#1 - Nick Foles stinks
Even back during the apex of his career, I was never a big Nick Foles believer. I just don’t see the appeal with him. I can’t really tell you what he’s good at. There’s just not a lot to hang your hat on with him.
One can point to how he’s had good games in the past, sure, but a lot of those results were based on favorable circumstances. In 2013, Foles greatly benefited from a Chip Kelly offense that the NFL just wasn’t ready for. Not to mention he had a strong supporting cast and his offensive line stayed healthy for all 16 games. In 2014, Foles unsurprisingly regressed, but his reputation didn’t take a strong hit because the team was winning games. But it wasn’t thanks to him.
Instead, the Eagles were winning due to historical scoring from the defense and special teams. The Eagles saw through the Foles mirage and shipped him to St. Louis in 2015. He was a disaster there before ending up as a backup with the Chiefs in 2016. And then the Eagles re-signed him this offseason.
Foles made his first start with the Eagles in Week 15 against the Giants. He threw four touchdowns against a bad New York defense. The numbers are a little misleading, though, because he had two short fields to work with. Philadelphia blocked a punt and had an interception return in that game. Overall, Foles played well against New York, but I wrote at the time that he still showed warning signs of leaving too many plays on the field. And then that’s exactly what we saw with him in Week 16 and Week 17. Foles was just missing wide open receivers. He wasn’t seeing the field well. He was even struggling to simply catch shotgun snaps.
So, yeah. I don’t have a lot of faith in the Foles. I’m not going to discount the possibility he could randomly have a good game. But I’m not going to count on it. He could easily have a few turnovers. The offense could completely stall with him under center, especially if Atlanta is able to pressure him. He’s not a guy who can avoid pressure.
The disparity between Matt Ryan and Foles is clearly a big reason why the Eagles are underdogs this week.
#2 - The secondary is a concern
While I don’t feel good about Foles, I do feel good about the Eagles’ defense. With that said, Jim Schwartz’s unit is not invulnerable. The Eagles’ secondary got shredded by a bad Giants offense (for the second time in 2017) in Week 15. The Eagles just could not defend the slant route. At all. New York’s success with those slant routes opened up wide open throws on sluggo routes. Philly’s corners have a tendency to be aggressive so they’re prone to biting on double moves at times. We saw this when Jalen Mills easily got beat by Amari Cooper for a long touchdown in Week 16.
The Eagles’ corners certainly haven’t been bad all season long. Jalen Mills has had some nice moments. I still think Ronald Darby is a good corner despite his awful outing against the Giants. But Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu are good wide receivers. They’re going to be a tough challenge for those guys on the outside. Philly really needs their pass rush to get going in this one. The Eagles finished the season with the most pressures generated in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. If the pass rush isn’t getting home, though, or the Falcons are able to effectively utilize a quick passing game … then the Eagles’ secondary probably won’t hold up well.
#3 - Key injuries might be too much to overcome
It goes without saying that the Carson Wentz injury was a huge loss for this team. Some odds-makers said the Eagles would’ve been 7-point favorites (as opposed to 3-point underdogs) this week if he was healthy. If that doesn’t make you realize he’s the NFL MVP, then you must be a Patriots fan. And I’m pretty sure none of you are Patriots fans. (Sorry, just checking to see if you were paying attention.)
It’s not just Wentz, though.
The Eagles also lost starting left tackle Jason Peters for the season. His replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai AKA “Big V”, went through a stretch late in the season where he allowed the most pressures in the NFL at his position, according to PFF. I don’t think Adrian Clayborn is going to repeat his six-sack performance against the Cowboys (thanks for that btw), but he could easily give up a game-changing strip-sack.
Starting middle Jordan Hicks has been out for most of the year. The defense has been able to hold it together without him, but there’s no question having him would really help matters. Especially this week as the Eagles prepare to face a team that likes to use heavier formations on offense. The Eagles are down to starting Dannell Ellerbe, who only joined the team in November, at middle linebacker in their base defense. Ellerbe has been good enough while playing downhill but he looked slow when it came to moving side-to-side.
Everyone knows how dangerous Darren Sproles can be. He’s instant offense. When all else fails, Sproles was always around to make a play or two to spark the team. He was also really important on punt returns. Now the Eagles have Kenjon Barner back there. He’s made some questionable decisions when it comes to fielding punts. He could easily muff a ball.
Philadelphia’s special teams have been among the top-ranked units in the NFL over the past couple seasons. They only finished in 2017, however. Missing special teams captain Chris Maragos since early October has likely contributed to their decline.
These injuries aren’t new, and the Eagles were able to overcome them for a good portion of the season. But Wentz is a big reason why the Eagles were able to stave off the impact of those injuries. Now he’s gone as well and the Eagles are going to be facing playoff quality teams. It’ll be even tougher to get by with the replacements.
Thank you to Brandon Gowton for this article. Be sure to visit Bleeding Green Nation for more about the Eagles!