Nick Foles Delivered a Historically Great Performance
Nick Foles did a thing.
He did a thing on one of the biggest stages in the NFL and it wasn’t just a thing because of low expectations. It was a legitimately great thing.
That thing, of course, was a sparkling performance in the NFC Championship Game in which he completed 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Philadelphia Eagles routed the Minnesota Vikings, 38-7. Advanced statistics aren’t necessarily needed to put that in context -- you know Foles was on point -- but you’re here and that’s what we do, so that’s what you’re about to get.
A Game For The Ages
By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can read more about in our glossary, Foles just had one of the best conference championship performances we’ve seen in recent memory. Foles was worth 0.83 Passing NEP per drop back on Sunday night. The average for a quarterback this season was 0.04. The Vikings were the second-ranked defense this season, per our schedule-adjusted metrics, and the average quarterback against Minnesota was worth -0.11 Passing NEP per drop back prior to Sunday night.
Foles easily had the best performance of a conference championship round that wasn’t exactly billed for its expected quarterback play. Tom Brady’s 0.27 Passing NEP per drop back is a very good clip against a stout Jacksonville Jaguars defense, but it doesn’t come close to what Foles did against a defense of similar quality. Blake Bortles had one of the best Blake Bortles performances, but even that was worth only 0.18 Passing NEP per drop back. Case Keenum wasn’t even in the same neighborhood as Sunday's three other passers, coming in at a putrid -0.21 Passing NEP per drop back on the day.
The numbers Foles put up weren’t just great for this weekend -- they were great compared to the past conference championship performances we’ve seen. Since the 2012 season, only Matt Ryan’s 0.89 Passing NEP per drop back from 2016 was better than Foles’ showing on Sunday, and those two are in their own stratosphere. The next-best quarterback performance from conference championship weekend since 2012 was Peyton Manning’s 0.54 Passing NEP per drop back in 2013 on the heels of his record-breaking regular season.
Foles’ and Ryan’s games are so far ahead of the other top games from each season.
|Year||Top Conf. QB||Passing NEP/DB|
Look at that group. It adds Cam Newton along with Manning, Brady, and Ryan. There’s 9 — soon to be 10, assuming Brady wins another — MVPs between that collection of signal callers. In those listed seasons alone, those quarterbacks are responsible for three MVP awards. There’s also Nick Foles. Nick. Freaking. Foles.
Better Than the Real Thing
The career of Foles to this point is not easy to explain. There’s a lot of bad with some random amounts of good sprinkled in.
For one season in 2013, that good stretched out for an entire campaign (at least 10 games). Any time anyone explains the potential of Foles, they point to that season. You know the drill by now — 27 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. During that season, Foles finished the year with 0.31 Passing NEP per drop back, which was fourth among quarterbacks in 2013. Even as part of that superb season, Foles only had one game better than what he just did against the Vikings.
That Week 9 game came against the Oakland Raiders, who sported the 28th-best defense in the league that season, according to our metrics. Against the Raiders, Foles threw 28 passes, completed 22 of them, and 7 went for touchdowns. A seven-touchdown game is the only performance of Foles’ career better than what he just did in a game that sent the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
This, of course, is nowhere near the production level Foles had during the regular season after he filled in for the injured Carson Wentz. Foles was worth -0.01 Passing NEP per drop back in 2017, which was 27th among the 45 quarterbacks who dropped back at least 100 times on the season.
If you factor in rushing production, Foles was 32nd among those quarterbacks in Total NEP per play. That’s significant because of how Philadelphia’s offense uses run-pass options (RPOs) to create mismatches against the defense. But with Foles, there’s no threat for a quarterback run. It takes one of the three options out of the equation. Against Minnesota, it didn’t matter. Foles was just slinging it.
It wasn’t even the product of wide open receivers. Per Next Gen Stats, Foles threw into tight coverage — defined as one yard or less of separation for the receiver — on 21.2 percent of his passes against the Vikings. And he wasn’t just throwing into tight coverages, he was hitting those small windows.
He was aggressive in a way that he hadn't been this season. In his three meaningful starts this year -- Weeks 15 and 16 and the divisional round -- Foles topped out at 15.8 percent of his passes into tight coverage. Against Atlanta, it was just 10 percent.
All this brings us to a Foles-led Eagles team facing the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. New England had the 29th-ranked defense by our metrics, including the 22nd-ranked defense against the pass. The Patriots allowed opposing quarterbacks to average 0.06 Passing NEP per drop back through the AFC Championship Game.
Even against a weaker defense, we’re probably not going to see this Foles in the Super Bowl. By all logic, we shouldn’t have seen this Foles on Sunday. But when everyone least expected it, Foles put together one of the best big-stage games we've seen from a quarterback.