The Super Bowl will feature one of the more intriguing quarterback storylines seen in quite some time. On one sideline will be Tom Brady, the championship veteran heading to the Hall of Fame with a fistful of Super Bowl rings. On the other will be the latest in a line of journeymen backup quarterbacks who have risen to the occasion,this time filling in for a quarterback who played like a bonafide MVP all season long.
Nick Foles is no Brady, but is coming off a career game in the NFC Championship Game against the NFL’s top-ranked defense. That gives the Eagles faith that they may be able to win one more game with their version of Jeff Hostetler.
Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending injury late in the season against the Los Angeles Rams. Foles stepped in to replace the injured MVP-worthy quarterback and did just enough to help the Eagles escape L.A. with a pivotal win for playoff positioning in the NFC. All Foles had to do was allow the Eagles’ defense to hold off the surging Rams and get the offense into position for a pair of field goals.
Despite taking care of business that particular week, the fate of the season seemed to take a downward turn for the Eagles. There was not much reason to feel otherwise with a flat start against the New York Giants and a rough showing against the Oakland Raiders on Christmas night. Foles’ brief appearance in the regular season finale against the Dallas Cowboys ended the season on a sour note, but the Eagles managed to take advantage of a bye week to get him in gear with the offense.
And this is where the importance of the coaching staff has come into play. Doug Pederson as the head coach and Frank Reich as the offensive coordinator may have turned out to be the best possible combination on the sidelines to work with Foles, each bringing a wealth of experience and perspective as a backup quarterback in the NFL.
Having gone through the NFL as, essentially, career backup quarterbacks, Pederson and Reich can work with Foles like few other coaches probably could. They understand the value of the position. They have backed up players like Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and Jim Kelly. In the past month, they have been able to work with Foles and instill the confidence needed to succeed despite losing Wentz.
When a backup steps on the field to replace a franchise quarterback, it comes with a good amount of pressure to live up to the standard established by the starter. For Foles, that bar was pretty high considering the impact Wentz had in his second NFL season. But he brought his own mentality to the role and been aided by some terrific coaching from Pederson and Reich. Foles has not tried too hard to make things happen when they are not available, and has not tried doing everything Wentz would typically try to get away with.
The key to the Eagles’ run to the Super Bowl has been keeping Foles comfortable and confident. One way to do that has been to keep the same offensive mindset with Foles as they did with Wentz at quarterback.
“What [Pederson’s] done is with both players is be incredibly aggressive, and that instills confidence and belief in those guys,” Reich said at the Super Bowl opening night media session on Monday night. “Now, plays are slightly different for Nick as opposed to Carson but it’s still the same aggressive mindset and that’s the unique thread between Carson and Nick. Both of those guys want to throw the ball down the field and make the big play.”
That sure paid off in the NFC Championship Game with Foles passing for 353 yards and three touchdowns by not being afraid to push the ball down the field. The playcalling from Pederson and Reich showed they were not afraid to try something different with Foles at quarterback if the situation called for it.
Asking Foles to have another performance like that in the Super Bowl would be unfair, but there should be no hesitation form Pederson and Reich to expect him to show the same aggressiveness shown in the playoffs. The trust is there between the backup quarterback and his two coaches who are as experienced in the backup role as they come.
“Just relate to him on a personal level. For him, to be able to look him in the eye, and him look me in the eye, he knows that we have that confidence in him,” Reich said. “He knows that we don’t have any doubt that he can take us where we want to go.”
Foles is one win away from taking the Eagles where this franchise has never been before.