As the clock ticks down on the Eagles' 2012 season, the team now has a complete picture regarding the performance of quarterback Nick Foles after head coach Andy Reid announced that the rookie's season is over. Foles incurred a hairline fracture in his throwing hand during Sunday's game against Washington.
The team's third-round pick out of the University of Arizona started six games in 2012 and appeared in seven games total. Foles was 161-for-265 (60.8 percent) for 1,699 yards with six touchdowns against five interceptions for a 79.1 passer rating. He also added 42 rushing yards and a score on the ground. No rookie has more pass attempts, completions or passing yards in franchise history.
That would include Donovan McNabb, who also started six games as a rookie in 1999 but appeared in 12 games total. McNabb was 106-of-216 (49.1 percent) for 948 yards with eight touchdown passes against seven interceptions for a 60.1 passer rating. McNabb was certainly more fleet of foot with 313 rushing yards as a rookie. The Eagles have only drafted one quarterback since McNabb with a pick higher than a third-round selection. That was Kevin Kolb, who was the team's top draft pick as a second-round selection in 2007. However, Kolb's first meaningful snaps did not take place until his second NFL season.
When McNabb was drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in 1999, it was a move designed to make him the franchise quarterback. Kolb was groomed to take over as the starting quarterback until Michael Vick emerged and had his Comeback Player of the Year campaign in 2010. Foles has been placed in what Reid called a "unique situation." Foles was expected to be the No. 3 quarterback this season when he was selected. He won the backup job with an impressive preseason and eventually took over the starting job. In these seven games, did Foles show enough to warrant being the starting quarterback of the future?
"He's a quarterback that gives your team an opportunity to win," Reid said. "He has enough skill and ability to play."
Rookie quarterbacks are thriving around the National Football League in 2012. Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Robert Griffin III in Washington and Russell Wilson in Seattle are all either on the verge or locked in for a postseason berth. Luck has broken the NFL rookie record for most passing yards in a season. Foles did not have the luxury of starting from the beginning of the season like those aforementioned quarterbacks. Reid noted that when Foles was just getting into the starting lineup, the other quarterbacks have already been able to grow from their early-season mistakes. Wilson, who was a third-round pick like Foles, is a great case in point as the Seahawks averaged 17.5 points per game in the month of September. In the last month, the Seahawks are one of the hottest teams in the NFL averaging an absurd 43.3 points per contest.
The Eagles' offense has shown improvement with Foles in the lineup. The Eagles have scored at least 20 points in four of Foles' six starts. That only happened in three of the first nine games of the season and one of those was the game in which Foles came in relief of a concussed Vick in Week 10 against Dallas. Foles' shining moment was the come-from-behind win in Tampa Bay. He helped rally the Eagles from a 21-10 fourth-quarter deficit with a touchdown pass to tight end Clay Harbor and then, on the game's final play, a 1-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
"I love him, man. He's a competitor. He's always super poised in the huddle. He's a natural leader the way he runs our offense, getting people up to the line of scrimmage and understanding what he has to do," wide receiver Riley Cooper said. "I'm really proud of him and he's playing at a really high level."
What was even more impressive about the comeback was that he changed wide receiver Jason Avant's route on a fourth-down conversion on the game-winning drive and he selected the play on the touchdown throw to Maclin. Foles has impressed his teammates with his poise and football IQ since the preseason. Foles changed Cooper's route on a play during the preseason opening win over the Steelers. Foles did not have the leeway from the coaches at the time because they did not think he had the capacity to handle such a responsibility. It turned out to be a moment that showed maturity beyond the rookie's years.
There are other intangible aspects of Foles' game which do not necessarily show up on the stat sheet. In the Week 13 game at Dallas, Foles was drilled on the first play of the game by All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware. It did not change how Foles stood tall in the pocket. In fact, Foles perfectly read a blitz later in that game by linebacker Ernie Sims and quickly found tight end Brent Celek down the middle of the field for a 19-yard gain. If Foles did not read the blitz in pre-snap recognition, it would have been a sack and possibly worse. In Foles' final game of the season, he suffered the hairline fracture in his throwing hand prior to halftime. Foles played the entire second half with the injury. He nearly led the Eagles on a game-tying drive after trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter. After the game, he did not use the injury as an excuse for any errant throws.
"He's so poised, man, his attitude in the huddle and his leadership. You really can't tell that he's a rookie," said running back LeSean McCoy. "It's his attitude. Everything is always positive and he's motivational all the time. I can see in the future he can be an outstanding quarterback. I can definitely see that in the future."
But what will be the future? Will Foles be the starting quarterback in 2013? Will he need to develop and be a backup?
"He really just needs to play. Just play and have that experience," Reid said. "Every week, I thought the game slowed down for him. He put up pretty good numbers (Sunday). You've got to go through the different situations. He's been given some unique situations and you've got to be able to work through those, learn from them, move on. Now, he's the kind of guy that normally doesn't make the same mistake twice, which is important at this level. So, he learns from his mistakes and gets better."
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider