'Fleet of mind' Foles a quick study for Kelly

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
5:00
PM ET
PHILADELPHIA -- Whenever Chip Kelly talks about the quarterbacks he recruited or considered while he was at Oregon, it’s hard to miss a certain common thread.

None of them are remotely like Nick Foles.

Kelly didn’t heavily recruit Robert Griffin III, but he talked to the current Washington quarterback on the phone when Griffin was a high school senior. Before the Eagles played the Oakland Raiders a couple weeks ago, Kelly talked about his trips to Jeannette, Pa., to watch Terrelle Pryor play basketball. At one point this season, Kelly found himself describing Carolina’s Cam Newton in a covetous tone.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesNick Foles doesn't have elite speed, but he's been making good decisions in Chip Kelly's offense.
Of course, there are the quarterbacks Kelly actually recruited and signed to Oregon: Marcus Mariota is there now. His predecessor, Darron Thomas, rushed for 486 yards in his best overall season.

Kelly didn’t get to Oregon in time to recruit Foles, but it’s hard to imagine he would have been that interested. Foles committed to Michigan State and later transferred to Arizona.

This little observation seems to support the idea that Foles is not a great fit for the offense Kelly would prefer to run in the NFL. But there is something to be said for the way Foles is running Kelly’s offense right now.

On Thursday, Kelly chafed at the suggestion his Oregon teams didn’t throw the ball deep very much.

“Did you watch us play?” Kelly said. “[Mariota] threw 32 touchdowns last year and five interceptions. So I don’t think we didn’t throw the ball down the field. He throws the ball down the field a lot. The kid before him (Thomas) threw 30 (touchdowns) and six interceptions (actually, 33 and 7). We threw the ball down the field a ton.”

Foles, of course, has thrown 16 touchdown passes with zero interceptions in his roughly 4 1/2 games behind center. In his past two games, Foles has completed 12 of 16 passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information. So Foles is having success throwing deep, something Kelly obviously takes pride in.

And while he doesn’t have the speed of a Griffin or a Michael Vick, Foles is improving his run game. Not counting the three kneel-downs at the end, Foles ran the ball five times in Green Bay for 41 yards.

He picked up three first downs. One came on a 16-yard, third-down run two plays before his 32-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper. Another came on a third down on the Eagles’ final, clock-killing drive.

“That was my decision,” Foles said. “I just saw green grass, I saw an opening. It goes back to game management. I knew we didn’t have enough downs to run out the clock but if we get a first down here, we do.”

So what if the coaches must be tempted to fast-forward the game tape when they’re watching Foles run?

“The thing with Nick is, he may not be fleet of foot, but he's fleet of mind,” Kelly said. “He's a really, really good decision-maker. Again, not every play we call is a zone-read play, but when they're called, he can be a factor. It's really just taking advantage of what the defense is. If they're all going to commit and try to take away the running back and no one’s responsible for the quarterback, you’ve got to be able to make them pay, and Nick has done that for us.”

“We always talk about touchdown, first down, get down,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “I think that's what he does a good job of, get as many yards as you can. If you can score, score. If you can't score, let's move the chains and then let's get down. So he does a good job.”

Foles ran a 5.14 in the 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL combine. That’s a half-second behind Newton (4.59 seconds) and slower than Andrew Luck (4.67). But it’s a shade faster than Tom Brady’s 5.28, so quarterbacks can excel without elite speed.

“I’m not going to run a 4.3 40,” Foles said. “I might run a 4.3 30.”

We probably won’t know until after the season if Kelly believes he needs a Griffin or Mariota or Newton type to run his offense at the highest level. He may just decide that the level he’s getting from Foles is good enough.

Phil Sheridan

ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter

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