- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2013

It all began so badly for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.

The first drive of his professional career, as a fill-in last Nov. 28 at FedEx Field against the Redskins, ended with an interception. His second was another interception thrown into double coverage.

It was all part of an ugly 31-6 loss. Foles played better in a Dec. 23 loss to Washington, though still looked the part of an overwhelmed rookie. But the quarterback the Redskins saw then and the one they will see this weekend in Philadelphia no longer resemble each other.

“My first start against the Redskins there, it was a rough game for sure,” Foles said. “They brought a lot at me, just being a rookie and being in that situation I didn’t execute like I wanted to. But you’re going to have games like that in your career that you can’t let it defeat you.”

Foles, again taking over for an injured Michael Vick (hamstring), has started four of the last five games for the 5-5 Eagles. (He missed the Oct. 27 contest against the New York Giants with a concussion.) His numbers have been staggering. Foles has 13 touchdown passes during that stretch without an interception. His quarterback rating overall is 132.5 and he has 16 touchdown passes total.

“[Foles] hasn’t turned the football over, he’s made plays in the passing game, he’s gone through his progressions well, he’s hit some deep passes,” Washington linebacker London Fletcher said. “With Vick, obviously, the run threat is a little bit more. But Foles is playing really good football. That’s something where you got to be on top of your game as a defense.”

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While he didn’t beat Vick for the starting spot in training camp this season, Foles has clearly made strides. A third-round pick out of Arizona, he became the first player in NFL history to post passer ratings of 149 or higher in consecutive games by topping that mark the last two weeks. He has completed 63.2 percent of his pass attempts.

“[Foles is] a guy that’s capitalized off having a good running game,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “A lot of focus on LeSean McCoy and the running game and that’s allowed him to hit some big plays in the passing game.”

Indeed, McCoy’s presence has allowed Foles to make plays downfield to wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper. Jackson caught a 55-yard touchdown pass against Green Bay last week. Cooper caught a 45-yard touchdown and then a 32-yarder.

But the first two of those passes was into double coverage. Jackson caught a ball that was tipped and almost intercepted. Cooper made a quick adjustment on an underthrown ball near the goal line as two Packers defenders had their backs turned.

It was a big play, but the Redskins are going to force Foles to make more this weekend. They key is stopping McCoy first — he had 184 rushing yards against Washington in Week 1 — and then getting pressure on Foles. The Redskins sacked him four times in that debut performance last season. That’s still easier said than done. Foles, while no Vick, still had 38 rushing yards against Green Bay.

“[The Eagles have] two tackles that are outstanding, playing exceptional football right now, as well as their center and their guards,” Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. “You can see they’re pretty cohesive. That gives them an opportunity to focus downfield. But I don’t want to take anything away from [Foles] because he’s made some great decisions and he’s playing well.”

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Foles tied an NFL record against Oakland Nov. 3 with seven touchdown passes in a game. Only six other players, including Peyton Manning, had ever done so. In that contest Foles had a 63-yarder to Cooper and 46-yarder to Jackson. Foles has done all this after sustaining a concussion in a Oct. 20 loss to Dallas.

After beginning his college career at Michigan State, where he competed with current Redskins backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, Foles transferred to Arizona, where he became a three-year starter. He had 10,068 passing yards in his college career and 67 touchdown passes.

“[Foles] had to switch systems from Andy Reid to Chip Kelly, but I think just being in your second year in the NFL, you understand defenses better,” Cousins said. “No matter what your system is, you understand what defenses are trying to do, coverages. Playing within the division, you’re a little more familiar with those teams and their rosters, so you’re going to have a lot of growth from year one to year two. That’s certainly reflective in how he’s played.”

• Brian McNally can be reached at bmcnally@washingtontimes.com.

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