News came Wednesday that confirmed Philadelphia Eagles’ backup quarterback and Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles would be the starter for Sunday’s game as the Buccaneers take on the Eagles for their home opener.
It’s not often (or ever) that you see ‘backup’ and ‘Super Bowl MVP’ as identifiers for the same player, but such is the case with Foles, who almost quit football after his 2015 season with the then St. Louis Rams. But when starting quarterback Carson Wentz went down in the middle of last season with an ACL injury, Foles stepped in and stepped up, leading the team to a Super Bowl victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Now, with Wentz still sidelined and not cleared for contact yet, Foles remains the leader of a team who many think are favored to repeat as Super Bowl champs again in 2018.
“He’s just a leader,” Bucs’ defensive end and former member of Philadelphia Eagles Vinny Curry said about his former teammate. “He has been a Pro Bowl MVP, Super Bowl MVP. His perseverance is second-to-none. He just doesn’t quit.”
Curry is one of two former Philadelphia Eagles now on the Bucs’ roster this season. Fellow linemate defensive tackle Beau Allen is the other, and both will now be tasked with going against Foles and the Eagles’ offense on Sunday. Often in practice, the second-team offense will go against the first team defense and vice versa. If you think about it, Foles spent time with both the Eagles’ first and second team offense before and after Wentz went down. Curry started all 16 games for the Eagles and would have been part of that unit going against Foles in practice the first part of the season, pre-Wentz injury. Allen on the other hand, started three games for the Eagles in the regular season, so he would have been part of the latter group. Theoretically. Either way, each is very familiar with Foles and know somewhat to expect come Sunday.
“Nick can do a lot of different stuff,” defensive tackle Beau Allen said. “He’s a smart football player and I think he knows what his strengths are. He’s got some awareness in the pocket. He can get out and throw on the run and stuff like that but he does a good job of avoiding pressure within the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield. He’s got a lot of confidence when he makes good throws. It kind of seems like when he makes one good throw, they keep coming. I think he’s a good quarterback.”
Foles has been a good quarterback each time he’s gone against the Buccaneers in his career as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles during his first go-around with the team. While he’s only faced off with Tampa Bay twice, each have been successful outings. He’s won both games and recorded a combined 65.85 completion percentage and a 111.7 passer rating against the Bucs, scoring a total of five touchdowns. His last meeting with Tampa Bay came in 2013 at Raymond James Stadium where he was 22-for-31 passing attempts for a total of 296 yards and three touchdowns. Linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy are the only two current Buccaneers who were a part of that 2013 Tampa Bay team. It was David, though, that recorded the only sack of Foles in that game. It’s also worth noting that the previous season when the two teams played one another and Foles was the starter, he was sacked a whopping six times in the game, bringing his sack total to seven at the hands of Buccaneers defenders.
In order for the Buccaneer defense to be successful this time around with a radically different Eagles’ offense behind him, Tampa Bay will have to defend against Foles’ tendency to go for the long ball or explosive play. Philadelphia Head Coach Doug Pederson is known for his aggressive play-calling as it is and he likes to take risks, exemplified by the fact that the Eagles are credited with bringing the run-pass option center stage in the NFL last season. The concept works so well for them because Philadelphia has a lot of success in the ground game as it is – making the run a true threat. They had one of the best rushing offenses in the league last season with an average of 132.2 rushing yards per game. Conversely, while explosive plays and shots downfield may be Foles’ M.O., their passing offense ranked more towards the middle of the pack last year. Foles himself only put up 117 passing yards against the Atlanta Falcons in Week One of the 2018 season. But when the run is established and you have a quarterback with a strong arm, the RPO remains effective and it is something the Bucs are well aware of.
“They run the ‘buzz word RPOs,’” Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith said of the Eagles’ offense with Foles under center. “They’re going to have between six and 10 a game. That’s what they did last year. I think it evolved to that. But I think his biggest strength is he’s a big, strong guy and he can throw the ball down the field. I think he’s a very effective passer when they get down the field. He likes to take shots down the field and he’s a guy that doesn’t scramble to run. He scrambles to pass. Then you’re going to have to have very good eye discipline in terms of defending extended plays.”
That last part is especially interesting considering it was echoed by Buccaneers’ linebacker Lavonte David earlier in the day and alluded to in what Beau Allen had to say about Foles. He keeps his eyes downfield, looking for passing options even when he’s scrambling, but also doesn’t give much away. It will be on the defense to not bite on the first glance and bring enough pressure that Foles won’t have time to survey the field. Those first guys who will be able to get pressure on him will be familiar faces in Curry and Allen and also defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has his own relationship with Foles.
“MVP, that’s what I call him,” McCoy said of Foles. “He always laughs when I call him that. I think he was the Pro Bowl MVP when he went and Super Bowl MVP, so the name is warranted. He’s a great player. He doesn’t do more than he’s asked to do, great leader and just a great guy overall. He leads the team well. [He’s] different than [Carson] Wentz, but he can move around too so you can’t think that he’s just going to sit back there and be a tackling dummy. He’s going to move around, make some plays and we just got to weather the storm and make sure we hit back when they hit us.”
View photos from the Buccaneers' practice Wednesday at AdventHealth Training Center