Can Sanchez Keep the Eagles Flying?

Through the first half of the NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles were one of the best teams in the league. After eight games, the Eagles find themselves atop the NFC East with a record of 6-2 and legitimate hopes of making a playoff run. Their high-powered offense, orchestrated by Chip Kelly, is largely responsible for their hot start: Philadelphia’s fast-paced offense, which runs the 2nd-most plays per game in the NFL, ranks 4th in points per game (29.2), yards per game (409.2), and first downs per game (23). Nick Foles has carried the workload for the Eagles’ offense, as he ranks 3rd in pass attempts per game (38.9). However, Foles suffered a broken collarbone this past Sunday and is expected to miss anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks. In steps Mark Sanchez – yes, the same Mark Sanchez that we last saw sliding into his own o’lineman’s butt. Sanchez came in mid game last Sunday and actually performed fairly well, going 15-22 for 202 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions with one of those interceptions taking an unlucky bounce off an Eagles receiver. With eight games left on Philadelphia’s regular season schedule, the question is how much trouble the Eagles are in with the man formerly known as The Sanchize at quarterback.

The Eagles’ offense this season has been extremely pass-oriented considering Foles’ volume of attempts. Despite throwing the ball more per game than any quarterback not named Drew Brees or Andrew Luck, Foles’ numbers have been rather mediocre. He ranks 10th in the league in passing yards with 2,163, which is only 149 more yards than Brian Hoyer (and who knows whom Hoyer is throwing the ball to). Foles is 27th in completion percentage with a mark of 60.1% – rookie quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Blake Bortles ALL have better marks over the course of the season. He ranks 14th in touchdown passes with 13 tosses going for scores – Austin Davis of the St. Louis Rams has 11 touchdown passes. Nick Foles is tied for the second most interceptions in the NFL with 10. Who is he tied with? The turnover machine himself, Geno Smith. And the list goes on. Foles’ quarterback rating is a disappointing 81.5, which is the 7th worst in the NFL. Needless to say, Foles is not having a great year, and has taken a substantial step backwards from last season.

Despite all those struggles, Foles was still able to lead the Eagles to a 6-2 start. Philadelphia wont need Sanchez to be perfect by any means; they will just need him to not be the train wreck he was in 2012 with the Jets. The visuals below take a glance at the first eight games this season for Foles vs Sanchez’s season in 2012:

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A short explanation: win probability added (WPA) is the difference between a team’s win probability at the start of a play and the win probability at the end of the play. An individual player’s WPA is the sum of the WPA of the plays in which that player was directly involved. Expected points added (EPA) is the difference between expected points at the start of a play and the expected points at the end of the play. An individual player’s EPA is a sum of the EPA of the plays in which that player was directly involved. Mark Sanchez ranked near the bottom of the league in both categories, which is not too surprising, considering his supporting cast that season included Santonio Holmes (who only played 4 games), rookie bust Stephen Hill, tight end Dustin Keller (who missed half the season) and his leading receiver Jeremy Kerley. His numbers weren’t too much worse than Foles’, however, and it is hard to believe that Sanchez will encounter the same troubles this year with weapons like Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Riley Cooper, and Zac Ertz, alongside one of the league’s best offensive lines when healthy. The Eagles’ remaing schedule is also in Sanchez’s favor, as of the remaining seven opponents Philadelphia is set to face, four rank 15th, 16th, 17th, and 28th in passing yards allowed per game. Furthermore, five of those team’s defenses rank 21st, 22nd, 25th, 26th, and 31st in opponent completion % per game.

Do not expect Sanchez to step in and light up the NFL. That being said, do not view the injury to Foles as a death blow to the Eagles. Before the injury, the Eagles ran the ball with their running backs only 3 times this past Sunday. Through the next 3 quarters with Sanchez at quarterback, the Eagles ran the ball with their running backs 32 times, including a drive that consisted of four running plays and zero passes, and went 70 yards and a touchdown. As of right now, the Eagles rank 16th in team rushing yards percentage with 30.4% of their offense coming from the rushing game. Expect that ranking to dramatically increase over the next several weeks. So, no need to panic, Philadelphia. Mark Sanchez – yes, Mark Sanchez – with the help of his running back committee of McCoy and Sproles, will keep the Eagles flying high.

by Sean Fener, Saint Joseph’s University