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Nick Foles is the first Eagles quarterback to complete four passes of 40 yards or more in a game since 1997. (USA Today Images)
Remember the knock on Nick Foles? Doesn’t have a strong arm? Can’t throw the deep ball? Dinker and dunker?
Yeah, so much for that.
“People said Nick Foles couldn't throw the ball deep,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “I don't know where that came from or why that came. ... I've seen him throw the ball deep. I've seen him be accurate in practice, and now he's done it in a game.”
Four times in a game Sunday, seven times so far this year in about three and a half games.
Going into Sunday’s game in Oakland, the Raiders had allowed one pass of 40 yards or more in seven games -- a 61-yarder from Peyton Manning to Eric Decker in the Broncos’ win over the Raiders back in September.
Foles connected on four of them -- completions of 42 and 63 yards to Riley Cooper and 46 and 59 yards to DeSean Jackson.
Foles became the first Eagles quarterback to complete four passes of 40 yards or more to wide receivers since at least 1997, or as far back as available records go.
Donovan McNabb had three career games with four completions of at least 40 yards -- two in 2004, one in 2007 -- but he never hit four in a game to wide outs.
The only other NFL quarterback to complete four passes of 40 yards or more in a game this year was Geno Smith, who did it against the Bills back on Sept. 22.
Michael Vick hit five bombs of 40 yards or more while he was healthy, and the Eagles’ 12 completions of 40 yards or more leads the NFL. The Ravens are second with 10.
The Eagles have always thrown deep well. Since 2000, they’ve hit on an NFL-high 163 passes of at least 40 yards. The Packers are second with 153.
From 2000 through 2009, McNabb’s 104 40-yarders led the NFL -- eight more than Brett Favre during that span.
McNabb had a cannon and so does Vick. But Foles’ numbers on deep balls are right up there with the best in the NFL:
• Despite ranking 33rd in the NFL with just 118 pass attempts, Foles is tied for sixth with seven completions of 40 yards or more, trailing only full-time starters Joe Flacco (10), Matt Stafford and Andy Dalton (nine each) and Drew Brees (eight). Foles has hit on more deep balls in just three and a half games than Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer and Eli Manning.
• Vick has a rocket launcher for an arm, but he completed as many passes of 40 yards or more last year in 10 starts (four) as Foles did Sunday in Oakland.
• To put this in perspective, Foles now has nine completions of at least 40 yards or more in 10 games. McNabb, the greatest quarterback in Eagles history, didn’t record his ninth career completion of 40 or more yards until the middle of his third season, in a win over the Cards in October 2001.
• McNabb’s ninth career pass of 40 yards or more came on his 905th career pass attempt. Foles’ ninth career pass of 40 yards or more came on his 379th career pass attempt.
Hitting deep balls isn’t just arm strength. That’s actually only part of the equation.
It’s more timing than anything.
“You have to be able to throw it a certain distance, but it’s not necessarily arm strength that makes throwing deep balls successful,” Foles said after practice Thursday.
“It’s just having the ability to judge a receiver’s speed. You’re looking through the defense, but you’re not necessarily seeing a receiver, you’re seeing a blur using peripheral vision and you’re just judging his speed when you’re throwing the ball. I guess it just comes from throwing the football for a long time.”
Head coach Chip Kelly said Foles’ ability to hit deep balls frequently and with precision hasn’t surprised him.
“That's what I've seen since I got here. The first day he started throwing balls for us. So that's never been a concern of mine.
“I think he's got great touch, great accuracy. He's a big guy, got a big arm. We've always believed he can make those throws and I've seen him make them in practice all the time since we got here on day one.
“It's not like all of a sudden he started throwing the ball deeper and it was like, ‘Wow, look what Nick can do.’ We've seen it as a coaching staff.
“He can rip it. He's a big, strong dude and can let the ball sail for a good distance.”
It doesn’t hurt that Foles -- like McNabb later in his career and Kevin Kolb and Vick before him -- has someone like Jackson on the receiving end of so many bombs.
Since Jackson entered the NFL in 2008, his 33 catches of 40 yards or more shares the NFL lead with Calvin Johnson. Eighteen of those were from Vick, nine from McNabb, three from Kolb, two from Foles and one from Vince Young (really).
But the real surprise has been Cooper, whose four catches of at least 40 yards are tied for fourth-most in the NFL this year -- behind A.J. Green and Jackson (six) and Torrey Smith (five).
“You have to understand what your receivers do well, how they run their routes, what their strengths are and you want to use their strengths when you’re throwing the ball,” Foles said. “Knowing the personality of their routes.”