- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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So the Philadelphia Eagles lost again, which isn't even news anymore. And they fired another defensive coach, which got many of my Twitter followers musing about deck chairs and the Titanic. These things happen, over and over again, and the feeling of inevitability about Andy Reid and what's to come once this Eagles' season ends with a now-guaranteed losing record is a matter of very public record at this point.
The question then becomes: What have we seen with the Eagles to make us encouraged about the years to come? And to that end, let's address the Sunday night performances of rookie quarterback Nick Foles and rookie running back Bryce Brown. Foles first.
The Eagles' third-round pick out of Arizona, Foles wasn't asked to do very much in his first couple of starts for Philadelphia. But on Sunday night, they opened up the game plan for him a little bit, asking him to throw the ball downfield more. As he had in his first start in Washington, Foles showed an ability to pick up third downs with patient, accurate throws past the chains. He has a big-time arm, and when he sets his feet he throws a breathtaking deep ball. His size helps him look the part, but what seals the deal on that is that he does not appear to be afraid. He was playing Sunday without the Eagles' leading receiver, starting running back and four-fifths of the offensive line, and he stayed poised and calm and generally made good decisions.
He's a rookie, and he certainly can look like one. The ball that bounced off Danny McCray's hands, for example, was not a shining moment. He's a third-round pick, and no sure thing to make it as a franchise quarterback. But hey, I sat here in New Jersey and watched this Ryan Lindley guy play for the Cardinals earlier in the day Sunday, missing wide-open receivers by 10 yards repeatedly. Foles looks as though he can actually play the position, and he's not afraid. That latter fact is what should allow the Eagles to find some things out about him if they do in fact start him in their season's final four games. They'll be able to judge his accuracy, his arm strength and his decision-making, even under difficult circumstances, because he's not going to let the difficulty of those circumstances take him out of his game. He'll play his game, and if it's good enough for them to consider going forward with him at quarterback in 2013, they'll get to find out. Assuming, of course, that Michael Vick doesn't get healthy all of a sudden and reclaim the job. That's a different story for a different day.
The second part of today's story is Brown, the dazzling rookie running back who's averaging 173.5 rush yards per game over two starts and has people in Philadelphia talking about a possible time-share at running back once All-Pro back LeSean McCoy returns from his concussion problems. I think that's a little hasty. Just three months ago, we were talking about McCoy as maybe the best back in the league. After two starts, I'm not sure Brown has earned time-share status. But he does look like a fantastic runner -- incredible speed for his size, an ability to hit the hole, burst through it and turn a well-blocked play into a huge play. Brown's talent has never been in question. It was mainly off-field concerns that dropped him to the latter rounds of the draft. And the Eagles appear to have gotten a top talent very late.
Yeah. Brown isn't exactly Mr. Careful-With-The-Football, now is he? Two late fumbles cost the Eagles the game last Monday against Carolina, and his late fumble returned for a touchdown by Morris Claiborne helped cost them this week's game. These fumbles are no coincidence. They are fully predictable. When you watched Brown early in Sunday's game, you saw a guy carrying the ball as though it were a paper airplane he was about to launch. Five points of pressure? He's using maybe two. It's a major problem. It's a correctable one, for sure, and plenty of great running backs throughout history have managed to correct it and have excellent careers. But it's a problem that needs addressing, because there will come a time, maybe next year, maybe somewhere beyond, when the Eagles will be playing meaningful games again. And when that happens, Brown is going to have to be someone they can trust not to turn the ball over.
As electrifying as Brown is right now -- and they would not have been in either of their past two games without him -- they can't trust him in a big spot. His fumbling won't get him benched, because the Eagles have nothing for which to play and no better option until McCoy returns. And he's shown enough to earn some sort of role even once that happens. But he'd be wise to find a way to get the fumbling fixed before things really start mattering again in Philadelphia.
3hEric D. Williams