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Fan-Demonium: Ready For Takeoff

Posted Nov 17, 2012

Fan-Demonium

On Sunday, the Eagles will try to break a five-game losing streak with a rookie quarterback making his first ever NFL start.

In the past, that meant the Eagles were in for a long day. Times have changed, though. Rookie quarterbacks are better prepared than ever. Donovan McNabb was a four-year starter at Syracuse. He threw for 8,389 yards and 77 touchdowns. He started 45 games and attempted 938 passes. Nick Foles played for three years at Arizona (after transferring from Michigan State). Foles started 32 games. He attempted 933 passes. Foles threw for 10,011 yards and 67 touchdowns. Foles had one fewer season, but his numbers were very similar to McNabb's. That should tell you how college football has changed. The passing game has taken over the football world.

Just go back to last week. Foles threw 32 passes in his first NFL game. When McNabb was a rookie, he was slowly mixed into the offense. He played as a backup in several games early on. McNabb didn't attempt his 32nd NFL pass until his sixth game. It would really be interesting if 1999 Andy Reid and 2012 Andy Reid could have a conversation about rookie quarterbacks.

I have confidence in Foles. He is a rookie so that means there will be some plays that make us all cringe, if not throw a remote control across the room. There will also be good plays. Against Dallas, he showed the ability to run the offense, improvise and even deliver big plays. Remember that he was coming into the game without a week of practice to get ready.

Foles had this whole week to prepare mentally, physically and emotionally. I can't stress enough how important that is. You could see last week that there were some timing issues with receivers. Foles spent most of the year throwing to backups like Marvin McNutt, B.J. Cunningham and Damaris Johnson. Adjusting to the speed of Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson in the middle of a game isn't easy. Foles got some reps with the top receivers back in the summer and showed good timing in the preseason. On Sunday, Foles should be much more in sync with Maclin and Jackson.

The Redskins will try to confuse Foles by mixing blitzes and creative coverages. The good news here is that the Redskins defense has struggled all year. They are 27th in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed. Dallas had a much better defense and a more dynamic player in linebacker DeMarcus Ware. The key here for Foles is to make good reads. You can't assume anything. Against Dallas, there was a short pass that was picked off, but the interception was erased by a penalty. On the play, Foles saw the linebacker start to rush. Foles then tried to dump the ball to the running back just beyond the linebacker. Unfortunately, the linebacker only started to rush before peeling off and sticking with the back. That was a good lesson for Foles. Just because a player starts to do something doesn't mean you can assume he'll stay there.

The Eagles coaches know that the Redskins secondary is vulnerable. Don't expect the coaches to be conservative. Foles might be a rookie, but the way to beat Washington is to throw the ball against them. Reid and Marty Mornhinweg will have an aggressive gameplan. If Foles and the offense struggle, the coaches can always switch things up and go more conservative. The first thought will be to stretch the secondary with vertical routes and create some big holes in the middle of the field.

Obviously, Foles needs protection in order to have success. The offensive line will have a new look. King Dunlap swings back over to left tackle, where he is much more experienced and comfortable. Rookie Dennis Kelly is going to be the right tackle. He played there throughout the summer and preseason. He played tackle in college. Kelly was up and down at right guard the last three weeks. I expect him to be more effective at tackle because of the experience factor. Right guard will either be manned by Danny Watkins, Jake Scott or Matt Tennant. Watkins is coming back from an ankle injury. He did practice, but the coaches need to be comfortable that he is good enough to play. Scott is a free agent addition with a terrific track record, but he's rusty and new to the team. Tennant has been here for a few weeks, but has less experience. The line must play better than they did last week. It does help that nose tackle Jay Ratliff and Ware won't be on the field.

What should we expect from Foles? What is realistic? He is a rookie, but as I said earlier, that doesn't mean what it used to. I expect him to lead the Eagles to points. I'll be disappointed if the team scores fewer than 23 on Sunday. Foles should throw for about 250-275 yards. He'll have plenty of chances. Decision making is the big key. He must find the right receiver. That could mean a dump pass to LeSean McCoy in the flat or a bomb to Jackson down the sideline. Foles needs to limit mistakes. He had two turnovers that resulted in 14 points last week. He can't have those this time out.

Third downs are going to be something to watch. The Eagles struggled in that situation last week with both Mike Vick and Foles. The team must be able to sustain drives and move the chains. You can get big plays on the Redskins, but don't want to count on them. You must be able to drive down the field and score without relying on chunk plays.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

Red zone offense will be interesting to watch. Can Foles lead the offense to touchdowns instead of field goals? Heck, can he just avoid turnovers down there, something that has plagued the Eagles for two years? Foles was good in the red zone during the preseason so that offers some hope. The regular season is a whole different level so red zone offense could be a challenge for Foles.

It seems odd to be so optimistic with a rookie quarterback making his first start, but there are a few reasons that back up the feeling. The Redskins defense is bad, as I covered earlier. Washington has lost eight straight games to rookie quarterbacks. This goes all the way back to the 2006 season. That is an unbelievable streak. How do you lose to eight rookies over the course of half a dozen seasons? The other reason not to be scared about a rookie quarterback is that the Redskins will also start a rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III. His nickname is RGIII. Right now, I prefer to call him RG3and6.

Griffin III is a dynamic player. He has the ninth best quarterback rating in the NFL. Griffin has only thrown three interceptions all year long. The other starting quarterbacks in the NFC East (Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Vick) all have that many in at least one game. That's crazy. Griffin III has explosive speed when he decides to run. He averages 6.5 yards per carry and had a 76-yard touchdown run earlier in the year.

Griffin III isn't the only weapon.  Running back Alfred Morris, also a rookie, is seventh in the NFL in rushing with 793 yards.  He is a tough, physical runner.  Actually, violent is a better word.  Morris initiates contact and will knock the crap out of some defenders.  He might remind you a bit of Marion Barber. 

The Eagles defense has a big challenge. Washington runs the ball a lot and they are very creative in how they do it. They use a lot of players from a lot of formations and will even mix in some option. The Eagles must be assignment sound. This means having good gap discipline. Don't chase the ball recklessly. Cover your gap and then work to the ball under control. The Eagles must keep good leverage. That means staying on the correct shoulder of the blocker to force the runner inside or out, depending on the design of the defense on that play.

Tackling will also be critical.  The Eagles have been wildly up and down in this area.  There are times when you see the linebackers and defensive backs make strong, physical tackles in space.  Unfortunately, there are too many plays when defenders reach, grab and whiff on runners and receivers. 

If the Eagles defense from last week's first quarter shows up, it will be a long, long day. If the defense from the rest of the game shows up, the Eagles have a chance to control the run game. What we don't know is if the defensive improvement was an anomaly or if things finally clicked and the group is ready to come out and play good football this week. We'll find that out on Sunday. Mychal Kendrics and DeMeco Ryans started slowly last week, but then they came alive and the defense played well. If they get off to a good start, that will be a great sign.

I am interested to see how the pass rush attacks Griffin III. He has been sacked 20 times. He is very elusive and mobile, but the Redskins line is better at run blocking than pass blocking. Will the Eagles blitz Griffin III? Will they use a spy on him? Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles has some tough decisions to make. The defensive line did get decent pressure last week. It would be great to see them build off that and have a strong showing on Sunday.

Normally a meeting of 3-6 teams isn't all that interesting, but seeing Foles and Griffin III should be fun. Griffin III has established himself as the Redskins quarterback of the present and future. He looks like a star player. Foles can't do that in one game, but he can show everyone if he's a player with that kind of potential. Don't expect him to be a finished product. Look for signs that he can be that guy down the road. Winning on Sunday would be an excellent way to start.

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