FAL­CONS MIGHT BE TOUGH COVER FOR FOLES

De­spite his re­cent strug­gles, backup QB Nick Foles has had suc­cess against Cover-3 de­fenses

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS - By Rob Maaddi

NPHILADELPHIA >> ick Foles used the bye week to go back to ba­sics. The Philadel­phia Ea­gles (13-3) are the first No. 1 seed to open the play­offs as an un­der­dog, mainly be­cause Foles is the start­ing quar­ter­back in­stead of Car­son Wentz.

But Foles hasn’t lost con­fi­dence de­spite pub­lic per­cep­tion that he can’t lead the Ea­gles to the Su­per

Bowl, or even a vic­tory over the At­lanta Fal­cons (11-6) to­day in the divi­sional round.

“It’s just go­ing out there and play­ing and stay­ing in the zone and trust­ing my in­stincts,” Foles said.

“I’ve played this game a long time. There’s a rea­son I’ve been able to do what

I’ve been able to do. When I play my best and I’m most com­fort­able, I just go out there and play.”

Foles has had suc­cess against de­fenses sim­i­lar to At­lanta’s. The Fal­cons em- ploy a Cover-3 scheme as their base de­fense. The three deep zones are cov­ered by two cor­ner­backs and the free safety. The Sea­hawks have ex­celled at it for sev­eral years. Of course, they have a world-class sec­ondary.

Fal­cons coach Dan Quinn was Seat­tle’s de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor when they won the Su­per Bowl four years ago.

Foles has never faced Quinn, but he beat the Jaguars in 2014 with the Ea­gles and in 2016 with the Chiefs. He beat the Sea­hawks in 2015 with St. Louis. Gus Bradley, who pre­ceded Quinn as Seat­tle’s de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, was Jack­sonville’s coach in both games against Foles.

Foles is 65-for-105 (61.9 per­cent) for 842 yards with five touch­down passes and one in­ter­cep­tion in those three games against Cover-3 de­fenses.

“You know where they are go­ing to be. That’s the thing with this de­fense,” Ea­gles coach Doug Ped­er­son said. “They play with a lot of con­fi­dence. It’s an ag­gres­sive style. It’s fast flow and they are not go­ing to pull any punches.

“They are not go­ing to try to trick you or do any­thing to get in your head or any­thing like that. It’s just line up and try to beat us.”

The Fal­cons don’t blitz much but still get pres­sure on quar­ter­backs. They tied for 13th in the league with 39 sacks. Adrian Clay­born led the way with 9½ sacks, in­clud­ing six in one game against the Cow­boys.

At­lanta al­lowed 17.5 points per game over the fi­nal six games and then shut down the league’s high­est-scor­ing offense in a 26-13 win at the Los An­ge­les Rams in the wild-card game.

“This de­fense is much im­proved over the course of the sea­son,” Ped­er­son said. “You saw it against the Rams. They are fast. They are fly­ing to the foot­ball.

“Sec­ondary is ag­gres­sive. Guys know how to cover. A lot of sin­gle-high. They are go­ing to chal­lenge our re­ceivers and that’s what you’re see­ing on tape. It’s a qual­ity de­fense, but that’s what we ex­pect this time of year.”

Foles played well im­me­di­ately af­ter Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14. He was 20for-48 for 279 yards with four touch­downs and no in­ter­cep­tions in his first five quar­ters ver­sus 23-for-49 for 202 yards with one TD and two picks in the last five quar­ters.

“I haven’t ex­e­cuted as well as I wanted to the past cou­ple of weeks, but I go out there and play and hav­ing this time to self-scout, go through prac­tice, you re­al­ize just go out there and play,” Foles said.

“Maybe I wasn’t do­ing that as much those last cou­ple of games. It’s as sim­ple as that. Some­times, the hardest things are the sim­plest things. Ba­si­cally, get out of your own head and go play the game you know how to play.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ea­gles quar­ter­back Nick Foles started hot af­ter re- plac­ing the in­jured Car- son Wentz. He threw for four TD passes and no picks in his first five quar­ters in re­lief of Wentz but has passed for only one TD and suf­fered two in­ter­cep­tions in the last five quar­ters.

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