Ea­gles’ Nick Foles to start vs. Saints, Nate Sud­feld re­mains the backup

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL & NATIONAL SPORTS -

— What might have seemed ob­vi­ous is now of­fi­cial: Nick Foles will remain the Ea­gles’ start­ing quar­ter­back for Sun­day’s di­vi­sional round post­sea­son game against the New Or­leans Saints.

The Ea­gles have won four con­sec­u­tive games with Foles as the start­ing quar­ter­back, in­clud­ing Sun­day’s 16-15 open­inground win over the Chicago Bears. He’ll now have a chance to play against the Saints, who handed the Ea­gles their worst loss of the sea­son on Nov. 18 and also were only team to beat a Foles-led team in play­offs in Jan­uary 2014.

Nate Sud­feld will be the Ea­gles’ No. 2 quar­ter­back again on Sun­day. Car­son Wentz’s sta­tus re­mains un­changed; he’s on the ac­tive ros­ter, but he’s “still get­ting healthy,” coach Doug Ped­er­son said. That doesn’t mean the Ea­gles will put Wentz on in­jured re­serve.

“We keep win­ning,” Ped­er­son said. “We keep putting our­selves in a po­si­tion to be suc­cess­ful. You never know. You never know what next week might hold.”

Of course, why would the Ea­gles make a change? They’re rolling with Foles. Even though Foles was in­con­sis­tent on Sun­day and had two in­ter­cep­tions that thwarted po­ten­tial scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, his gamewin­ning drive in the fourth quar­ter was his sixth since com­ing back to the Ea­gles in 2017. Foles fin­ished 25 of 40 for 266 yards with two touch­downs and two in­ter­cep­tions.

By this point, there’s lit­tle more that can be said about how Foles han­dles high-pres­sure points in games. Foles’ mantra of

(AP)

“stay in the mo­ment” has been on re­peat in re­cent weeks, and plat­i­tudes about how calm he re­mains have be­come com­mon­place.

It’s more than Foles. His pass catch­ers made big plays on Sun­day — with Golden Tate, Al­shon Jef­fery, Zach Ertz, Dal­las Goed­ert, Nel­son Agholor, and Jor­dan Matthews all con­tribut­ing. The of­fen­sive line helped keep Foles up­right against the Bears’ for­mi­da­ble de­fense.

Los An­ge­les’ Aaron Don­ald, Hous­ton’s J.J. Watt, and Chicago’s Khalil Mack are all can­di­dates for de­fen­sive player of the year (and are past win­ners) with a com­bined 49 sacks this sea­son. Yet none of those three sacked Foles dur­ing this stretch, which is a credit to the job the line does block­ing, how quickly Foles is throw­ing the ball, and the game plan from the coach­ing staff.

It’s clear that Foles and Ped­er­son have a close con­nec­tion, and their di­a­logue on the side­line helped set up the game-win­ning play. Ped­er­son said he doesn’t want his quar­ter­back afraid to speak his mind in those sit­u­a­tions and de­sires in­put about what the quar­ter­back is see­ing on the field and is com­fort­able do­ing.

“At the end of the day, they are play­ing the game, not me,” Ped­er­son said. “I’m over on the side­line where it’s a lit­tle more re­laxed. … It does come from learn­ing and watch­ing through my days of play­ing and be­ing a backup and watch­ing the starter, who­ever it was, talk­ing with the co­or­di­na­tor, talk­ing with the po­si­tion coach on the side­line, the of­fen­sive line coach with pro­tec­tions, what­ever it is, and just hav­ing that con­ver­sa­tion. I think things are chang­ing for us, any­way. I’d say back in those days … it was more about the coaches mak­ing the de­ci­sion and play­ers just fall in line. But lis­ten, I learned, too, that play­ers make plays and they are the ones out there.”

Foles will be out there on Sun­day against the NFL’s 29th-ranked pass de­fense, although it’s a unit that lim­ited Wentz to 156 yards and in­ter­cepted him three times while also sack­ing him three times on Nov. 18. The Ea­gles are a dif­fer­ent team now — al­most ev­ery­body is play­ing bet­ter — but the most no­table dif­fer­ence in re­cent weeks has been Foles at quar­ter­back.

For an­other week, the Ea­gles will try to ex­tend their sea­son with Foles in the lineup and Wentz watch­ing from the side­line — and learn­ing for when­ever his time comes in those mo­ments.

“Car­son, he def­i­nitely wants to be out there, and he wants to be with his team­mate,” Ped­er­son said. “Right now, he’s a great sup­port for Nick. And that’s huge be­cause Nick has been that way for him, and that’s a big thing from go­ing … from starter to backup, that’s hard, but then now you’re in this po­si­tion to re­ally help the starter be­come suc­cess­ful. I just think that he sees how every­thing’s kind of com­ing to­gether and whether it be the run game or the of­fen­sive line is play­ing well, or even your skill po­si­tion guys are mak­ing plays, I think that’s all things that he’s pro­cess­ing and learn­ing from, and will be bet­ter when he gets back out there.”

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