METAIRIE, La. — As Philadelphia floundered to a slow start with Michael Vick at quarterback, questions began to bubble whether Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, run-based offense could work in the NFL.
Then Kelly inserted Nick Foles into the lineup at quarterback.
Nothing has been the same since and Foles is a big reason why.
And now, 11 weeks later, the Eagles have won 8 of 10 games, earned the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs by winning the East and will host the Saints (11-5) in the wild card round Saturday night.
“I think No. 1, you see someone that is playing with a very good awareness, confident, gets rid of the ball,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I think he is very accurate.”
Just how good – and accurate – was Foles over the final eight games?
He led the NFL in quarterback rating at 119.2. The 9.12 yards per pass led the league. His two interceptions were second-fewest this season and were the least among those with 300 pass attempts.
Since Foles took over permanently on Nov. 3 against Oakland, Philadelphia (10-6) is averaging 20 yards more per game, nearly a minute more in time of possession and 11 more points per game.
“He makes very good decisions in regards to not necessarily impulsive or discriminate throws in traffic,” Payton said. “He knows where he is going with his progressions.”
With Foles at the helm in the second half of the season, the Eagles offense went from being one dimensional with just running back LeSean McCoy, to being one that defensive coordinators have to pay attention to in regard to the passing game, as well.
In the past eight games, Foles is completing 66 percent of his passes, nearly 12 percent more than Vick was when he was starting, and has thrown 21 touchdowns passes.
“I would say that he’s a winner,” Saints inside linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “It’s just him. He runs that offense very well. He can make all the throws. He runs the offense at a fast tempo and that’s going to pose a lot of problems for us.”
The Saints ended the regular season as the No. 4 overall defense, holding teams to just 194.1 yards passing per game and 305 total. Quarterbacks completed just 60 percent of their passes thanks in part to a pass rush that finished the year with 49 sacks.
And if there has been a bugaboo for Foles over the past eight weeks, it’s that he takes sacks. He has gone down 23 times in the past eight games.
Still, that’s looking deep for issues with the 24-year-old. There’s little question that Foles has changed the Eagles fortunes since taking over.
“I think he’s just the glue to it,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “I think he really has a great understanding of what they’re trying to get done each play. He gets the ball in there. He’s accurate. He holds onto the ball and gets it where it needs to be. He’s not flustered by pressure.”