the answer?”, there’s no way to answer that right now.  The question is “is he definitely/probably NOT the answer?”  That’s the question that many are jumping too quickly to answer.  As you’ll hopefully see, there’s no reason to jump off the Foles bandwagon yet.  

Here is his headline stat chart, next to Mark Sanchez’s.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 12.37.53 PM

Pretty similar, overall.  Sanchez has the better Rating, Comp %, and Y/A, but the differences aren’t that big (aside from Comp %, which I’ll get to).  However, Sanchez’s turnover rate is higher, and his sack rate is MUCH higher.  Of course, we also have to adjust for defensive strength.  This is the part many fans are missing.

First, the FO numbers.  Foles has a DYAR of 300.  That places him 16th overall, ahead of Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer.  His DVOA is 3.6%, good for 17th overall.  Of course, those aren’t great numbers.  We certainly want our QB to be well above the middle of the pack.  However, it’s not as bad as I’m guessing a lot of readers/fans believed.  Let’s take a look at the opposing defenses Foles faced:

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 12.34.21 PM

Hold off on the bottom-line numbers for a minute.  Just look at the rankings.  Foles played in 8 games (Houston was partial).  In that time, he faced 3 of the top ten defenses in the league, and just one defense ranked worse than 20th overall.  Remember that Sanchez faced 4 such teams.  Foles’ headline numbers look similar to Sanchez’s, but that hides the fact that he played a MUCH tougher schedule.  Not only that, but we haven’t even mentioned the offensive line yet.  Foles played in 8 games.  He had just one game with Evan Mathis.  He had just 4 games with Jason Kelce.  4 games with Lane Johnson.  In other words, the offensive line was a mess when Foles was healthy.  Of course, that’s going to happen every once in a while, and you’d love your QB to play well regardless.  However, if you’re going to compare Foles and Sanchez, you’d be foolish not to account for the dramatic difference on the offensive line.

Now let’s talk about the bottom-line numbers above.  Foles did not play well relative to QB-Rating average.  However, there are a couple of big points to note.  First, it doesn’t account for sacks, which Foles did a particularly good job of avoiding this season (maybe TOO good actually).  Second, the San Francisco game was absolutely dreadful.  That single game had a dramatic negative effect on Foles headline numbers.  We need to be very careful about picking and choosing result; every player looks good if you take away his worst games.  But it’s also important to recognize negative outliers when they occur.

Outside of that game, Foles’ completion percentage was 61.5%.  Not great, but OK, and not terribly far from last year’s 64% (2.5 compilations per 100 throws).  Without the San Francisco game, Foles’ YPA jumps to 7.34, more than a full yard above his season average.  Here’s a table showing Foles #s with and without the SF game (at least the ones I could calculate):

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 1.38.04 PM

Not bad, huh?  Again, we can’t just absolve Foles of a terrible game, but I want to highlight just how big of an impact that game had on his overall stats.  Now remember that was a road game, against the 4th best passing defense and 4th best overall defense in the league.

Do you know what the offensive line was that game?  Peters – Tobin – Molk – Kelly – Herremans.  Tobin, Molk, Kelly… LeSean McCoy had 10 rushes for 17 yards.  That’s another way of saying Foles should have played better, but it’s about as bad a position to put a QB in as is possible.

Third, we need to talk about the STs effect as well.  This is a bit tougher to parse.  Basically, the story against Foles is that he was helped a lot by the defense and STs TDs.  No doubt that’s a big part of the story.  However, it’s not as simple as that.  You have to factor in the opportunity cost of the lost drives.  At the extreme, think of the San Francisco game, but now imagine that both Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles are tackled at the 5 yard line rather than scoring.  If Foles takes the ball there and throws TDs, suddenly his numbers look much better and the story looks a lot different.  Of course, that would be inflating his value, just as writing off the opportunity cost completely deflates his value.

Fourth, we need to discuss his “weapons”.  Remember, Foles top options at WR this year were Maclin, Cooper, Matthews, Celek, and Ertz.  Maclin has been great.  The other guys…not so much.  Matthews has had a fantastic year for a rookie WR, but rookie WR’s are graded on a big curve.  Moreover, Matthews has emerged since Foles went down, and we have no idea how much of that was Matthews actually getting better and how much of it was Sanchez just looking for him more often.

The point is, Foles lost his best WR from last year, and that player was no even close to replaced.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that his YPA and TD % dropped significantly; losing the best deep threat in the game will do that.  Instead, we have to realize that Chip Kelly consciously took a step back on offense this year, at least in terms of talent.  It’s probably safe to say he didn’t realize how bad Cooper actually was, but we do need to assume he realized Matthews and Huff would not be huge contributors this year.  Morevoer, the reluctance to play Ertz also suggests Kelly isn’t just trying to put his best receiving talent on the field as much as he can.  There are long-term strategic arguments to be made in favor of that decision, but it has an unmistakeable negative effect on the passing game (for both QBs).  This is a really long way of saying that the Eagles talent on offense is more likely to improve next year rather than regress, and we should see the QB’s numbers (whoever he is), rebound to reflect that difference.

Wrapping Up

Let me close with a few quick points that hopefully tie things together a bit.

– Mark Sanchez was worse than he seemed this year.  He should not be anything more than a backup QB, and asking him to start more than 1-2 games is too much if you actually want to win.  He faced an easy schedule with a healthy supporting cast, and put up pedestrian numbers despite those advantages.  Not only that, but his failure to lead TD drives last night, in a must-win game against a terrible defense, was inexcusable.  There were open WRs all game, he had time to throw, and he still couldn’t get it done.  Just remember that Sanchez was, in fact, the backup QB, and that it’s VERY hard to win consistently if you have to play the backup for a long period of time.

– Foles was not as bad this year as he seemed.  He played a very hard schedule, his stats were significantly hurt by one very bad game, and he was dealing with a decimated OL and a nonexistent running game for much of his playing time.  Adjusting for strength of schedule, Foles was firmly in the middle of the pack.  That’s not good enough, but it’s also not bad enough to warrant throwing him away, especially after last season.

– I still don’t know what to do with QBR, but Foles’ is 62.21.  That’s the 12th best in the league, and puts him one spot above Russell Wilson and one spot behind Andrew Luck.  Note that QBR does not adjust for strength of schedule, which would likely give Foles a boost.  I’m definitely NOT saying Foles is better than Wilson or as good as Luck, that’s ridiculous.  However, it’s important context that should remind everyone that Foles wasn’t anywhere close to BAD this year.

– Foles started 8 games this season.  The Eagles were 6-2 over that span.  Those losses were both on the road, in close games, to good teams (and very good defenses).  Over the past two season, Foles is 14-4 as a starter.  Are you really in a rush to move past someone with that record?  Remember that he’s also been throwing the ball downfield more than any other QB in the league over that time period (so he’s not just been going along for the ride).

– The Eagles offense will get better.  Matthews, Ertz, and Huff all have very high upside, and play positions that take several years to develop.  Matthews and Ertz, specifically, look very good if you compare their statistics to other young players at those positions.  Huff clearly has high-impact potential, but again, he plays a position that typically requires 3-4 years of development before really seeing peak ability.  If the Eagles can find some way to maintain a decent offensive line, there’s a lot of upside to this group of players (hopefully Cooper just quietly fades away).  Maclin is a big question, because of the contract he’ll require, but I don’t see how the Eagles could let him go.  Losing DeSean and Maclin in consecutive years would be too much to overcome IMO.  It would set the rebuilding plan back at least another year, which seems unlikely given the men in charge (I don’t get the sense that Chip or Lurie are THAT patient).

– Finally, there are a lot of other aspects to the QB position that warrant a deep-dive, but I like to keep these posts somewhat contained.  The overall message for now is: It is far too early to give up on Foles.

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19 thoughts on “The Eagles QB Situation

  1. My problem with Foles is not really stat related, but just looking at him constantly throw of his back foot or drift back in the pocket instead of stepping up.

    I do agree its too early give up on Foles, but blaming the cut of Jackson on his regressing is stupid consider Foles had trouble hitting wide open Maclin or hitting the TEs on the deep out.

    • I think again we have to keep in mind that he wasn’t doing those things as much last year. There’s a huge difference between the two years in terms of O-line. Foles never had great fully healthy protection this year like he did in the past. That taken in addition to his apparent efforts on improving against taking sacks may have led him to try and escape more than he should have and create more as well. Shady wasn’t really producing in the first half either so there was more pressure on Foles as well.

      This isn’t to say he shouldn’t be better. Simply that there was more against him this year causing those specific problems. I think we ride Foles another year to see what happens. I’m not sure we have a choice given draft position, but also its possible he could progress and improve. He is still young.

    • That really didn’t start to happen (the back foot and lack of trust in the pocket) didn’t happen until he started playing with Molk + scrub of the week manning the interior (not saying he didn’t have other issues before that, though). It looked like it was less of a problem when the line was getting healthy, but then Foles got hurt. I’m less worried about that than I am about some of his boneheaded decisions. Fixable, but far from a certainty that he will fix it.

    • No doubt Foles looked worse this year, and the back foot throws concern me as well. WE just haven’t seen enough to know if that’s a long-term problem, especially because he didn’t do it previously. Meanwhile, I agree you can’t blame everything on losing DeSean, but it would be really foolish to ignore his departure and its effect on the deep passing game. You can’t take a player like that away from the offense/QB and expect it to put up the same or similar numbers.

      This might be controversial, but in my opinion, the longer the throw, the more responsibility there is on the WR versus the QB. Jackson happens to be amazing at recognizing the ball’s flight path, adjusting his speed/direction, and getting to the spot on time. He makes a lot of throws look better than they are, and there are other WRs throughout the league that do the same. Foles needs to be a bit better on the throws, but he also wasn’t getting much help from the WRs. Cooper in particular was terrible this year with those (which was surprising since he was good at them last season).

      At the end of the day, we have worse WRs/OL + regression we expected + a difficult schedule. That all needs to factor into the evaluation of Foles before we start looking for actual ability regression. There was definitely some of that, I just think it was a smaller factor than everyone seems to believe.

      • Foles did that back foot stuff in college and in 2013, it was just a more pronounced problem in 2014

      • Regarding the deep throws, how is it the WRs fault if the ball is behind him or isnt thrown at all? There was several deep balls to Maclin where he threw 5-10 yards behind him (Im okay with overthrows or slightly missed balls, but throwing the ball to a total different route than the one the WR is running is a problem)

      • So few people recognize the WR skill in tracking long balls. Like Anders said below, some throws are just clear misses by the QB. But, more often than not the QB is throwing to a spot and it’s the WRs job to set the CB up, establish a favorable position with regard to the CB and get to that spot on time. So often a ball hits a WR in perfect stride 50 yards downfield and everyone lauds the QB for a perfect throw. It is darn near impossible to throw a ball at a moving target 50 yards away under a pass rush and consistently be that accurate to within inches without the target helping you by adjusting. If you haven’t played WR it so hard to notice all the little things that go in to making those plays successful from the WR perspective. The casual viewer rarely everything that the WR does, before the ball is thrown and then while the ball is in the air to ensure that he ends up where the ball is going to land at just the right time with the CB set up and placed where he needs to be to allow the WR to make a play on the ball. It is definitely an undervalued and poorly understood skill set.

  2. Thank you for this article. I’ve been saying this for weeks to anyone who would listen. My wife is a Titans fan and she said, “It could be worse, you could be playing Clipboard Jesus.” But nope, Charlie Whitehurst has better DYAR and DVOA than Sanchez. Hopefully Nick plays the final game and Sanchez doesn’t get renewed.

  3. IMO Foles was playing with an injured shoulder from the time he took the Baker hit in the first Washington game. What stands out to me as a plus in Foles favor are the late game drives he has had vs New Orleans in the playoff game last year, vs SF this season and vs Arizona this year as well. While all 3 were losses he did leave the field against NO and Arizona with the lead and against SF (the game immediately after he was hurt vs Wash.) he got the team to the 1 only to have poor play calling (and and a lack of Chris Polk) deny a score. I believe Foles is more than capable to lead this team and I wouldn’t be adverse to Sanchez being his backup again either.

    • FINALLY….Someone said something about Foles being hurt! He obviously kept playing to avoid being replaced. Not saying he’s the long term answer, but w/ the o line at full strength, 1 shutdown corner, and 1 physical receiver, we can beat any team in the nfl.

  4. You are missing one interesting item with respect to the outlier (SF game) with respect to Foles.

    The prior game, vs. Washington, was the one where he was obliterated by that blindside hit on the INT return. I honestly thought at the time that Foles was going to miss significant time – and after that game, he went to SF and put up a stinker – but he clearly (eye test) wasn’t comfortable in the pocket during the subsequent game (and, I would argue, for the remainder of the games he played in 2014).

  5. its very hard to accept the pont that you make in saying foles had a much tougher schedule of games he sucked playing the Jags, Skins, and the Rams also the Cards and 49ERS, if not for the special teams they would have lost to the rams and Jags this guy is just a stop gap qb a backup at best and very brittle, all teams have problems with linemen being hurt but he was not sharpe from day one of this season just the facts

    • I think you’ve hit on one of the key issues. St Louis is a great defense. Jacksonville isn’t bad either. Most people don’t realize that, they just look at the teams’ records and assume. Also, it’s a bit unfair to say he would’ve lost the Rams/Jags without STs. Those were comfortable victories, or would have been if not for a prevent-defense that sucks (St. Louis). The “brittle” issue is one to keep an eye on. He’s had a couple of injuries, but they’ve been unrelated. Need to see if he’s actually injury-prone or just bad luck (way too early to make a determination).

      • Neither Jacksonville or St Louis were good defenses when Foles played them. Jax was blown out by 30 or more by its next 3 or 4 opponents, prompting them to cut a starting safety and shuffle their secondary around. It was after those changes were made that they played better defensively. It took St . Louis several games before recording a single sack on defense this year. They went on a stretch of good defensive performances well after Foles played against them. Including how those defenses played in later weeks gives Foles credit for improvements those teams made well after Foles played them.

        The team was healthy and playing an outmatched opponent and almost lost because Foles couldn’t take advantage of the avalanche of receivers left open by Jacksonville’s porous early defense. If he was better than Sanchez this year, it was by an insignificant margin. The only reason not to move on is because their are no obvious replacements and he’s still on his rookie deal.

  6. If you are going to take Foles worst game this year, you should do the same for Sanchez (Seattle?) and adjust your numbers accordingly.

    • Probably should have done that. However, the general idea is we have a much larger sample for Sanchez, so the single game results don’t sway our evaluation of him as much. Also, definitely not absolving Foles completely of that game. He played terribly. However, I thought it was an unusually large negative effect from a single game. Sanchez didn’t have an outlier of the same significance.

  7. Don’t forget that some of Foles picks were regression to the mean just like his ridiculous 27-3 ratio last year was based partly on luck. My feeling is with a healthy o-line and time to grow Foles will settle somehwere between these numbers and his stellar first year. Imo, he is a strating qb you can win ames with and unless you can show me an easy way to get somebody clearly better its looks like Foles for the immediate future ie next couple years.

  8. Great work, Brent! This is by far your best article of the season and one of the best blog-posts I’ve seen on the Eagles all year. Foles was so close to being great this year. That’s what people seem to miss. He often times recognized the wide open receiver, made the correct read and threw the ball to the right guy. The problem was that he developed a terrible habit of back pedaling and throwing off his back foot. The result was multiple times per game he was sailing balls over the heads of wide open receivers that would have otherwise been huge gains. How many times did he just miss on that corner route to Matthews/Ertz? How many times did he over throw Maclin by a yard or two on deep routes that would have been huge TDs. With no running game to speak of whatsoever, he was forced to drop back much more than what would be ideal and was forcing things which lead to a few bad INTs which all young QBs deal with. The hope for me, is that this offseason he can work on fixing his mechanics and breaking his habit of moving backwards and throwing off his back foot. He’s plenty capable of making all those throws that he missed this year. We’ve seen him do it before. Fix that one accuracy problem and Foles has the skill to be a top 10 QB in this offense. Add some oline stability and a return of our running game and I could see Foles having a huge reboung next year.

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