On paper, this weekend’s playoff showdown between Philadelphia and Chicago is going to be a thriller. Two very dominant defenses and stylistically similar offenses will clash in a game of the upmost importance. For the Bears, it’s the first season in the ‘Trubisky-Nagy’ playoff window, while for the reigning champions, it’s all about redemption. It’s easy to look at names like Eddie Jackson and Khalil Mack and spell ‘trouble’ for the Eagles, but it could be the other quarterback on the field facing the steepest mountain.
The pressure is mounting on the Philadelphia Eagles, that much is for sure. But after a season that has ripped this team down to its bare bones in terms of depth, character and identity, they’re somehow still fighting. Even after a 48-7 humiliation loss to the Saints, the Eagles dug deeper than many thought they could, carving out three huge wins at the end of the season to save their playoff push. Now, with Nick Foles at the helm and a revitalized offense that’s scoring for fun once more, the concerns over a stagnation seem to have evaporated.
Foles has been here before. In fact, you may recall he was here last year, guiding the Eagles through more improbable wins on the road to immortality. In the three games he’s been asked to start in place of Carson Wentz, he’s thrown 6 touchdowns and 3 picks, completing a career-high 72.3% of his passes. It’s like Foles had never been away and that’s how his Head Coach views it, too.
“I think it comes from just his understanding of the offense, knowing where everybody is going to be.” Doug Pederson told reporters on Wednesday. “If it’s a ball out fast to the flat he’s going to get it there; if he has to hold it for a second to get it down the field, he’s going to know that. I think it’s just understanding the offense, the down, the distance, the situation of the game, and he’s been very accurate with his throws, and plus it also just helps the offense stay a little bit ahead of the chains on early downs. Keeps yourself in a third and more manageable situation.”
Foles is as hot as he’s ever been which is just as well considering the defense he’ll be lining up against, one that needs no introduction. For his opponent however, this is all new ground. Trubisky, at age 24, will be making his first ever NFL playoff start this Sunday. The numbers aren’t on his side, either. Of 31 active NFL quarterbacks to have started at least one playoff game, only 10 won their first start.
Trubisky’s development from year one to year two has been impressive, but can largely be put down to the presence of Matt Nagy and a rebuilt Bears offense. While he’s taken a big step forward, there have been notable weaknesses that continue to haunt him. Opening his hips too much on his release, falling to go through his progressions properly and missing wide open receivers as a result have both been criticized, but it’s when Trubisky has faced a playoff defense that he’s looked most vulnerable.
In the three games this year in which he’s played against a playoff defense (Seattle, L.A. and New England), Trubisky has combined for 5 touchdowns, 7 picks, completing 59.6% of his passes for an average of 5.4 yards per attempt. That’s hardly the ‘dazzling’ image that is often associated with his play nowadays.
The Eagles know what they’re getting in Nick Foles, he’s been to the big dance before and has been rekindling that form since his return to the football field against the Rams. Now, I won’t sit here and say ‘Foles performed better against the Rams and therefore will perform better than Trubisky’ as that would be illogical. But when the stakes are high, Foles comes alive and Trubisky is yet to prove he can put a team on his back in a big-time situation.
There is a strange calmness surrounding this Eagles team, while the feeling around Chicago is one of excitement and nerves. Can Trubisky hang with some of the best quarterbacks in the game in the postseason? When the lights shine brightest, can Nagy count on his inherited quarterback to step up? Or will careless errors see him become the 22nd active quarterback to lose his first playoff game? There is more pressure on Trubisky against an Eagles defense that has found its stride and is playing with a newly found swagger, than there is on Foles to do the unexpected. Chicago are expecting a deep playoff run, the Eagles simply put, were never expected to be here to begin with just one month ago.
Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jim Mone