Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles doesn’t have to look very far to find somebody who has been in his situation -- filling in for a top quarterback late in the season, on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich was Jim Kelly’s backup in Buffalo. He stepped in when Kelly got injured in the regular-season finale and helped the Bills advance to the Super Bowl in 1993. Reich was at the controls for one of the greatest games in NFL postseason history, guiding his team back from a 35-3 deficit to beat the Houston Oilers in overtime, 41-38, in the wild-card round.
Reich hasn’t dusted off the old tapes for Foles this week -- “I find that those days are gone,” said Reich, now 56 years old and with silver in his hair. But he does have one takeaway from that experience that he wanted to pass along.
“Everybody thought, well, hey, Jim Kelly, no-huddle offense and it was like, now the offense is going to have to change because the franchise quarterback was out and this backup was coming in who didn't have the same skill set,” Reich said. “I remember as the backup going in and talking to our coaches and saying, ‘Don't change anything. This is the offense that I know. This is the offense that I want to run. This is the offense that our players are used to. Let's just keep this thing rolling. We'll get it done. We have the guys in this room to get it done.’ This is our DNA. This is what we've built this upon, so let's just go in there and play ball.
“So that's what I expect from Nick.”
Foles and Reich spoke within minutes of each other Tuesday. It was pretty obvious, when it comes to this philosophy, they’re on the same page.
“I feel comfortable in this offense," Foles said. "I love this offense. We’re going to run this offense. So nothing is going to change.”
That seems a little hard to fathom given Foles has a different skill set, and ability level, than Carson Wentz. Certain plays worked, and many hazards were avoided, because of Wentz’s strength, athleticism and instincts. Try to operate in identical fashion with Foles, and you’re inviting disaster.
Dig deeper, and coach and QB seem to be talking more about a mentality than strict X’s and O’s. There’s a way to run the same system while tailoring it to match the circumstances.
Reich, for instance, noted that while the Bills maintained an up-tempo, aggressive personality, they leaned more on the run when he jumped in for Kelly.
“When I stepped up, I didn't have quite those abilities that [Kelly] had,” he said. “I was confident in them, but it was a little bit more of a mix, a stronger running game during some of those games, but still, same results.”
Chances are the Eagles will follow suit. They have the No. 2 rushing attack in football (143 yards/game). Jay Ajayi has been used conservatively since being acquired from the Miami Dolphins before the trade deadline. He is averaging seven yards per carry since coming over to Philly.
Given Foles is coming in cold, it makes sense to lean on the skill players and defense that has been in the thick of it all season.
One thing Foles has going for him is a healthy bit of seasoning. He’s the author of the 27-touchdown, two-interception season in 2013, helping Chip Kelly to a division title in his first year as head coach. He has 36 regular-season starts and a postseason appearance under his belt. That has the Eagles feeling pretty good despite what the huge loss.
“The good thing with Nick is he's been there, done that. When I had an opportunity to step in and play, I had never done all the things that Nick had done as a starter,” Reich said. “Nick knows he needs to just go be himself. One of the great things, anybody that knows Nick, knows he's very, very comfortable in his own skin, and is very confident in his own abilities and is an excellent quarterback. And he exudes that confidence where the guys on this team see that, they feel that. You just know this guy's been successful. Just look at what he's done.”
Said Foles: “I’m 100 percent confident in myself. I’ve been here before. I’ve played in the league, I’ve played for the Eagles before. There is a reason I came back here: I love this city, I love this team, and I love this organization. ... You never want to see this [injuries] happen, but my job is to go out and lead this team and I’m fully confident in that.”