Philadelphia Eagles: The Foles vs. Wentz argument has to stop

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Eagles will once again rely on Nick Foles to be their savior. But even if Foles finds further success, the comparisons to franchise quarterback Carson Wentz must be tempered.

There’s no debate about it: Nick Foles has become something of a messiah for the fans of the Philadelphia Eagles.

After bringing the city its first-ever Super Bowl, something it has lusted after longer than most fans have been alive, it’s as if Foles has achieved mythical status. He will forever be remembered as the quarterback who out-dueled Tom Brady, quite possibly the best to ever play the position. And because of that, he will carry the torch of hero forever in this city, something few will argue against.

Foles deserves every accolade that’s been thrown his way. He’s done everything that’s been asked of him, including once again being asked to step in and lead the Eagles to promised land after they completed a magical run to the postseason, a run which required a week 17 win over the listless Washington Redskins and a Chicago Bears victory over the Minnesota Vikings which had its fair share of controversy.

With Carson Wentz not able to compete due to a back injury (Via Reuben Frank, NBC Sports Philadelphia) that will likely keep him out until next season, Foles will try to do what no other Philadelphia quarterback has ever done: lead his team to a second consecutive Super Bowl. And while that goal may seem lofty given the way the Eagles’ season has gone thus far, there’s no denying that they’ve been a different team the last five games with Foles under center.

And this is where the controversy lies. With the team struggling and Wentz fighting through an apparent back injury, not to mention being a year removed from major knee surgery, Foles stepped in and helped the Eagles rattle off a 5-1 record down the stretch. This has led to no shortage of hot takes regarding Wentz’s future as the number one quarterback in Philadelphia. There have even been conversations on certain radio shows regarding the idea of trading Wentz for a certain rookie running back and a first-round pick.

Some fans and analysts alike will say that Wentz has struggled this season and that the offense just seems to perform better with Foles under center. And while it’s true that the offense has sputtered for the majority of the season under Wentz, it would be foolhardy to place the bulk of the blame on the 26-year-old MVP candidate from last year.

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The reality is that the offense as a whole has gone through a tremendous change since winning the Super Bowl. The team said goodbye to valuable coaches Frank Reich and John DeFilippo, both of whom appear to have had great influence on the play-calling and game script. The team also said goodbye to players like Torrey Smith and LeGarrette Blount.

There were a number of things working against the Eagles this season right from the jump. The team lost its number one running back in Jay Ajayi to an ACL tear, and Darren Sproles couldn’t even get on the field. The run game was piecemeal, having to sprinkle in guys like Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, and Josh Adams. It was far from ideal, and early on the run game struggled to boost the offense.

But the coaching was also putting the team at a disadvantage. Doug Pederson’s aggressive play-calling wasn’t putting the team in position to sustain drives, and the Eagles were flat-out awful in the first quarter of games, often struggling to score a single point. At one point during the season, the Eagles were averaging just around 20 points a game. It was a stark departure from the offense that we saw put up 41 points against the Patriots just last February.

This called into question first-year Offensive Coordinator Mike Groh’s readiness to take the reins from Reich. The offense has improved over the last several games, but it took two-thirds of the season and everything the Birds had left to squeeze out just enough juice to get into the dance. They’ll have to be much, much better if they expect to beat teams like the Saints.

More concerning to fans was that Wentz appeared to be struggling. Fans should have expected this to a degree, given that he had just come back from surgery to repair his ACL and MCL.  But expectations can be a fickle beast, and now that Eagles fans have had a taste of success, that level of expectation has only been heightened. Sometimes, emotion overrules logic, and perhaps that is what some fans experienced early on in the season, but that’s not to say that Wentz was infallible.

Wentz appeared to be indecisive and hesitant in the pocket when going through his reads, one of the main reasons why he accumulated nine fumbles and seven interceptions in his 11 games played. He also appeared to miss throws that he otherwise would have made easily last season, while looking uncomfortable moving around in the backfield. There were certainly signs that Wentz was struggling to regain his 2017 form.

But let’s take a closer look at the numbers for Wentz because this is at the heart of the matter. During Wentz’ MVP campaign of 2017, he completed 265 passes, threw for 3296 yards, and 33 touchdowns with seven interceptions and a 60.2 completion percentage in 13 games. This was good enough for a Pro-Bowl invite and widespread speculation that had he not sustained the injury; he would likely have been atop the MVP list.

Fast forward to 2018 where many feel that Wentz has somehow regressed. Yet in 11 games, he completed 279 passes, threw for 3074 yards, 21 touchdowns, and seven interceptions and a 69.6 completion percentage. That’s pretty darn close to the what we saw last season, with Wentz turning in an even more impressive completion percentage and a higher number of completed passes in two fewer games. He may have been struggling with certain aspects of his game, but there was plenty of evidence to suggest that the third year quarterback was going to be just fine.

The bottom line is that Wentz was almost statistically as good this year as he was during his stellar 2017, despite the eye test painting a different picture. Seeing the offense struggle to score early in games, combined with Wentz’ increased number of turnovers, led many fans to the conclusion that the offensive struggles were more closely related to Wentz playing poorly, while it’s much more plausible that the offense as a whole was just not operating on all cylinders. Not to mention that Wentz was clearly shaking off the rust that had accumulated during his rehab period. It’s really not hard to view the situation through this lens when you look at the numbers.

So to suggest that Foles, a career journeyman, should supplant Wentz as franchise quarterback moving forward, is frankly irresponsible. It’s certainly fair to question whether or not Roseman and Pederson should sit down and try to figure out a way to keep him considering his level of success here, but it just doesn’t appear likely. Foles wants to play, and he’s not going to do that here as long as Wentz is healthy.

The Eagles would need to pick up his $20 million option for next year, but there’s no guarantee Foles wouldn’t give back $2 million just to hit free agency. It’s simply unlikely that Foles ever dons a midnight green uniform again.

Again, it’s not a slight against Foles to suggest that choosing him over Wentz is a foolish proposition. He is a Super Bowl MVP and will go down as one of, if not the greatest Eagle of all time if Wentz doesn’t turn in a more stellar career. According to Reuben Frank, Foles is 10-1 since returning to Philadelphia last year, and 24-6 in 30 meaningful games since 2013.

He also broke his own franchise record for completion percentage against the Redskins, completing 84.9 percent of his passes (28 of 33).  He’s also had four straight games where he completed 70 percent of his passes, which ties the franchise record set by Wentz earlier this year.

It may sound like I’m banging the Nick Foles drum here, but it would be foolish not to at least acknowledge how good Foles has been for the Birds when called upon. It’s simply unexplainable why he’s had the level of success that he’s had here. But alas, here we are, discussing a problem that 31 other teams in professional football would kill to have.

At the end of the day, It’s simple logic. The Eagles are in possession of a young, dynamic quarterback who has already shown he can play at an elite level. No matter who else you have up your sleeve, you don’t just jettison a player of that caliber off your team in any situation.

Nick Foles has and continues to simply defy conventional wisdom, and that’s what makes this such an interesting situation. Yes, he could conceivably beat the Chicago Bears this weekend, and then beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. Foles just wins, and it would very hard to bet against him and the Eagles the further they go into the playoffs.

But for Howie Roseman, Pederson, and Jeffrey Lurie to decide to move forward with Foles as the future of the quarterback position would be to admit that Wentz’ ceiling is not as high or higher than Foles, which just doesn’t appear to be true if Wentz stays healthy. Wentz is the more talented quarterback and giving up on him this early would be a mistake that the franchise might never recover from. Wentz is going to have a tremendous career in the NFL. He’s going to be that good.

The idea of betting on sustained production from Foles, when he’s never proven capable of being the starter anywhere else, is questionable. That point does seem muted a bit by his super bowl performance, but in reality, he was put into a situation where the Eagles had already benefitted from stellar QB play from Wentz and had earned home-field advantage. Foles still got the job done, but could he have done what Wentz did in his MVP caliber regular season? Could he have gotten the team to 11-2 as Wentz did? These are the questions that would have to be answered before moving on from Wentz and accepting Foles as your savior.

The controversy about the future of the quarterback position in Philadelphia needs to come to an abrupt end. Foles has repeatedly defied the odds, and could very well continue to do so, but that does not mean that the Philadelphia Eagles need to move on from Carson Wentz. Wentz is undoubtedly the future, and no matter what happens, the Eagles just cannot allow him to finish his career anywhere other than Philadelphia.

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It’s not about Foles and whether or not he’s a good enough quarterback, because he’s proven that he is by winning a Super Bowl. It’s about the idea of trading away a 26-year-old MVP candidate before he’s even entered his prime. These are not the kind of moves that good organizations make. Even if Foles wins the Eagles another Super Bowl, the Eagles should thank him and wish him the best as he pursues the opportunity to start for another team.