Giants Free Agent Watch | Nick Foles: Pass on his pocket passing


In the wake of the Giants’ season ending, the quarterback of the future conversation will continue into the off-season. Leaving interpretation of front office’s words to sports talk, the film reveals much about the Giants’ choices in both free agency and the draft. One of the names circulating in the Tri-State area is Eagles backup QB and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. This author discussed the aspects of his game on the Big Blue Banter podcast, but to be honest, the topic deserves a deeper dive.

There are ways in which Foles’s traits would be a good fit for what the Giants want to do on offense. This partially stems from how the offense in Philadelphia has changed with Foles under center in the wake of starter Carson Wentz’s injury.  Author Ben Solak of Bleeding Green Nation and Sheil Kapadia of the Athletic have dissected those differences here and here.  In short, the passing game is marked by quick game throws coming out with very high accuracy, taking very few sacks. The recent playoff run has reaffirmed Foles’s ability to win in this fashion at a high level. So what is there possibly not to like? A deeper look at the film reveals a significant passing element that illustrates key limitations in Foles’s skill set.

But first, let’s take a minute to investigate the scheme fit, an area that fans and media really like to get hung up on.  Determining this fit is rarely dependent on scouts or coaches finding overlap in specific play calls, but rather proper analysis of the traits on display on existing tape and elsewhere. From 10,000 feet, both Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and Giants head coach Pat Shurmur like to stretch a defense vertically and horizontally by putting defenders in conflict. This conflict is exposed through ball distribution via timing and rhythm passes to their respective play makers in space. This author would argue that this is essentially the goal of the West Coast, Spread, and even Air Raid offensive “systems”. It can not be stressed enough, offensive systems exist more in language than a rigid set of plays. The quick game was mentioned above, and readers may question that incumbent Giants QB Eli Manning ran quick game concepts, but not to the same frequency or efficiency. This can be seen statistically, according to Pro Football Focus, in weeks 15-17, where Nick Foles’s average time in the pocket was 2.24 seconds, compared to Eli Manning’s 2.50 seconds over the same time frame. In reality, Foles would be a step up to Manning in this area not because of his traits in ball distribution. Overall, the conceptual parallels between Pederson and Shurmur’s playbook extend to screens (one illustrated below) to intermediate and deep concepts.

The area of concern regarding Foles that the Giants’ front office, or any other for that matter, is running intermediate concepts between 11-19 yards downfield. These plays border on deep balls, but the key distinction is that they are not necessarily shot plays. These concepts are very important to the Giants’ personnel because their skill groups are excellent after the catch but lack the ability to consistently win in isolation. Admittedly, there are many more examples of the quick game than medium-length routes, but film study from just this year shows many examples.

Initially, when you turn the tape, you notice that outside of the first read (often determined pre-snap), Foles can struggle with processing the rest of the progression. Part of this might stem from his inconsistent lower body mechanics that can manifest in unforced errors accuracy-wise as a throw is rushed.  Sticking with the mental examples for now, as they flash in a larger issue of skipping or not seeing open receivers in the progression. See the below from the Redskins game with a very basic Shallow Cross Concept:

In this example, Foles comes off the cross/curl combo and does not throw the second curl from X, choosing instead to exit the pocket and throw on the run to the swing route to the right flat. The play results in a nine-yard gain. Readers may think this is nitpicking to focus on this detail, but in scouting him over six games, Foles does not throw this second curl read one time with Pederson running it approximately two to four times per game. If the priority is to get the ball out, then it is surprising to see this ball not thrown versus zone. It must also be noted the Hank Concept is closely related to Shallow Cross, and there Foles chooses to skip the second curl read, as well. See the below from Week 1 against the Falcons.

In this example, Foles again skips over the second curl route. Again, the results on this play are actually a first down where running back Darren Sproles displays his competitive toughness to get the first down yards after the catch. These throws are not drive stoppers, but they touch on the efficiency potential of the offense, as well as Foles’s ability to properly execute a progression read. The bottom line is that he shows hesitation at the very least, which aligns with how many tape analysts describe him as a “deliberate passer.” This reluctance manifesting in a rush to the third read (independent of pressure) could also be tied to the decision making he flashes in the RPO game. In those runs tagged with passes that are read after the snap, the quarterback basically has an if-then scenario on a defender about whether to execute the run or pass.  As we see above, a read in the progression can have “if-then” properties (like reading a zone defender in Shallow Cross), just not the additional road map of the progression. It seems as if Foles likes to stop only once on the trip.

The readers may notice the two passes above went to the running backs (the feared check down), please see the below from Solak’s above-mentioned article:

Not all throws to running backs as third reads are the wrong choice, and Solak’s point about the return of Darren Sproles to the line up certainly has a part in this. Giants fans are familiar with this notion of a receiving threat in the backfield in  Saquon Barkley, but the above statistical shift smacks of the complaints about the Giants’ offense in the first half of the year, when plays were not given the time to develop either because of the offensive line or the QB play.

These missed curl routes drew attention to other missed curls from other types of half-field space concepts. At times, Foles simply does not look comfortable in the pocket. Usually, this stems from his lower body mechanics, which can break down from a square throwing position for little to no reason. He also has a tendency in his stance to be slightly open after the top of his drop, and when his feet move around it can be difficult to square up shoulders. A good example of this is against the Falcons in Week 1. See below:

This throw raises more questions than it answers, showing a quarterback who hesitates when he does not feel comfortable making an anticipation throw to a route terminating in space. As he waits he voluntarily lets his feet break down, opens left, and then does not reset, instead choosing to move to the target throwing off platform. The ball sails low and the pass is incomplete. Throws like these are unforced errors; a quarterback is going to miss enough as it is. There is no need to make it more difficult in the pocket. This is not Foles’s forte.

Outside of the above routes that terminated in space, there are other examples of poor processing to staple concepts the Eagles and Giants run, with sometimes more painful results. The Scissors concept has been documented very well in this column, and the Eagles under Pederson run it as well as any team in the league. See below:

Greg Cosell of NFL Films has described a quarterback’s mental processing as the ability to isolate and eliminate reads within a progression based on certain factors from a defense or within play design. Foles disregards this blatantly on the above interception, throwing the pass into the teeth of Cover 3 and disregarding safety rotation. He would rather eliminate that half-field read and move to the backside post. To be clear, this author is not saying that Foles can’t complete any of the above concepts. For the three concepts above and others, whenever Foles is free to throw his first read he is more successful. Whether this comes from a clearly-defined pre-snap read (best), he wants a path to get the ball out quickly. Please see the below example from the start of the game-winning 4th quarter drive against the Bears:

Jeffery is found as part of the QB’s first read, as the divide route helps open up the middle of the Cover 2 zone. Foles’s head goes right to Jeffery, and the throw is smooth and on time. The second part tied to this is Foles is much better, really at any time, when facing man coverage, having confidence in receivers like Alshon Jeffery to compete at the catch point. Foles has very good poise against the blitz, and again this ties into the predetermined reads. When the defense shows a clear blitz pre-snap, it can make his reads simpler. This was often a cautionary tale for defending against talented rookie quarterbacks; they can be freed up against man blitz looks. Overall, the question is not if he can complete this length pass, but rather if he can do this consistently when the looks are not like above.

In conclusion, despite Foles’s strengths of quick game and success in the win column, overall his pocket passing traits lack in the potential QB1 discussion (especially for that type of salary). The Giants could, as they will with any quarterback, adjust the play-calling according to his strengths Remember, that the “system” veil for offenses and its players is really a falsehood. Play-calling comes down not to a rigid set of unique plays that only certain teams run. Rather, it is a fluid set based on what the coaching staff deems foundational, and a range of plays they can call based on many macro and micro factors. Basically, this author is saying that Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Mike Shula adjusted for  Eli Manning’s traits this season by running a lot of play-action boot with Flood Concepts. They can find the right mix for Foles, but his traits as a pocket passer make situational football difficult. On a 3rd-and-10, asking him to drop back and read a half-field progression for a throw beyond or at the sticks is a tall order. This becomes very tall when creative defensive coordinators run zone blitzes with different looks to take away that “obvious” first read. The Giants have multiple options in free agency and in the draft for the 2019 season, Nick Foles should be a polite pass.

*Mandatory Photo Credit: © Quinn Harris