FALCONS MIGHT BE TOUGH COVER FOR FOLES
Despite his recent struggles, backup QB Nick Foles has had success against Cover-3 defenses
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.”
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.