NFC Player Spotlight: Eagles QB Nick Foles
Entering his third season, the game film is out there after guiding Philadelphia to a 9-3 stint, including their playoff loss. In a dozen starts, Foles had a triple-digit QB rating in ten of those, again including the playoff defeat to New Orleans. Standing 6’6, 243 pounds, the 3rd round pick out of Arizona flashed pocket presence and made great decisions with a 32 touchdown to 4 turnover ratio. Those stats account for 27 passing TDs, a trio of rushing scores, a pair of picks, and a couples lost fumbles.
What he didn’t have last season was WR Jeremy Maclin, he is returning from a knee injury after signing a one-year prove it deal. Foles developed a rapport with Riley Cooper on the second team, Cooper got his opportunity at the expense of Maclin, having the best year of his career and earning a five-year deal this offseason. Those are the projected starters out wide, what they won’t have is Pro Bowl playmaker DeSean Jackson. Coming off the best statistical season as a receiver, they will face Jackson twice a year as a member of the Redskins. Whether the deep down truth about the Jackson situation is really personality or money, they obviously feel that they can replace his production which puts more leadership honus on Foles. That gives the young quarterback another area to improve upon, and last year Chip Kelly’s system worked to win the NFC East and host a playoff game. He’s got the supporting cast to have a similarly successful season: the league’s leading rusher LeSean McCoy, a couple of tight ends with different skill sets, and the newly acquired Darren Sproles.
They enter the season as the favorites to repeat in the NFC East, and Foles is a player to watch with more film on him as teams have an offseason to prepare. Foles had a tendency to be conservative, when pressure collapsed the pocket he took a few more sacks than he should have. At least he had the pocket presence and game manager mentality to not turnover the football and live another down. Decision-making is hard to coach, it’s either in you or not and he does have that. As an Eagles fan you know the offensive line is elite, and despite popular belief Mark Sanchez could be pretty good with protection if the opportunity presented itself. As we’ve seen in Philly the past few years, they ride the hot hand and understandably so with unproven and injured players.
AFC Player Spotlight: Browns WR Josh Gordon
This kid torched NFL defenses to lead the league in receiving, with a few different quarterbacks throwing to him throughout Cleveland’s roller coaster season. Countless Sundays featured Gordon making a big play to get over 100 yards, even 200 yards with a season full of highlights. Most likely, he’s going to have an inexperienced guy at the helm, along with more double/bracket coverages. There is more film out on him as well, where his tendencies will be exploited and he’s already behind the 8-ball with his QB situation. It could be Brian Hoyer, returning from a knee injury, it could be one of these rookie prospects towards the front of the draft.
In reflection, it’s not only impressive but remarkable what he was able to do with the lack of weapons surrounding him. Cleveland traded running back Trent Richardson, then they didn’t have a ground game whatsoever last year. The top two QBs on the depth chart each went down at some point, meaning he was catching passes from Jason Campbell for the majority of the season. Anything they do to add talent to the offense will only ensure that Gordon stay on the map as an elite target.
On a young team somebody has to step up and be a leader. Maybe Gordon can shake the diva position stigma and expand his horizons by doing more than just his job. They might not be as far as most would think as far as competing in the AFC North goes, with some certain stars aligned they could be a few moves away from the wildcard picture. That doesn’t happen if Gordon changes face, becoming frustrated with the overload coverage and not getting the ball thrown his way. The athletic freak should continue to get his regardless of the team’s success or failure, it helps that tight end Jordan Cameron is a threat that defenses need to account for. Cameron helped an above-average O-line that has Joe Thomas and Alex Mack by the way, so whoever is throwing the ball will have time to look for the breakout wideout.