Forget Draft Position: Nick Foles Defining Performance Gives Eagles Hope for the Future

Forget Draft Position: Nick Foles Defining Performance Gives Eagles Hope for the Future

There are going to be some folks who either can’t or won’t
enjoy the Eagles 23-21 victory over Tampa Bay. I feel sorry for them.

Was the win ultimately meaningless? Yes. Did it have a
negative impact on their rising draft position? Yes. But dammit, this was an
important win for Philadelphia.

It cemented Nick Foles as the future of their franchise.

No one can promise Foles will lead the Eagles to the
promised land. We’re not putting him on the next plane to Honolulu, nor planning
his enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio. Long-term, nobody even knows whether
Foles will enjoy a lengthy run as a starting quarterback, let alone achieve
varying levels of greatness.

If the Birds are to ever win a Super Bowl though, the past
decade tells us they will most likely need an elite quarterback in order to do it.
Prior to Sunday, I would have said there wasn’t a player of that caliber on the
roster.

Now there is hope.

Down 21-10 with 7:21 to go in the fourth quarter, Foles led
the offense on back-to-back touchdown drives of eight and 13 plays, finally pinning the ball on Jeremy
Maclin in the end zone as time expired. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Perhaps it is just as unfair to declare Foles’ career is
suddenly filled with tremendous promise after one great game as it was to say he wasn’t
necessarily ever going to become that player. It’s not as if there weren’t signs already.

The Eagles chose Foles in the third round with the blueprint
of grooming him to one day become a starting quarterback. He had an outstanding
preseason that suggested he was light years ahead of schedule. Since coming on
to relieve Michael Vick, he has made measurable improvements each and every
week.

But there is a difference between the athlete who is a
relative unknown, a preseason darling, or a young, developing quarterback, and the
player who proves on the field, when it counts, that he has “it.” By leading
the Eagles on that 64-yard touchdown drive with 2:44 remaining, Foles made the
leap from just another guy to legitimate prospect.

How good was Foles against the Buccaneers? Oh, he only had
the best performance by a rookie quarterback in club history. The kid
connected on 32 of 51 attempts for 381 yards (7.5 YPA) and two touchdowns, plus
added another score on the ground. He dropped back 60 times, but committed zero
turnovers.

Numbers don’t really do the outing justice. Foles made big
throw upon big throw during the comeback, especially on the final drive. 3rd
and 14? No problem. 4th and 1? He’ll take it himself. 4th
and 5? How ‘bout 22 yards. 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line with
two seconds left? Piece of cake. In fact, Foles accounted for all 136 yards on
the Eagles’ last two possessions.

All day long, Foles maneuvered around the pocket, faced the pressure, and delivered strikes down field. He had the look of a seasoned
veteran, which is quite possibly the best compliment you could pay a 23 year
old in the NFL.

Would we still be heaping all of this praise upon Foles had
Tampa Bay’s Danny Gorrer held on to an errant pass only three plays before Maclin
made a sliding grab by the sideline in the end zone? Maybe not to the extent
we are now, but a single poor throw would not have undone or erased the body of
work. This was a strong outing any way you slice it.

Besides, there are always bumps along the road. Foles has a
long way to go before anybody believes he is ready to put the football team on
his shoulders on a weekly basis. He is going to make mistakes, mistakes that are
the reason the Eagles taste defeat. It’s all part of the process.

Yet simply put, he is passing the eye test. There was an
increasing level of comfort setting in with the direction the Eagles are
heading at the position. Now that Foles has added a defining win to his resume,
there is going to be a genuine buzz over his next act. How does he top this?

At this point, Foles is a lottery ticket. He could fail
spectacularly, and the Eagles toss him aside. He could grow into a competent
quarterback that leads the team into the next era, and you enjoy it while it
lasts. Or, as we caught a glimpse of for the first time today, Foles might be
the next big thing, the grand prize so to speak.

Whether or not the Eagles picked a winner, we’ll have to
wait for the drawing to find out. We know now though that Foles was definitely worth the investment.

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NFL Notes: Texans place J.J. Watt on IR; Dez Bryant misses practice

NFL Notes: Texans place J.J. Watt on IR; Dez Bryant misses practice

HOUSTON — The Houston Texans placed star defensive end J.J. Watt on injured reserve on Wednesday.

The move came one day after a person familiar with Watt's condition told The Associated Press he had re-injured his back and that the Texans expect him to be sidelined until at least December — and possibly the entire season. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team hasn't discussed his injury.

Watt, who has won Defensive Player of the Year for the past two seasons, missed training camp and Houston's four preseason games after surgery in July to repair a herniated disk in his back. He started each of the team's three regular-season games and got hurt again Thursday against the Patriots.

The Texans signed veteran defensive end Antonio Smith to take his spot on the roster.

The team was still exploring the injury and it's unclear if it will require surgery.

It's a major blow for Houston, which selected Watt with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Watt has played 83 consecutive games for the Texans despite various injuries, including torn core muscles and a broken hand last season.

This was a tough offseason for Watt, who had surgery in January to repair five torn core muscles before going under the knife again in July to repair his back.

Watt, who led the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks last season, has 1 1/2 sacks this season to give him 76 for his career.

The 27-year-old is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and a four-time Pro Bowler. He's been a force since entering the league not only because of his pass-rushing prowess, but also because of his uncanny ability to swat down passes. He has 45 passes defended in his six-year career. He has forced 15 fumbles and recovered 13.

Cowboys: Dez Bryant (knee) misses practice
FRISCO, Texas — Dallas receiver Dez Bryant won't practice Wednesday after injuring his right knee in last week's win over Chicago.

Bryant injured the knee on his first catch early in the game but came back in the first quarter. He caught his first touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter of the 31-17 win.

Coach Jason Garrett said the team didn't have results of an MRI, and Bryant tweeted, "We'll find out today," to a fan who asked about his status.

Bryant missed seven games last year after breaking his foot in the opener. He also dealt with ankle injuries last season.

The Cowboys visit San Francisco on Sunday.

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Ryan Howard's earned a job somewhere

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Ryan Howard's earned a job somewhere

Phillies (70-87) at Braves (64-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The last two games for the Phillies have been about as ugly as it gets. After losing 17-0 on Sunday, they blew a six-run lead Tuesday as the bullpen continued to stumble toward the finish line.

1. No relief in sight
Pete Mackanin was peeved after last night's game and rightfully so. His relievers have an 8.03 ERA this month. Who can he even trust at this point?

The Phils have used 12 different relievers this month and only three — David Hernandez, Michael Mariot and Joely Rodriguez — have an ERA below 4.76. And even Hernandez, who has a 1.08 ERA in September, has allowed 16 baserunners in 8⅓ innings. 

Hector Neris, who Mackanin was saving last night for a save situation, is the most trustworthy option in the current bullpen. He's gotten outs most of the year, posting a 2.53 ERA and 1.07 WHIP with 100 strikeouts in 78⅓ innings. But even he has struggled lately, allowing runs in five of his last 10 appearances and walking 10 batters in his last 10 innings.

The Phillies will have money to spend this offseason and even if they don't spend it on A-list names, they could allocate some of it toward relievers who have better stuff than this bunch. Excluding closers like Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon, the free-agent reliever class includes decent veteran options like Brad Ziegler, Sergio Romo, Jim Johnson, Neftali Feliz, Fernando Rodney, Joe Smith and Brett Cecil, among others.

Giving one of those guys $6-8 million wouldn't stunt anyone else's development.

2. Stay a while
With the way these relievers have been batted around the last two games — 20 earned runs allowed in eight innings — the Phillies badly need some length out of Adam Morgan tonight. He hasn't given it to them in his last two starts, going just 9⅓ innings combined because of high pitch counts.

Morgan has been pretty good lately, though. Since returning to the majors on Aug. 14, he's allowed more than three runs only once in eight starts. He has a 3.86 ERA over that span, and if you exclude his poor outing against the Mets on Aug. 26, it's 2.92.

Morgan has missed more bats lately than we're accustomed to seeing. He matched a career-high with eight strikeouts in his last start, five starts after K'ing eight Mets. He's induced 25 swinging strikes in his last two starts. Over his last six outings, Morgan has a swinging strike rate of 12 percent; the MLB average for starting pitchers is 9.5 percent.

Morgan has faced the Braves twice this season. Both games were in May and he pitched well in each of them, allowing one run over seven innings and two over six. 

Morgan's season numbers are still ugly (2-10, 5.57 ERA), but it's pretty clear he's been a different pitcher since learning a two-seam fastball and coming back to the majors. Whether that holds up long-term remains to be seen, but Morgan is the rare Phillies pitcher finishing 2016 better than he started it.

3. Piece of the action
Ryan Howard continues to produce in his final days with the Phillies. He hit a grand slam last night for his 24th homer of the season and third in his last five games. 

Howard has homered 12 times since the All-Star break, equaling his output from the first half. And look at his numbers since July 7, a span of 44 games and 136 plate appearances: .266/.331/.621, 13 homers, 31 RBIs. He's locked in.

Howard can still do damage against right-handed pitching. He has 23 homers off of them in 313 plate appearances. Over the last 11 seasons, the only other player in baseball with that many homers off righties in so few plate appearances was Mark Teixeira in 2015. 

You mean to tell me an American League team can't use him next season in a role that only accentuates his strengths and mitigates his weaknesses?

Howard will play again tonight and likely in all of five of the Phils' remaining games. He's 3 for 4 with a homer off tonight's opponent, Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz.

4. Scouting Folty
Foltynewicz, a power-armed 24-year-old, was the Braves' return in the Evan Gattis-to-Houston trade prior to 2015. He's a classic case of a big, straight fastball not translating to success.

In 223⅔ innings in the majors, Foltynewicz has a 4.99 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. He's allowed 1.5 homers per nine innings (bad) and his opponents have hit .289.

Foltynewicz has a 7.62 ERA in three career meetings with the Phillies. They jumped him the last time they saw him, July 5, homering four times in his 5⅔ innings. 

Current Phillies are 15 for 43 (.396) off Foltynewicz. Howard, Tommy Joseph, Maikel Franco, Cody Asche and Peter Bourjos have all taken him deep.

Foltynewicz (8-5, 4.41) hasn't pitched since Sept. 12, when he allowed five runs on 11 hits to the Marlins in just 3⅔ innings.

5. This and that
• Roman Quinn's season is almost certainly over after he suffered an oblique strain last night. If that's the case, he'll finish his first taste of the majors with a .263/.373/.333 batting line, five steals and four doubles in 69 plate appearances. Quinn looks like a significant part of their future, but the Phillies really can't move other pieces around for him because of his lengthy injury history.

• Freddie Freeman in 17 games against the Phillies this season: .381 BA, five doubles, six homers, 11 RBIs, 17 runs, 10 walks. He's had a tremendous season in all aspects, but the most impressive stat might be that he's hitting .307 against righties and .307 against lefties. Prior to this season he was a .300 hitter vs. righties and a .260 hitter vs. lefties.

• Last night's two-hour rain delay probably cost Jerad Eickhoff a chance at reaching 200 innings. He's scheduled to start the final game of the season but would need to pitch 8⅔ innings to reach that plateau.

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