Doug Pederson has spent much of the past week trying to convince his Eagles team that they can still win without their MVP quarterback.
On Sunday he’ll attempt to put that theory into practice.
The Eagles will play their first game since Carson Wentz tore his ACL a week ago, replacing him with Nick Foles against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. A win will clinch a bye in the playoffs for the Eagles (they get the first seed if the Vikings lose as well), but more than that it will bolster their championship dreams which were shaken by the Wentz injury. A loss to the lowly Giants? You’ll be able to feel the collective shudder in Philadelphia all the way in the Meadowlands.
“Part of my messaging to the team is that it’s just one man,” said Pederson, the second-year head coach. “One man can definitely make a difference on your football team, but the fact is we’re still a team, and as a group of men we’re playing well as a team. That’s what we can’t lose sight of.”
It’s easy to do that with Foles playing. He has 36 career starts, including 24 with the Eagles during his first stint with the team from 2012-14.
“Part of the conversations we had in the offseason before OTAs was making sure that we had a veteran guy (at backup quarterback),” said Pederson, who spent most of his own playing career in that role. “I just think it’s important in today’s game that your starter, whether it’s due to injury or whatever, may not make the whole season, may not make the 16-game schedule, and you need that competent backup guy who has at least played some games.”
Foles is not the MVP candidate Wentz was, but the Giants still believe he is a dangerous quarterback on a well-balanced team. That’s why their gameplan against the Eagles for Sunday will be relatively unchanged despite Philly’s obvious difference at the most important position on the field.
Interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo said that the throw Foles made against the Rams after coming off the bench to seal the win against the Rams last week showed him that Foles can make the same kinds of plays that Wentz did.
“That was perfect,” Spagnuolo said of the pass. “He obviously does a really good job getting ready to play a football game because they didn’t skip a beat when he went in there. Didn’t look like they were limited with any checks or anything, so they’ve done a good job down there coaching them and he’s obviously a pro at what he does.”
“I was there for two years with him, so I know what he can do,” said Giants CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a former teammate of Foles’ with the Eagles. “I know he’s a good quarterback . . . He can get that ball down the field. He gets it out fast, he’s got a big arm, he can make all of the throws and you still have that running game behind him, so it’s going to be tough.”
Spagnuolo conceded that Foles lacks some of the mobility Wentz has — he called Wentz “Houdini” the way he gets out of trouble in the pocket — but believes that the Eagles’ gameplan will not change much.
“The system that Doug [Pederson] runs down there is taxing on you defensively from a standpoint of you have to stop the run so everybody gets heavy on their toes, and yet they’ve got a really good play action pass game,” Spagnuolo said. “I don’t think it’s going to change all that much for us because you’ve got to stop that run game. It really didn’t matter who was handing it off.”
It probably matters more to the Eagles than the Giants. If Foles plays well on Sunday, though, it will matter even less.