Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Foles and the Run-Pass Option

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Eagles have a chance to win their first Super Bowl and they have Chip Kelly and Brett Favre to thank for it.

With the 88th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select Nick Foles, quarterback from the University of Arizona.

Imagine that, just six seasons ago, the Eagles drafted a new, prototypical 6-foot-6 pocket passer coming off a 10 thousand yard college career who looked primed to finally bring the Lombardi Trophy back to South Philly.

But after recording a league-best 27–2 TD-INT ratio in 2013, getting traded to the St. Louis Rams in 2015, and then getting cut from the LA Rams in 2016, Foles returned home and contemplated retirement. After talking with his wife and praying on the decision, Foles ended up signing a two-year deal to play for his former head coach Andy Reid in Kansas City, only to once again find himself on the street the following offseason. A bit of a different story than the quarterback he’ll be facing in Minnesota on Super Bowl Sunday.

After the Eagles drafted their new franchise quarterback in the supremely talented Carson Wentz, Foles career came full circle when he resigned with the Eagles on a two-year contract. A lot has changed for Foles and the Eagles, but none of that matters, because the only thing that matters now is finding a way to win one more game, the Super Bowl, with the Eagles’ former starter turned back up, turned starter once again under center.

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Foles has come a long way in his career, having been coached by many coaches, but there’s one play that Foles has mastered, and it might win the Eagles their first Super Bowl.

No one can pinpoint when the Run-Pass Option (RPO) was created, but it’s a play that’s exactly what it sounds like. After the snap, the quarterback has the option to hand the ball off to his running back or throw quickly pass. Mike Kuchar, who runs a football-research company called X&O Labs, said the concept is simple: “There’s going to be one defender, typically an outside linebacker, on a given play who is going to commit to playing the run or pass post-snap. Once that player makes their decision, you run that play to the space he vacated. If he commits to the run, you pass, and if he doesn’t, you run.”

In all my research, the earliest mention of the RPO came from former Packers quarterback Brett Favre, Doug Pederson‘s former teammate, and a quarterback who was known for creating plays on the football field. Disregarding his coaches wishes, Favre would simply call a running play in the huddle, look at his wide receiver on the opposite side of the run, snap the ball and fire the ball over to that wide receiver. If you are interested in Favre’s recollection of how his Run-Pass Option started I would recommend clicking on this link, it’s amazing.

There are also the memories of Chip Kelly, a name that still sends a shiver down many Eagles fans spines, but come Super Bowl Sunday, some thanks will have to be given to Coach Kelly as he’s the man who helped Foles master the RPO while running his wacky spread offense. Because of Foles inability to run Kelly’s signature play, the Read Option, the former Oregon head coach reintroduced the RPO into the NFL lexicon and turned Foles into one of the league’s most effective passers.

Foles had an amazing 2013 campaign in his first season under Kelly, finishing the regular season with 27 touchdown passes to only two interceptions, surpassing Tom Brady‘s 2010 season posting of 36-4 for the best TD-INT ratio in NFL history. Foles also made the Pro Bowl that season and went 7-10 for 89 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown resulting in him winning the Pro Bowl Offensive MVP award and taking home a new GMC truck.

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One of the biggest question marks that arose when Wentz went down with his knee-injury was how would Foles perform back in the spotlight.

And it turned out, he did pretty well.

Foles finished the 2017 season with 537 passing yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions in essentially two full games of action. And that’s largely due to the coaching staff’s decision to play to their new quarterback’s strengths and run a bevy of RPOs. In his two playoff appearances in 2018, Foles has completed 49-63 passes with a ridiculous completion percentage of 78 percent.

Pederson and Frank Reich are using the RPO, a play Pederson learned from one of the first quarterbacks in the NFL who ran the RPO, in a Kelly-esque scheme, and have their team in the Super Bowl because of it.

The RPO will have to be used effectively in the Super Bowl if the Eagles want to beat the Patriots on Sunday. A deep dive into the Patriots’ defensive statistics has shown a lot, as well as possibly the weak point in a Patriots defense that’s only giving up an average of 18.5 points per game all season.

The only unit on the Patriots’ defense that has any household names is their secondary, Malcolm Butler having made a name for himself with a now legendary interception in Super Bowl 49. The Patriots also brought in big-time free-agent acquisition Stephon Gilmore, a veteran corner who might have made the biggest play of his career, an AFC championship-clinching play, batting down the last play of the Jaguars‘ 2017 season to pair with two savvy veteran safeties in Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, giving New England one of the most experienced secondaries in the NFL.

The Eagles obviously know this, but they should also know that the Patriots finished 7th in the NFL in total sacks and in just their two postseason games have sacked Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles, two very mobile QBs, 11 combined times. So where is the weakness in the Patriots defense? It’s their linebackers, a unit that lost their best defender in Dont’a Hightower and is now starting Detroit Lions cast-off Kyle Van Noy and some guy named Elandon Roberts, who I’m sure he’s a fantastic human, but’s hardly a household name.

Not only does the RPO get the ball of out Foles hand quickly, which will effectively neutralize the New England pass rush, but it will also allow Foles to hit short, quick passes, and eliminate some the Patriots’ secondary firepower.

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Somehow, through some divine intervention, and an absurd amount of luck, the Eagles have a backup quarterback who’s ahead of his time, persevered through a unique situation, and persevered. After being run out of town by many teams, Foles has somehow been placed in his perfect situation to succeed. Though it’ll be though, Foles will have to use everything he’s learned so far in his NFL career, and execute his signature play to perfection come Sunday to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl Championship.