PHILADELPHIA -- As the Chip Kelly experiment continues to unfold, the Philadelphia Eagles game at Tampa Bay on Sunday could yield some interesting new insights.
In his heyday with the Eagles, Andy Reid had a knack for coaxing victories out of backup quarterbacks. Whether it was Koy Detmer, A.J. Feeley or Kevin Kolb, Reid’s offense operated at an adequate level, at least, on the not-so-rare occasions Donovan McNabb was injured.
If Nick Foles starts against the Bucs, Kelly keeps telling us, he will run the same offense as Michael Vick. That might be so, but there is little doubt that same offense will be run differently with a quarterback who isn’t winning any footraces with opposing linebackers.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Eagles have run read-option plays 11 times in the 49 snaps taken by Foles. That’s a 22.4 percent clip. When Vick is on the field, Kelly has called for read-option plays 36.3 percent of the time (107 of 295 snaps).
Those numbers are a bit skewed by the situations Foles has played in. He took the field with just over a minute left in the first half against the Giants on Sunday. He ran a two-minute drill to drive down for a field goal. There wasn’t much read-option going on there.
In one garbage-time possession in Denver, Foles led a touchdown drive with Eagles backups against Denver's backups.
This would be the first time under Kelly that Foles starts with a full game plan tailored to his strengths and the opponent’s vulnerabilities.
“Me and Mike run the same offense,” Foles said. “We’re going to do what we do.”
Another misconception is that the absence of Vick as a running threat negates LeSean McCoy in the run game.
You can back that up statistically: Again, according to ESPN Stats & Information, McCoy has averaged 4.8 yards per carry over the past two seasons when Vick is in the game. When Foles is in the game, McCoy has averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Sounds compelling, but look a little closer. Foles started six games last season. McCoy was inactive because of a concussion for four of them. So they only played parts of three games together, and it was behind an offensive line wracked by injury: Three of the four starters aren’t even on the team anymore.
Foles was the quarterback when Bryce Brown ran for 178 yards on 19 carries against Carolina, and when Brown ran for 169 yards on 24 carries in Dallas. So Foles doesn’t represent some kind of jinx for the run game.
McCoy was out of the game when Foles played in Denver -- Chris Polk broke a 28-yard run in that game -- so all we have to go on this season is the second half against the Giants. McCoy had minus-4 yards on seven carries. But that had a lot more to do with the Giants’ ability to blow up the interior of the Eagles’ line than the identity of the quarterback.
“The Giants made some plays up front,” McCoy said. “I think they really wanted to take me out of the game. That was their game plan from the beginning. I don’t think it had anything to do with Foles. Mike’s a different kind of threat, for sure. But we still run the same plays. I think we can still be effective running the ball.”
The Buccaneers' defense is ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. The Bucs will almost certainly focus on limiting McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, forcing Foles to make plays in the passing game.
Ultimately, an effective passer does more to open up the running game than a running quarterback.
“My job is to be precise and sharp with the ball,” Foles said.
“I'm excited about Nick,” Kelly said, “and I think he can be a starter in this league.”
If Foles is a starter Sunday, and it appears he will be, it is Kelly’s job to get the most out of him.