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:
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).
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.
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.
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:
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):
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.
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.