So we all know by now that Alex Smith is going to start against the Carolina Panthers, making the Chiefs quarterback controversy more of a ... well, not that.
However, it’s still instructive to take a look at how Foles did against the Jaguars (not the stats, which were clearly affected by missing Spencer Ware and Jeremy Maclin) for the sake of knowing how well or poorly he actually played. Does one game tell us much about Foles overall as a quarterback? I can’t say that with any real conviction, but what it CAN show us is some of the things he does well and some of the things he does poorly.
I was able to watch this particular game live, and one thing that stood out to me at Arrowhead (and was confirmed when I reviewed the film) is that Foles, when he keeps a cool head, does a great job moving around the pocket. I mean genuinely great. Of course, there are plays where it seems like he panics and things go downhill rather quickly. But I would say his absolute strongest trait as a QB is his ability to move around the pocket and keep his eyes down the field rather than watching the rush.
Foles has some other strengths, too, which we’ll talk about more in-depth in a moment. He also has some glaring weaknesses that explain why he struggles with consistency. But let’s go to the numbers. Lead us in, Nick.
Foles was really shaky early with his accuracy (footwork). Then he dropped a gorgeous TD pass to Wilson. Great throw. pic.twitter.com/ZM4D67rpps— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 10, 2016
Missed Shots: 6
Happy Feet: 2
Drops: 2 (10 yards lost)
Inaccurate Passes: 8
Potential Picks: 2
Drives Extended with Feet: 0
Franchise QB Throws: 2
Throws Behind LOS: 6
Throws 1-5 Yards in Air: 9
Throws 6-10 Yards in Air: 6
Throws 11-19 Yards in Air: 5
Throws 20+ Yards in Air: 5
You know, I’m glad Nick Foles is the Chiefs backup. I think he’s a guy who can come in and keep the offense afloat. He also is capable of doing some things really well.
We talked about last week that Foles is capable of delivering an accurate deep ball when his footwork is right. Well, he’s got a strong enough arm that sometimes (SOMETIMES) he can do it even when his footwork is, uh, less than right.
First pass by Foles against the Jaguars had me thinking he was gonna go for 350 and 4. Gorgeous throw, though the footwork is concerning. pic.twitter.com/N7ZBk9jdIh— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 10, 2016
I have to admit, I really did think that Foles was in for a big day when he started off hitting Travis Kelce down the field for a big gain. I already was going through my mind just how many people were going to yell at me if I said it might be a good idea to see what Foles can do down the stretch.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for my feelings), Foles wasn’t able to sustain the type of throw we see there. And the “why” is contained in the GIF itself. Look at his feet. That’s basically the opposite of what you want your quarterback to do when throwing a football, particularly down the field. Not setting them at all, falling backwards even as he throws... those are hallmarks of a quarterback who is supremely confident in his arm. Lousy footwork is something Aaron Rodgers has gotten away with for years because he has enough arm talent to compensate.
The problem is, when you don’t have a rocket for an arm (which Foles does not), you have to put a LOT more into it in order to make up for a lack of any lower body involvement. And the harder you throw, the more difficult it is to deliver an accurate pass. And Foles’ number of inaccurate throws (an alarmingly high eight of them on the day) reflects this difficulty. On many of those throws Foles displayed similar mechanics to the GIF, and it cost him his accuracy.
Foles also missed a few more open receivers than I’m comfortable with. The Jaguars spent a lot of time messing around with their coverages, and it seemed to bother Foles a bit. At least, he didn’t appear to recognize what routes were going to be open based on his presnap reads. This was shown in hesitation and some failures to see guys running away from zone defenders. Andy Reid has wonderful route concepts, which often result in defenders having to choose to leave a guy wide open. Foles didn’t always recognize when that would happen and instead tried to force the ball elsewhere. He got away with it at times because he’s got a decent arm, but there were multiple plays guys like Chris Conley or Travis Kelce were open. He also missed De’Anthony Thomas wide open across the middle for what may have been a touchdown.
Missing players happens, but it happened just a tad too much against the Jaguars. Now, I could (and have) forgive that if Foles was making up for it in other ways, but he generally struggled outside of a half-dozen throws on Sunday. He just did. The stats reflect what you see on film (he had a hard time finding and delivering to open receivers), and really, the day could have been MUCH worse.
It basically took an act of God (or the Jags being the Jags) to stop a pick here. Wilson let up on the route, but still REALLY overthrown. pic.twitter.com/7Dflbk6LtP— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 10, 2016
Now in Nick’s defense, this throw isn’t quite as bad as it looks. Albert Wilson started jogging on the route for God only knows what reason (if I’m being charitable, it may be because he was wide open over the middle and thought the throw might come right away rather than a bomb), and so the throw looks like it’s about 15 yards long. In reality, it was probably only overthrown by five yards or so.
Of course, when you loft it up like that and overthrow it, that’s screaming for a pick. Thankfully, the Jaguars managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
However, that wasn’t the worst play of the day for Nick. My biggest issue with how things went for him on Sunday as that he very legitimately nearly cost the Chiefs the game.
3:26 left in 4th Q, 2nd and 6, ball on KC 29, Chiefs up 5. Foles tries his very best to throw a pick-six, but Jags gonna Jag. pic.twitter.com/5mwGub9yRr— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 10, 2016
This play came as the Chiefs were trying desperately to hang onto a lead that had been chipped away to the point of being a single score. A competent play by the linebacker and that’s going back the other way for six and the Chiefs are now playing catch-up on a day they haven’t moved the ball well at all.
There are mistakes, and there are horrible mistakes. That play falls into the latter.
Overall, Foles played like a relatively competent backup who was in over his head reading blitzes (a lot more free rushers than I normally see. It’s tough to not think that’s at least partly on him) and coverages, as well as sloppy with his footwork.
Again, he does some things well (moving in the pocket, nice touch on deep and intermediate throws when his footwork is good), but at least on Sunday it wasn’t nearly enough to compensate for what was done poorly, particularly that near-disaster at the end of the game.
I tried to write all of this in a non-comparison style, as comparing one game of Foles to multiple season’s worth of Alex Smith is unfair for a number of reasons. But since people generally want me to give my full-on opinion, I’ll say this: if I were to base the whole Alex vs. Nick issue on this game (as opposed to what we’ve seen from Smith this year), I’m taking Alex by a country mile. Had Alex played the way Nick played Sunday, it would have been arguably his worst performance of the season (right up there with Pittsburgh, which went worse on the scoreboard because the Chiefs were playing a more competent opponent).
I write none of this to bury Nick Foles. I still think he has the tools to be a good NFL quarterback with his pocket presence and arm. He’s just GOT to clean up his footwork and he’s GOT to get better/faster at reading coverages and pass rushes. He’s still relatively new in the offense, and those things can improve with reps. But for now, he’s exactly where he should be on this roster: backing up Alex Smith.