Will Carson Wentz be ready for week one? It’s a question that has been asked 1,000 times and answered with uncertainty 1,000 more. A primetime clash with the Atlanta Falcons is on the horizon and we’re still no closer to finding out whether or not the Eagles franchise quarterback will run out onto the field as a starter…and that may, just may, give the Eagles a slight advantage.
The unknown is often scary but for an NFL defense, not knowing which quarterback to prepare for has the potential to take that to a completely different level. Nick Foles is much more of a rhythmic pocket-passer than the electric gunslinger of Carson Wentz, who can turn a dead play into a touchdown in the blink of an eye. Preparing to face Foles as opposed to Wentz would require a very different mindset and potentially a a contrasting style. Sure, the same gameplan would be implemented, but a defense could afford to stack the box a little more, preparing to stop the run, knowing that’s what would take priority. They may also favor rushing the passer more frequently, trying to get Foles out of his comfort zone.
While this may be true for many teams, Atlanta has faced both Wentz and Foles in the space of a two year window. Nick Foles most recently led the Eagles to a 15-10 win over the Falcons, kickstarting their eventual Super Bowl run. What was key here is that the playbook for Foles was compartmentalized during that miraculous postseason. Pederson drew influences from just about everywhere to pander to his quarterback’s strengths and maximize his team’s chances of success.
“I felt leading up to the Falcon game and the things that [Offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich] and I had discussed and put together with the game plan was conducive to some of Nick’s strengths.” Pederson explained after that emotional win just a few months ago. “It wasn’t anything crazy or out of the ordinary from what we’ve done all season, but just plays where he was comfortable. Really had a tight game plan. There really weren’t a lot of moving parts as far as motions and shifts and things like that. We had a couple different wrinkle plays in there. But other than that, just kind of felt real good about our game plan last week, and we’ve got to do the same thing again this week.
That could well be on the cards once again if Wentz is indeed sidelined.
“Well, when we look at our schedule and look at who we’re playing early in the season, we look at scheme, defensively, from an offensive perspective and conceptually what we feel are going to be plays that we can execute.” The Eagles Head Coach told reporters on Sunday. “I don’t worry about the quarterback position as much at this time, as much as just understanding the defense that we’re going to see.”
Pederson caught the world off guard throughout the playoffs. From the iconic ‘Philly Special’, to a devastating flea-flicker, the world assumed that Foles would be conservative, so the Eagles Head Coach ensured he did the opposite. It’s hard to think that Atlanta would’ve forgotten their heartbreaking loss to Philly and would be subtly prepared for Foles should he be named the starter, careful to not be caught off guard twice.
If Nick Foles starts against the Atlanta Falcons, expecting the unexpected has to be the key, but a reliance on the run will still be prominent. If Carson Wentz doe somehow make it onto the field, expect a very different quarterback from the one who oh-so-nearly toppled Atlanta in his rookie season. A hungry, explosive and dangerous quarterback who will have his eyes set on doing the damage he was unable to against this team a few months ago.
Whoever leads the Eagles into battle, unpredictability will be the key, especially with Mike Groh as offensive coordinator. If we’ve learned one thing about Doug Pederson, it’s to never underestimate his creativity or the trust he has in his players. The confidence to go for it on fourth down and take educated risks. The playbook may change, but let’s not forget how incredible Nick Foles was just a few years ago under Chip Kelly…and how many of those game planning subtleties suddenly were re-introduced during the postseason, as if they never left.
The problem for Atlanta is that this is much more than which quarterback they prepare for. The gameplan for Foles includes plenty of rhythm-based passing, which in itself is difficult to stop along with a focus on running the ball. For Wentz, it’s as big, bad and explosive as possible. The play-action looks increase, giving even more exposure to a dangerous running game and the complexity of the plays themselves do the same.
Take this levels concept for instance. The Eagles ran seven different variations of this play during the season, tallying ten total attempts on third down, moving the chains 55% of the time. it was one of their most common third down looks due to the optionality it gives the quarterback. The last time it was called? Week 14 against the Rams.
The Falcons struggled to contain the Eagles’ marginalized playbook and Nick Foles during the wildcard round. Will this growing uncertainty of which quarterback they’ll face only add to that trauma?