Extra Points: Eagles' Kelly will ride the hot hand for now
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It's not often a first-place team has to deal with a quarterback controversy, but then again most clubs atop their divisions aren't playing .500 football like the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles have taken advantage of a soft spot in their schedule to win back- to-back games and find themselves tied atop the NFC Least ... err East ... with the Dallas Cowboys as a Week 7 showdown between the two clubs looms in the Cradle of Liberty.
When evaluating the Birds the glass-is-half-full people will point out that you can only play who is in front of you and laud Philadelphia for taking care of business against the New York Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those who think that same glass is half empty will point to the fact those two teams are a combined 0-11 right now.
Either way Chip Kelly has his team in the thick of the playoff hunt and now needs to decide how to handle the game's most important position moving forward.
The 33-year-old Michael Vick clearly won the spot in the preseason over second-year man Nick Foles, but developments in Florida could be spawning another recount.
Foles filled in for the injured Vick, who did not play due to a hamstring injury suffered a week earlier, and threw three touchdown passes while running for another in a 31-20 Eagles' victory over the Bucs on Sunday.
The Arizona product completed 22-of-31 passes for 296 yards and a passer rating of 133.3 in just his seventh career NFL start. Ironically, Foles' only other victory as a headliner came last December in Central Florida.
Many (mistakenly) assume Kelly's offensive philosophy is wholly dependent on a movement-based signal caller and while it's true the former Oregon mentor would like to have a Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick type piloting his offense, the real key to his heart is quick decision-making, something which could foreshadow Vick's eventual demise and the ultimate winner of this QB derby.
"I think the game is about making quick decisions," Kelly told The Sports Network this summer. "It's a game of 60 to 70 to 80 four-second plays. So once the ball is snapped, it happens at that tempo. We're just trying to force them to -- everything we do has to kind of be -- reflect what the mission is, and the mission is to be prepared to play a four-second play."
Even at 33, Vick has the athleticism to whet Kelly's appetite but not those kind of decision-making skills. The strength of Vick's game has always been all about extending plays with his legs and making things happen down the field when defenses break down and it turns into the sandlot. Foles, on the other hand, is lead-footed but flashes the potential to develop into a sharp decision-maker who gets rid of the football with alacrity.
Kelly has been able to move the ball with each quarterback. On Sunday, the Eagles became just the second team in NFL history to rack up at least 1,500 passing and 1,050 rushing yards through six games, joining the 1954 Rams. The club also became just the fourth team in NFL lore (and the second this season with Denver) to pile up at least 400 yards in their first six tests.
However, Philadelphia has been far more productive putting up points with Foles. In about six quarters of action this season, the youngster has accounted for seven TDs and no turnovers. In 4 1/2 games, Vick has led Philadelphia to the same amount of TDs but turned it over four times.
You also can make a strong argument that Foles has faced tougher competition than Vick. In total defense entering Week 6, the Giants were 24th, but Tampa Bay was No. 13 with one of the NFC's most talented secondaries. And Foles put up better numbers against Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson and Co. than elite signal callers like Drew Brees and Tom Brady have done in 2013.
Vick, meanwhile, started and finished against one good defense -- Kansas City (No. 7) -- and three awful ones -- Washington (No. 32), San Diego (No. 27) and Denver (No. 29).
To me, though, the two things that trend toward Foles in this competition are his ability to better handle Kelly's up-tempo needs and Riley Cooper.
Entering Sunday's game, the embattled Cooper had the fewest number of receptions among all NFL wide receivers who had started five games with eight. The next lowest total was Indianapolis' Darius Heyward-Bey with 13. Against the Bucs, Cooper looked like a star, hauling in four passes for 120 yards and a score with two of his receptions going for 40-plus yards.
The very definition of a good quarterback is having the ability to make those around you better and Nick Foles did that on Sunday with a very pedestrian player.
Kelly always knew he was going to need Foles at some point. The oft-injured Vick has played in all 16 games just once in his NFL career. That said, like any coach, Kelly didn't want the distraction of a potential QB change engulfing him or his team.
"If someone comes in and puts on an unbelievable performance, you have to take it into account," Kelly said last week when discussing the QB situation. "I suppose if Foles is 100-for-100 with 27 TDs (in Tampa), then, yeah (he could win the job.)"
It was a deft way to handle things.
Kelly made sure to back his starter but also left the door ajar for Foles, albeit very slightly.
In coach speak that 100-for-100 with 27 TDs could very well equate to the 296 yards and three scores Foles did throw for with Vick's balky hamstring serving as the excuse for Kelly riding the hot hand.
"Not at all. It's the game of football," Vick said when asked whether he is concerned about his job. "Nick's a great player. He's a great football player. He does exactly what he needs to do when he goes out on the field. That's not something I'm gonna worry about. I'm gonna worry about getting healthy."
That indicates Vick, who has proven to be quite a leader this season, has bought in for now.
"Right now, (I'm) still working to get back to it -- get to 100 percent, you know," Vick told CSNPhilly.com. "So it's going to be a long road."
That long road could be one week or the rest of the season.
If Foles falters against the Cowboys next week, Kelly can turn back to Vick and act like nothing ever happened. But, if Foles excels again, the Eagles will have a new starting QB.
"We'll evaluate everything," a coy Kelly said. "We'll go back and watch the film, see what (Foles) did, see where we are, see where Mike is."
10/14 10:29:10 ET