How Nick Foles turned back the clock in Eagles’ win vs. Rams

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Usually, Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles takes a fairly long nap at the team hotel before road night games. It’s a good way to kill time and be fresh so he can help the starter, Carson Wentz, on the sidelines during games.

But Sunday, even in the comfy Omni Los Angeles Hotel, with hours to kill before the 1:50 p.m. team bus to the Coliseum, Foles was buzzing. He read the Bible, which he does every morning; on the road he uses a Bible app on his phone. He read devotionals. “I knew there’d be adversity today, so I read what I thought would help me,” Foles said. He journaled on his iPad, a hobby that helps him feel connected to his family when he’s away. He Facetimed with wife Tori and baby daughter Lily. “And Henry,” Foles added. That’s the family golden doodle, who reportedly is a good boy.

“Today I couldn’t nap,” Foles said from the Eagles’ locker room in Los Angeles late Sunday night. “I tried, but I had too much on my mind. Too many butterflies.”

That would give Foles a lot in common with the city of Philadelphia. Earlier in the week, Wentz, the Eagles’ franchise quarterback, got struck down for the second year in a row. Last year, it was a knee injury in the Coliseum against the Rams—exactly 53 weeks removed from this game—that kayoed Wentz. This year, reports say Wentz has a fractured vertebrae in his back; it’s more likely than not Wentz will be out for the season. Coming off a Super Bowl run last year, nothing has come easy for the Eagles, including a well-played and fluky tipped ball that handed the Cowboys a heartbreaking overtime win over Philadelphia a week ago. That left the Eagles 6-7 and, particularly with the news of the Wentz injury, dead for 2018.

Right?

But here came Foles, and for much of the evening, it felt like last January again. First eight Philadelphia drives of the night: field goal, field goal, failed fourth-down conversion, touchdown, punt, touchdown, field goal, touchdown. After those eight drives, behind the steady hand of Foles and the unsteady hands and feet of the Rams, the Eagles led 30-13. When it was over, the Eagles, 13-point dogs (and I don’t mean Henry) had a 30-23 victory over the stumbling Rams, losers of two straight for the first time in the 31-game Sean McVay Era of good fun.

MORE: Read the rest of Football Morning in America here

Just as everything Doug Pederson touched turned to touchdowns last year, everything this franchise has touched has turned to BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO by its infamous fandom this year. Foles took over in this same stadium last year and got the save in the NFC East-clinching victory while Wentz was in the locker room with two torn knee ligaments. This year, it was Wentz, wearing an earpiece to hear the playcalls and offer advice, on the sideline helping Foles.

“The huddle’s my sanctuary,” Foles said. “Today you’ve got phones, Instagram, Twitter. It’s hard to just be in the moment. But I like to be in the moment, be present. Today I was able to block everything about the significance of this—being back in the same place it started last year, playing on a big Sunday night game, playing for our playoffs [hopes]—and just focusing on one moment. One play. Then the next play. I called on my experience on playing in high-pressure games last year and succeeding. I think it helped.”

The Eagles’ playoff hopes still hang by a thread. For Philly to win the division, Dallas must lose to the Bucs and Giants, and the Eagles must beat Houston and Washington. Um, not likely. But to make the playoffs, the Eagles need to go 2-0 while Washington, Minnesota and Carolina all lose at least one game. Possible. Not likely, but Nick Foles has been in this situation before in what is becoming a downright weird career. The book he wrote last year after the Super Bowl was called “Believe It.” But if Foles has another run in him, and there’s a sequel to his first book, I’m going to push for this title: “Even I Can’t Believe It.”

Five NFL players who could become stars in 2019

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By Sam Monson, PFF Senior Analyst

One of my favorite aspects of PFF data and grading is how it can spot the obvious coming when it’s still some ways off on the horizon—getting ahead of the curve and identifying talent before it becomes self-evident. Every year there are players who excel in limited snaps before ultimately being handed a larger role and workload for their teams. When they continue dominating, we wonder how they were ever seen as anything other than superstars.

Case in point: When Joey Porter was a star and the sack leader for the Miami Dolphins back in 2009, coming off a 17.5-sack season, we at PFF were clamoring for his backup –- a former undrafted pass-rusher who had not long before been playing in Canada -– to get more snaps because he was generating pressure at a far greater rate than Porter. Cameron Wake ultimately went on to be one of the best pass rushers of the past decade and looked it from Day 1 if you were seeing beyond the box score numbers.

Such examples are everywhere, and each year it’s always an interesting exercise to take a look through the PFF grading and predict the players that could take that next step if they get the right opportunity. This past week we unveiled our PFF 50—a list of the best 50 players in football entering the season—but in this case let’s look a year from now and predict some players who could make that list in 2020.

Levi Wallace, CB, Buffalo Bills: If there’s a player with the backstory to rival Wake’s, it’s Wallace. With precisely zero scholarship offers coming out of high school, Wallace walked on at Alabama, and eventually earned a starting job. Then he had to do it all over again when he went undrafted before signing as a collegiate free agent with Buffalo. As a rookie in 2018, he earned the highest PFF grade of any first-year cornerback, along with the highest coverage grade, and wasn’t beaten for a catch longer than 29 yards all season. Though he played far fewer snaps than first-round selection Denzel Ward of Cleveland, Wallace looks like a potential star in the making if he’s given greater opportunity in year two.

Vita Vea, DL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: At the other end of the scale, you’ve got Vea, a player who went in the first round in 2018 but fell off the radar a little because he began the season injured, then took a little while to get going and ultimately didn’t produce the box score production people want to see. Vea ended up with only three sacks, but had 23 additional pressures as a pass-rusher, 17 of which came in the final six weeks of the season. Over that stretch of play, his overall PFF grade was 86.4, and he had a top-20 grade at his position, hinting at what’s to come.

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Minnesota Vikings: Changing positions in the NFL can be a significant adjustment, and sometimes it takes time. The Vikings drafted Alexander in 2016’s second round and moved him inside to the slot after he principally played outside at Clemson. His transition wasn’t smooth, but he has now seen his overall PFF grade improve each year of his NFL career: from 47.5 as a rookie, to 54.1 in 2017, climbing to 78.1 last year. Over the final half of the season, he was the highest-graded cornerback in the league at 88.2, surrendering just 80 receiving yards in a seven-game span. Alexander could emerge as a force with the right opportunity in 2019.

O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another former first-round pick, Howard has yet to top 600 receiving yards or 35 receptions in a season, even while tight ends are breaking receiving records across the NFL. Dive deeper into the numbers, however, and Howard looks primed for a huge season with an uptick in opportunity. His overall PFF grade last season was 89.4, higher than any other tight end outside of San Francisco standout George Kittle. And on a yards per route basis, he was third behind only Kittle and Kansas City star Travis Kelce. His average depth of target was 11.3 yards downfield, a top-five mark in the league, and now the vertical threat he brings is being linked up with new Bucs coach Bruce Arians and an offense that lives down the field.

Jon Halapio, C, New York Giants: The Giants are revamping their offensive line in a major way, but one of the unsung components of the rebuild is at center, where Halapio could emerge as a foundation piece to the new-look front. He began last year as New York’s starter before going down with an injury after just 116 snaps of action. But in those snaps, he didn’t allow a single pressure, despite almost 50 pass-blocking snaps against the Jaguars and their array of pass-rushing weapons. With vastly improved players beside him, Halapio could prove to be a significant upgrade as a player who isn’t being talked about much heading into 2019.

Why Jameis Winston could win NFL passing title in 2019

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By Pro Football Focus

We think Jameis Winston will challenge for the passing yardage title in 2019. Last year he trailed only Josh Allen in average depth of target. These throws put Winston in a position to do great things at times (he was second among quarterbacks in the percentage of throws we grade as “positive”), as well as bad things (he was 21st in limiting negatively-graded throws). New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has a track record of succeeding with high-variance quarterbacks like Winston.  In 2015 Carson Palmer had an MVP-caliber season under Arians, posting roughly the same average depth of target as Winston in 2018 and leading the league in percentage of positively-graded throws.  With Mike EvansChris Godwin and O.J. Howard a very capable trio of pass catchers, look for Winston to either make good on his 2015 draft position or give the Bucs no other option but to find his replacement the following year.