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Foles' winter magic could lead Eagles to promised land in 2019

By Josh Liddick, Sports Talk Philly contributor

Like peanut butter and jelly or bacon, lettuce and tomato, there are two things in Philadelphia that go equally as well together: Nick Foles and the cold, bleak midwinter.

Foles, dubbed Saint Nick by much of the city for his unbelievable productivity during the months of December and January, is about to embark on a playoff journey for the second season in a row. The 2017 season saw Foles complete one of the most improbable stretches of games in NFL history and lead the team to their first Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. To think that he has the capability to do the same exact thing one year later is literally unthinkable.

Going through an injury during the playoffs is a whole other animal, which Foles will attempt to conquer this upcoming weekend.

There are obviously some major factors that will determine whether the Eagles can win yet another Super Bowl as the ultimate underdogs, but there is no question that Foles has what it takes to lead the Birds to the promised land in 2018, given all the obstacles in his way.

But hey, what can’t he overcome, am I right?

Nick Foles must trust his receivers

In order for Nick Foles’ motor to run this postseason, he must be able to trust his receivers to make plays.

Carson Wentz has went through a lot of heat this past season for not going outside of his comfort zone and throw to other targets besides Zach Ertz. In order for this machine to work again, especially against a defense like the Chicago Bears, all of the different parts must move and do the things they are supposed to do.

This year has been a weird one for receivers whose name isn't Zach Ertz and although both Wentz and Foles had targets in Alshon Jeffery and Golden Tate, among others, they haven't been utilized nearly as much as people would like to see.

Since acquiring Tate heading into Week 10, his productivity has hit a bit of a gap and it's been difficult to see why, considering what the team gave up hoping that his productivity with the Lions would carry over in his new uniform.

In eight games with the Eagles, Tate has 30 receptions for 278 yards and a touchdown, while being targeted just 44 times. He's fumbled the ball twice and has a catch percentage of just 68.2 percent in those eight games with his new club. Tate already has his lowest catching yardage number since the 2011 season, just his second year in the league with the Seahawks. He made 74 catches for 795 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games played between both teams this season.

I know for a fact that the Eagles didn't deal a third-round draft pick to Detroit to get that kind of production out of that wide receiver. It will be interesting to see how Tate gets reps in the playoffs starting with Chicago on Sunday.

Tate isn't the only former NFC North standout receiver to struggle more than usual this season, as Alshon Jeffery hasn't exactly lived up to the four-year, $27 million extension given to him last season.

However, Jeffery's production has skyrocketed in the last three weeks, especially since Foles took over as the quarterback, which is the whole point of this article. Like I mentioned before, Foles needs to trust his targets again if he wants to have success on Sunday and perhaps moving further into the postseason. Jeffery started the year off in Week 4 with eight receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown, but he's had steady weeks here and there for quite some time after. Weeks 8 through 14 really saw Jeffery hit a kind of lull that put him away softly among the Eagles' other targets.

In six games, Jeffery had just 24 receptions for 236 yards, averaging 9.83 yards per reception with just one touchdown. Among those 24 grabs were 35 targets, and it was obvious that he wasn't part of the gameplan for getting the ball spread outward during that time period.

In his last three games, Jeffery has become the player that he was re-signed to be grabbing 16 balls on 18 targets with 301 yards and a touchdown, averaging 18.81 yards per completion. He also has a catch percentage of 88.9 percent, by far the best percentage of any eligible receiver on the team during that stretch.

Aside from Tate, Jeffery and Ertz, Foles has additional targets in Jordan Matthews, Dallas Goedert and Nelson Agholor to turn to. The weapons are abundant for the second season in a row, and there's no reason Foles should be left looking for more options to utilitze in his arsenal for the forseeable future.

Nick Foles must trust his O-Line

The Eagles offensive line has the tendency to be very suspect, especially when they start to feel pressure lurking. Besides having receiving help, Nick Foles will need to have consistency within his O-Line in order to be successful heading into the playoffs.

It's no question that Jason Peters is no longer playing like the top offensive lineman in the NFL that he used to be. Getting even just a little bit out of the 36-year-old should be considered a success in anyone's book. Especially if he gets out of a game without getting hurt.

Defenses are only going to get tougher, especially on the road as the Eagles travel from place to place during the playoffs. Peters is currently playing arguably the most important position on the football field aside from QB and has the tall task of not only protecting Nick Foles, but protecting him while nursing an injury.

Peters made the best of his injury and actually played on Sunday against the Redskins, as Foles was sacked three times for 12 yards.

Lane Johnson has struggled this season, after having one of the more dominant seasons in 2017 in recent memory, but he has surely picked up the slack in the last couple weeks, leaving him in pretty good position to block for Foles in the postseason. Johnson really established himself as one of the league's premiere offensive lineman during the Eagles' Super Bowl run just one year ago, and if he can untap just a little bit of what he had last year, Foles and the rest of the offense should be in good hands.

Like Johnson, Jason Kelce is another one of those players that guys just love to be around on the field, especially when he's captaining the way he does. Kelce has experienced injury and inconsistency this season, but he has returned when the Eagles need him the most and at center, he is a crucial part of the team's success this upcoming weekend.

Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seomalu and Halapoulivaati Vaitai all play big roles in whether the Eagles' offensive line can be efficient enough to get their jobs done and will be a turning point to this team's success if they can all collectively get their acts together.

Nick Foles must remember his past

He obviously doesn't want to be self-absorbed or worried about what the Eagles did last year to generate success in the playoffs, but one can't forget what Foles brought to the table in the final two months of the season, as it is the biggest reason why the Eagles actually have a chance in the 2019 playoffs.

In 18 career games between December and January, Foles is 14-7 including two playoff wins during that stretch. He is 357-for-566 with 4,083 yards, 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in just December alone during his career. Add in a January going 72-for-96 with 793 yards and five touchdowns with no picks and you have a very successful one-two month punch. That split between the two months come together with a grand total of 429-for-662 with 4,876 yards and 32 TDs with 10 interceptions. He has a career completion percentage of 63.1 percent during the month of December.

Taking December out of the equation, Foles is 21-15 going 617-for-1,015 with 7,082 yards, 41 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

Foles has had an up-and-down career for multiple teams, but there is no doubting what he brings to teams especially when they need him to contribute the most.

Of course, no one will forget what Foles did for the Eagles in three playoff games last season, including an absolute thrashing of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game and then an all-time performance against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

January has been very kind to St. Nick throughout his career. Let's hope January 6 in the Windy City treats him nicely this time around.




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