It's a story whenever a new face appears behind center in the NFL. Quarterbacks are the lifeblood of any organization, and the league as a whole is in constant search for more. On Sunday, the Eagles and Texans may have uncovered two such players.
A year ago, Case Keenum entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with few offers. Keenum was the latest spread offense success story in the college ranks, producing FCS record-breaking career numbers. However, his modest combine performance combined with an undersized stature left teams unconvinced of his ability to reproduce his success on the professional level. A year-long stint on the practice squad later, Keenum has supplanted T.J. Yates and a recovering Matt Schaub on the depth chart for an underwhelming Texans team looking for a shot in the arm.
In his second start, Keenum provided just that. His stat line includes 350 yards, three touchdowns, and most impressive of all, 10.3 yards per pass attempt. Keenum also displayed some Tony Romo-esque footwork, escaping the pocket when protection broke down and extending the play long enough to find an open receiver. A quick release allows Keenum to execute split-second decisions even when he's on the move. While the Texans were ultimately derailed by their defense (and a halftime health scare for head coach Gary Kubiak), Keenum appeared capable of doing what their other quarterbacks can't: make big plays.
More impressive still was the stat line put up by Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. The second-year passer threw for an NFL record-tying seven touchdowns. That's the same amount that the Jacksonville Jaguars have produced all season. As if that wasn't remarkable enough, Foles threw only six incompletions on the day. Oh, and before you lift your jaw off the ground, he did this in only three quarters of football. Foles' passer rating for the afternoon was a perfect 158.3.
But before either gets a bust in Canton, it's worth dissecting their flaws. While Keenum was extremely productive Sunday night, it largely came from one place. A whopping 65.4% of Keenum's passing yards and 100% of his touchdowns went through Andre Johnson. Keenum often declined to progress through his other reads in favor of staring down Johnson, a behavior that rarely goes unpunished in the NFL. After the Colts' defense adjusted at halftime, Keenum only connected with Johnson two more times. By consequence, his accuracy dips precipitously in the second half, finishing at 58.8% for the night. Future opponents are sure to notice this in their film study, and unless Keenum learns to progress through his reads and spread the ball around, he won't match the success of this second start.
While Nick Foles' performance is considerable harder to criticize, it has to be put in context. This is the same quarterback that two weeks earlier completed fewer than 40% of his passes and averaged just 2.76 yards per pass attempt. While Foles is certainly a better player than those numbers indicate, he's also unlikely to truly be the passing savant he performed like against the Raiders. What the Eagles need him to be is an above-average passer who can continue to develop over the remainder of the year. If he can accomplish that, he'll have a full offseason with the first string and a season to earn a starter's contract.
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