At 9-6 and with an opportunity to secure a playoff spot a year after finishing 4-12, the Eagles are one of the great bounceback stories of the 2013 NFL season. With rookie head coach Chip Kelly at the helm, the staleness and turmoil that typified the last two seasons has been replaced with a sense of purpose and focus. Spearheading the Eagles march toward the playoffs has been their electrifying offense that, at times, has appeared unstoppable. With all due respect to the job that defensive coordinator Billy Davis has done shoring up a maligned defensive unit, it is the Eagles offense that has garnered the attention of the football world, and rightfully so.
While the team has received substantial contributions across the board on the offensive side of the ball, two players have emerged from the pack as the key to the Eagles dynamic attack. One was to be expected, as LeSean McCoy had garnered substantial praise around NFL circles over his first four seasons in the league for his effective running style and ability to make highlight-reel runs. The other came out of nowhere, at least in terms of a national perspective. After losing out on the preseason quarterback competition to Michael Vick, one had to wonder what Nick Foles’ future held in store in terms of his time with the Eagles. However, since Foles took over for an injured Vick in a week 5 win over the Giants, the second-year quarterback has been one of the truly remarkable stories in the league for the 2013 season.
Both players have had career-defining seasons highlighted by staggering individual performances. Between Foles’ seven touchdown game in Oakland two weeks after his worst showing as a pro and McCoy’s 217 yard show in the snow against the Lions, each player has had a chance to shine in the spotlight on a local and national scale. There is nothing certain regarding the selection process, but both players have done more than enough to warrant Pro Bowl consideration. McCoy will most likely wrap up the Eagles’ first rushing title since Steve Van Buren in 1949 and Foles has a chance to turn in the most efficient, high-output season in franchise history for a quarterback.
With all of that in mind, there is the debate as to which player is more valuable to the team’s recent success. On one hand, it is tough to question that McCoy is the most talented player on the team. His proclamation of putting the team on his back for the Eagles blowout win over the Bears only strengthened his grip on that distinction, and the young back looks more and more like he could emerge as one of the all-time greats in NFL history. On the other hand, while the Eagles offense was able to move the ball with Vick at quarterback, it has turned the corner into an efficient, high-scoring attack that can beat teams in a number of ways. Foles is the embodiment of Chip Kelly on the field, and the young signal-callers mastery of Kelly’s schemes were no more evident that his carving up of a young Chicago defense.
The two have equally impressive statlines considering their position. McCoy has 1476 yards on 287 carries, good for 5.14 yards per rush, along with nine rushing touchdowns. He has been an equally valued asset in the passing game, as the versatile back has hauled in 51 catches for 536 yards and a touchdown. McCoy is the player that every opposing defense gears up to stop and to this point, the only thing that has slowed McCoy down has been a lack of touches in a few inexplicable games. The only thing that has been more incredible than Foles’ season, is the fact that there are still detractors who question the young quarterback’s long-term prospects with the Eagles. In a little over nine games this season, Foles has thrown for 2,628 yards while completing just a hair under 64.0% of his passes. His 25 touchdown passes are tied for 8th in the league with Russell Wilson, and his two interceptions are by far the fewest by quarterbacks with substantial time under center this season. At 118.8, Foles’ passer rating is over five points clear of the next closest (Peyton Manning), and had it not been for his poor performance against the Cowboys, Foles would be challenging Aaron Rodgers NFL record for the statistic.
To peg one of these two players as the team’s most valuable is an extremely challenging task. Even though there were many that expected McCoy to have a big year, considering Kelly’s run-heavy offense behind an athletic offensive line, McCoy has distinguished himself as arguably the top overall back in the league, and he’s only 25 years old. McCoy has also excelled in pass-blocking and his work in the screen game is a joy to watch. Despite the fact that the Eagles have two capable backs behind McCoy in the depth chart, he is the focal point of the offense and he embraces that notion. With Foles, one has to consider the factors that were working against him. Since Chip Kelly was hired, everyone on a local and national scale has stated the he is not a fit with the former Oregon coach. Foles did not have the athletic ability, running threat, or electric arm to dictate Kelly’s schemes and the narrative was that he did not have a future on the team. One could argue that Kelly did Foles a favor by plugging him into the team’s quarterback competition, but since then Foles has earned every snap and every accolade that has come his way.
Chip Kelly’s preseason mantra with his quarterbacks of ‘touchdown, first down, get down’ is no more evident than it is with Foles’ style of play. The statuesque passer’s confidence has risen on a weekly basis, and he appears in complete control of an offensive philosophy that many felt was over his head. After years, and games during the 2013 season (5 turnovers vs. the Chiefs), of turnover problems plaguing the Eagles, Foles has spearheaded an emphasis on ball security that only makes the offense more dangerous. His 19 touchdowns without an interception to start a season was one shy of a record set by Peyton Manning, and he has still only turned the ball over three times in just under 10 starts. While Foles has not had to lead the team to a 4th quarter comeback win in the waning seconds of a game, he has still put forth clutch performances that gave his team the boost necessary to win. After starting the game against Detroit in the snow in miserable fashion, Foles was able to correct some of his issues and lead the team to a comeback win in harsh conditions.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about both of these players goes beyond the statsheet and highlight reel. Each player, in a different fashion, brings an intangible asset to the field and locker room that has helped overhaul a toxic culture that derailed a proud franchise. For McCoy, the passion, confidence, and intensity he brings to the table is crucial for a team learning how to win. Whether it was demanding for his coach to put the onus of the team’s game against the Bears on his back, or the fact that he has not let the thought that he would be unable to run the ball without the threat of Michael Vick on the field, ‘Shady” has taken on all obstacles as a team leader. In the NFL, where every game is a 60-minute battle, I cannot think of qualities one would want more in their team’s best player than those that McCoy exhibits on and off the field.
For Foles, what makes him invaluable to the Eagles is what is between the ears. Since the start of the season, Kelly has praised Foles’ ‘fleetness of mind’ in lieu of his running ability. Even while showing enough nimbleness to pick up an occasional first down, Foles’ cerebral approach at the quarterback position is mystifying at times. His ability to manipulate defenders with his ball-handling and pump fakes leads to wide-open targets and even when he throws an incompletion, it is usually far out of the reach of any defender. Foles has incorporated every weapon at his disposal, and only appears to be improving his rapport with talented young players like Zach Ertz and Riley Cooper. There are still some aspects of Foles’ game, such as the deep ball, that require a bit more rounding into form, but he is light years ahead of where anyone expected. Had Foles been a first round pick in what is being considered the most talent-rich quarterback draft in years, many would be praising Foles as a neck-and-neck MVP candidate alongside Peyton Manning. Foles has erased doubts regarding his velocity and arm strength, and his multi-sports background has only helped improve his footwork. At the very least, Foles has secured the starting quarterback position for the Eagles in 2014, and could be a diamond in the rough franchise option for the next decade alongside Chip Kelly.
I think that Nick Foles has a legitimate argument in this debate, and, because the team has not had a pocket quarterback in so long, makes me more excited from a long-term perspective than McCoy. That being said, as great as Foles has been, I cannot justify an argument against McCoy as the team’s MVP this season. Shady achieved success with Andy Reid as the coach, but was rarely looked upon as a team leader on the field. Donovan McNabb & Michael Vick often took the brunt of the attention on the offensive side of the ball, while McCoy faced little criticism as a dynamic young running back out of Pittsburgh. Often times, with players who exhibit the sort of confidence and ‘swagger’ that McCoy does, you worry about an emphasis on statistics over wins and losses. What this season has shown about McCoy, the team’s most gifted player, is that he has taken over the locker room and is relishing being the focal point of every team’s defensive strategy. He was a player that loved Andy Reid as a coach and a person, and had to make substantial adjustments to a style that had helped him achieve great success in a short time. Rather than pout and complain about the different formations and schemes, McCoy has taken his game to another level. While still flashing the world-class elusiveness that continue to draw comparisons to Barry Sanders, McCoy has shown the ability to be a workhorse, complete back necessary for Kelly’s offense. He is not afraid to express his feelings to his new coach, and trusts that Kelly is a responsive enough football mind to take his players’ input into consideration for his gameplan.
I think that Nick Foles is going to be an excellent quarterback in the NFL, for the Eagles. I do not need to say anything else in this, his second year in the NFL, to convince me otherwise. He excels in every area you want to for a quarterback and the other aspects of his game are catching up at a rapid rate. I can only imagine the precision and timing Foles will have with his receivers with an offseason as the unquestioned starter at his disposal. He is having one of the best seasons for a quarterback in Eagles history, and he is doing it in about 2/3 the amount of games. However, when you ask me who the most valuable player is on the offensive side of the ball in the NFL, I cannot help but think, ‘who do I want with the ball in his hands with the game on the line?’ Foles is as good an option as most team’s could ask for as the answer to that question. Unfortunately for him, LeSean McCoy is that guy in Philadelphia. He knows it, the league knows it, and guess what? Shady doesn’t care.