An Extensive Review of Nick Foles: Foles v. Vick

Although some have already written off the possibility that Nick Foles could play for Chip Kelly next season, Kelly has indicated that he’ll tailor his system to the players that he has and will not really be running an ‘Oregon Offense’ in Philly. So the possibility remains that Foles could earn the starting job next season, and that deserves some analysis. Or in this case, a lot of analysis.

Heads up: All of the statistical analysis of Nick Foles below comes with the caveat of a small sample size, and we all know that weird things can happen in a small sample (i.e. Bryce Brown had the highest rushing-yards-per-game average after starting 2 games). So yeah, it’s academically improper to draw conclusions from a small sample… but where is the fun in that?

Andy Reid has long been considered a ‘Quarterback Guru’ by analysts, experts, and league insiders. You can make a good case that this reputation was rightfully earned, not just for Donovan McNabb’s success and Michael Vick’s career rehabilitation, but also for making Kevin Kolb and A.J. Feeley look pretty enough to trade, and earning a playoff berth with a zombie that was once named Jeff Garcia.

After enduring several weeks of repeated trauma at the hands of opposing defenses, Vick suffered a brain injury against the Cowboys in Week 10. Reid was then tasked with making the most out of newcomer Nick Foles for a stretch that concluded with the rookie breaking his hand in the season’s penultimate game. Foles finished that game, by the way. You can knock these guys in a lot of ways, but you sure can’t say they aren’t tough.

Anyway, here’s how he and Vick stacked up at the end.

Standard Passing

Age GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Sack Yds 4QC
Michael Vick 32 10 3-7-0 204 351 58.1 2362 12 10 78.1 28 149 3
Nick Foles 23 6 1-5-0 161 265 60.8 1699 6 5 79.1 20 131 1
Team Total 25.9 4-12-0 367 618 59.4 4075 18 15 78.6 48 284 4
Age TD% Int% Y/A A Y/A Y/C Y/G N Y/A AN Y/A Sk%
Michael Vick 32 3.4 2.8 6.7 6.1 11.6 236.2 5.83 5.27 7.4
Nick Foles 23 2.3 1.9 6.4 6.0 10.6 242.7 5.50 5.13 7.0
Team Total 25.9 2.9 2.4 6.6 6.1 11.1 254.7 5.69 5.22 7.2

Excluding rushing production, Vick and Foles had similar seasons, statistically speaking. The biggest disparity you’ll see here is in TD% and INT% (That is, the % of passes thrown that resulted in touchdowns or interceptions). The numbers reflect, as anybody who watched this season will attest, that Vick had a riskier approach to passing than Foles: more balls downfield, more throws into tight coverage. So Vick threw more touchdowns and interceptions per attempt. This strategy or tendency did not lead to any noticeable increase in effectiveness, however, as Vick’s touchdown-interception ratio was still identical to Foles’s.

Foles’s stats are padded in this respect because Marty Morninwheg called many more screen passes when Foles was under center. Screen passes are low-risk, low-reward and have nearly a 100% completion rate, so this scheme certainly contributed to both Foles’s increased completion percentage and decreased TD% and INT% rates.

On the plus side, at least these guys have a sense of drama. All of their wins resulted from 4th quarter comebacks. Though the drama is a little more muted in retrospect when you consider that three of these opponents failed to make the playoffs (Browns, Giants, Bucs), and the only win against a playoff team (Ravens) was the direct result of a replacement referee blowing an offensive pass interference call.

“Replacement referees?” “Oh yeah, I already forgot about them, too.”

I think at this point we are sorely in need of some context. So let’s take another look at those numbers in comparison to the rest of the NFL.

Advanced Passing

The statistics below are calculated for every player in the league and then normalized so that league average is 100. 101+ is better, and 99- is worse. The league rank is listed below each category.

Y/A+ NY/A+ AY/A+ ANY/A+ Cmp%+ TD%+ Int%+ Sack%+ Rate+
Michael Vick 92 92 92 92 92 91 98 91 91
NFL Rank (min 200 att) 28 26 25 25 25 26 25 28 27
Y/A+ NY/A+ AY/A+ ANY/A+ Cmp%+ TD%+ Int%+ Sack%+ Rate+
Nick Foles 86 86 90 90 101 77 115 94 93
NFL Rank (min 200 att) 31 31 28 27 18 34 8 23 26

Neither had a good year compared to the league. The kindest thing you could call their performances is mediocre, and in truth even that assessment is too generous. These are bottom-third passing numbers. Vick was, if nothing else, consistent this season. He rated badly across the board, which shouldn’t surprise anybody who watched. Vick ranked no higher than 25th and no lower than 28th in any category (among players with a minimum of 200 passing attempts).

Foles was also bad overall, but more varied in his strengths and weaknesses. The standout numbers again are TD% and INT%, along with Yards/Attempt (Y/A). Foles ranks as one of the most conservative quarterbacks in the league according to these metrics. While his peers in INT% are named Flacco and Manning, his failure to score more touchdowns in the air makes his TD% comparable to Matt Cassel, Ryan Tannehill, or Brandon Weeden. Likewise, his closest peer in Y/A was Mark Sanchez. Not exactly exemplars of efficiency, that group.

To be fair to Nick, Reid has historically had problems designing an offense that scores in the red zone and the team as a whole was 28th in the league in red zone scoring rate in 2012. It’s possible that the scoring problem is a reflection of flawed play design and not peculiar to Foles. Still, none of this is particularly encouraging.

Passing Distance Breakdown

We saw that Foles was handcuffed by more conservative play calling, but just how much was Foles handcuffed compared to Vick? To find out, I drew from the directional passing stats available at PFF, and grouped passing attempts into four categories based on how far the ball traveled in the air: Behind the Line Of Scrimmage (LOS), Short, Medium, and Long passes.

Key: LOS = Behind the line, Short = 0-9 yards, Medium = 10-19 yards, Long = 20+ yards

Note: This data only includes what PFF defines as “aimed” passes, so batted balls, passes thrown away, or passes thrown while hit are not counted below.

Vick Comp Att Yards TD Int Comp% Y/A Rtg Att%
LOS 47 53 311 3 0 88.7% 5.87 110.0 16.8%
Short 98 148 798 3 3 66.2% 5.39 78.0 46.8%
Medium 46 75 839 2 5 61.3% 11.19 80.9 23.7%
Long 13 40 414 4 2 32.5% 10.35 84.8 12.7%
Totals 204 316 2362 12 10 64.6% 7.47 86.5
Foles Comp Att Yards TD Int Comp% Y/A Rtg Att%
LOS 50 54 295 0 0 92.6% 5.46 89.4 22.7%
Short 72 103 609 1 1 69.9% 5.91 84.2 43.3%
Medium 29 53 504 1 2 54.7% 9.51 77.9 22.3%
Long 10 28 291 4 2 35.7% 10.39 85.0 11.8%
Totals 161 238 1699 6 5 67.6% 7.14 87.9

There’s a lot going on here so I just want to mention a few points first:

1. Foles threw 54 passes that were aimed for receivers behind the LOS in 7 appearances. Vick threw 53 in 11 appearances. Much of the difference was an increase in screen passes and shovels when Foles played.

2. Foles and Vick threw an equal number of deep touchdowns and picks. So much for that arm strength problem everybody was talking about.

3. Even so, neither went downfield all that much. Vick threw deep less than 13% of the time and Foles less than 12%. This is partly a result of poor offensive line play, because long plays often didn’t have enough time to develop.

Overall these numbers are surprisingly similar, and this is reflective of what was perhaps both the greatest strength and curse of Reid’s coaching philosophy. Vick’s and Foles’ natural styles are worlds apart – they shouldn’t ever be alike – and yet Reid managed to make them into functionally equivalent players. Perhaps in years past when the league was not yet prepared for a high-volume passing attacks, this functional similarity was beneficial. Thinking back, the offense hardly ever skipped a beat when Reid had a week or more to prepare a backup for duty.

In the same way, the passing game neither improved nor faltered after Foles’ introduction. It simply continued to be just as terrible as it was before Vick was injured.

But individual numbers can only tell so much. It’s also important to see how each affected the team’s performance as a whole.

Team Offensive Stats

The Week 10 game against Dallas when Vick and Foles both played was excluded from the data below.

PPG YPG Pass YPG Rush YPG 1st/G Opp PPG Opp YPG
Vick 15.56 367.56 239.22 128.33 21.56 25.00 349.44
Foles 19.50 331.33 226.67 104.67 19.17 30.17 342.00

This paints a pretty clear picture. With Vick the team was atrocious at scoring but moved the ball well between the 20s. With Foles, the offense produced fewer passing yards, rushing yards, and first downs but was more than half a touchdown better per game.

Obviously the scoring increase is encouraging, but there may be even more to like about Foles in this data set. Foles barely contributed at all in the rushing game, yet the offense only gained on average 18 fewer yards per game on the ground. Keep in mind that Vick also had the benefit of playing with Shady McCoy for every one of his starts. Foles played with Bryce Brown as the starter for the majority of his games.

Conclusion

Although their individual returns were similar, Michael Vick is a finished product while Foles will be just 24 next season and has plenty of room to improve. With that said, this season did not represent a great start for the rookie. Still, his performance is excusable because of inexperience and the overall quality of the team. A full offseason of NFL lifting and conditioning programs should help him fill out his already imposing frame, and training with Chip Kelly certainly can’t make his turnover issues any worse.

Next time I’ll compare Foles’s rookie campaign to other recent rookie QBs (especially Andrew Luck) to see how his early returns stack up.

Posted on January 19, 2013, in Eagles, Hank Mushinski, Posts, Stats Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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