Nick Foles' NFC championship-worthy performance in Sunday's 38-7 rout of the Vikings didn't come from nowhere. The quarterback just finally picked up where he left off when he used to be the Eagles' unquestioned starter.
Foles was spectacular in Philadelphia's unrelenting dominance, with numbers (26-of-33 passing, 352 yards, three TDs) that would have been close to perfect against any defense, let alone one as stingy as Minnesota's top-ranked unit. Foles was let loose early by coach Doug Pederson, and the QB didn't ease up until the game was out of reach.
Although the current Eagles head coach schemed well for his QB, what Foles did Sunday would not have been possible without his work for Pederson's predecessor, Chip Kelly, back in 2013 and '14. Kelly flamed out as a coach in the NFL, but while he was in Philadelphia, Foles was his prized pupil.
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During his short-lived Pro Bowl breakout as a 24-year-old four long seasons ago, Foles averaged a ridiculous 9.1 yards per attempt, throwing 27 TDs to only two INTs in 11 games of significant action. He had two 400-yard games and five three-TD games, including a seven-TD outing against the Raiders. He spread the ball around and got big plays from many intermediate to deep targets.
Credit Pederson for throwing back it back to old-school Foles, which threw off the Vikings' game plan. Tight end Zach Ertz was still Zach Ertz, but wide receivers Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor became upgraded versions of DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper and Jason Avant.
The Eagles against the Vikings went up-tempo to get Foles in a rhythm, and they were aggressive from the get-go in letting him take shots downfield. Foles eluded the Vikings' swarming pass rush and found his four top targets for chunk plays. Seeing Foles fearlessly connect on long balls several times left Minnesota shell-shocked.
In his second stint as Eagles starter, Foles had been in a funk in getting the ball downfield and converting third downs of moderate difficulty. On Sunday, he helped the team go 10 of 14 (71.4 percent) on third down, nearly three times better than Vikings' opponents averaged (25.1 percent) during the regular season.
Foles is a streaky passer who has now played three super-efficient playoff games in his career. But the attacking mindset lines up well for the Eagles' next opponent, Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl 52.
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The Patriots faced a mild challenge from Kelly's top college QB, the Titans' Marcus Mariota, in the divisional round. The Jaguars' Blake Bortles fared well against them in the championship round. Foles' past and present can help him take the best of what those guys brought vs. New England and put it all together in a crisp system with superior skill-position talent around him.
Before Sunday, Foles had seen only three games of significant action in taking over for Carson Wentz this season. Pederson in those games learned how to cater to Foles' strengths and lessen the exposure of his weaknesses. The Eagles had yet to truly treat him like Wentz and give him a chance to do everything the second-year MVP candidate was doing.
The re-training wheels are now off.
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Foles was an ideal QB to return as the Eagles' backup for one reason: He responded well to the pressure of playing in Philadelphia with high passing volume once before. When the time came to reboot Foles in the mold of the Kelly-coached version of himself, he was ready for it.
Pederson and general manager Howie Roseman did an amazing job cleaning up the schematic and personnel mess Kelly left behind. Pederson, an edgier version of Andy Reid, settled the coaching staff. Roseman quickly rebuilt the roster around indispensable players such as Ertz, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Malcolm Jenkins, and he restored the right skill support for his QBs.
Pederson turned out to be an angel for Foles' fading career, but consider Kelly to be the little devil in the detail. This Foles doesn't happen without that Foles.