What if Foles Played the Other Football?

Nick Foles is the back-up quarterback for the American football team the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s a great quarterback, winning the MVP award for the previous Super Bowl, and a decent athlete with a history in basketball and in American football. I’m sure if he really tried and learned the other football, he would be able to put in a decent shift as a center midfielder or slot into a back-line. This article isn’t about him as an athlete and seeing if he could make it in a different sport, this article addresses a unique problem the Eagles have with two great quarterbacks and how the fluidity of football would offer a solution American football may not be able to, unless changes in the sports the rigid play style is made.

You may not know who Nick Foles is, but now you know that he is a great quarterback. Someone who came in late last season to replace the injured starting quarterback Carson Wentz. And by “replace” I mean Nick Foles would start in Carson Wentz’s place during Wentz’s injury. This was Carson Wentz’s team, undisputed. And Nick Foles was fine with that, even as he more than proved himself by taking the Eagles through the playoffs and defeating one of the most successful teams of all-time, the New England Patriots. Nick Foles is a man with ice in his veins. Under pressure, he never cracks. He may struggle, but in the end he does not break. Remember how I said he came in during the end of last season and the playoffs, and won the Super Bowl in spectacular fashion? Late into this season he has come in for the injured Carson Wentz, where the Eagles had to win their remaining games in order to make the playoffs, and has begun a playoff run by beating the best defense in the league (and arguably one of the best defenses NFL fans have ever seen) last Sunday in a thrilling 16-15 win over the Chicago Bears. A run into the Super Bowl again with this Eagles team is unlikely, but I am not in the business of making prediction for sports games, that is a dreadful business.

Despite this, Eagles fans, pundits, and the overall culture around the team agree: this is Carson Wentz’s team. The only question is if this Nick Foles-led Eagles pulls off an improbable run and defends the Super Bowl, should the Eagles keep Nick Foles and trade Wentz, or force the coach to make sure they have shared playtime (and do the players even want that?). Unless the Eagles go on and win the Super Bowl, the general consensus is that Nick Foles will be leaving the Eagles, so he can truly lead his own offense. But what if he wasn’t on an American football team, and instead played the other football? As in, how does our football deal with two great players at one position?

Think about Manchester United, my beloved club (that is finally exciting to watch for the first time in years). We have a plethora of talented forwards. Martial, Lukaku, Rashford, as well as sometimes Lingard and Sanchez. For some reason, Premier League sides are allergic to playing with two strikers. This means that when on-form, Lukaku takes that center-forward position. Leaving talents like Rashford and Martial on the bench, unless of course, Martial and Rashford play a different position to get playtime. Although there have been some growing pains, using their great dribbling abilities and speed, both Martial and Rashford have found success on the left-wing. Think about your recent Football Manager save or game of FIFA 19. If a player has the attributes for a position, it doesn’t matter what their natural position is, they can do a shift in that new position, maybe even adapting to make it their own.

 

There are examples of position changes and dynamic players in American football. Even on the Eagles this season, with a few corner-backs and safeties (defenders that cover passes from getting to receivers or stop runners that break through the offensive line) being from different positions but thriving. At one point this season the Eagles were struggling with injuries and had wide receivers practicing as safeties. The physique needed to play that position is similar, but the mindset may not be there and takes one adapting (although it could be argued if you play offense for a position and switch to defending that position, you have an idea of what an attacker may do). This is very common in high school and sometimes college American football, but very rare in the NFL. In the NFL, you play in your specialized position. There are no farm leagues like in baseball, there is no relegation and promotion like in football. In the NFL, you are the best of the best of a giant player pool. To be the best of the best in one position, you need to be a specialist in that position.

Nick Foles isn’t very mobile, and Carson Wentz isn’t going to be running up and down the field. But imagine if an NFL team came out with two quarterbacks and planned for this by having very athletic and dynamic quarterbacks. The Baltimore Ravens did this with relative success back in 2009 with Troy Smith and Joe Flacco, where one would line up as a wide receiver. With two quarterbacks in the backfield. You don’t know who the ball will be snapped to. That alone, if each quarterback line up on different sides, can completely change where the defense rushes and where the offensive line protects. That is massive, that little bit of an angle changes everything. With unpredictability, it forces the defense to guess where the ball is being snapped to. And to effectively defend against where you guessed the ball is being snapped to, the entire defense must be on the same page. How can that be communicated between the defense? Plus, two quarterbacks mean that if one is under pressure, the other can move in the backfield for a lateral of backwards toss, and then make their own pass down the field (or run if they are mobile and have space). There are trick plays where a running back acts as quarterback for a second, and there was the “Philly Special” play in the Super Bowl where Nick Foles caught a touchdown pass. But those are trick plays are rare but can be incredibly effective because of the unpredictability. Imagine if most plays in a game were unpredictable for a defense? The only other issues I can think is that two quarterbacks mean one less blocker or running back. If there is no running back, your unpredictable play becomes predictable, you are clearly going to pass. Unless of course, you have a player like Michael Vick, a quarterback known for his ability to run. He became angry when a coach insisted playing him as a running back, maybe to be unpredictable, but he was concerned about injury to himself. (Michael Vick was also convicted for dog-fighting, so he is a terrible person despite his talent and uniqueness to the game of American football). If you have a running back and two quarterbacks, you need at least one of those three players needs to be blocking, and even the other quarterback with the two quarterbacks out there may need to do blocking.

Quarterbacks are generally not built for blocking. For this all to work, you will need to very mobile quarterbacks, both with running abilities, decent hands to catch, a great chemistry, and at least one quarterback with physique like a tight end or running back to make blocks. There are players like this in college American football that can play all over the field, and very agile quarterbacks. However, these running quarterbacks find little to no success in the NFL. As of today, it is a “pocket passer’s” game in the NFL. Because with these agile college quarterbacks, there is a worry that they become a jack of all trades, and a master of none. Quarterbacks rarely rotate, even if they should be rested before a clinched playoff game, because rhythm and team leadership is important. Those are two things that maybe American football then should not change, and our football maybe should change. Right backs are no longer simply defense and support going forward, they are expected to run the most, play defense and hold the offsides line, and have dribbling and crossing ability of a right winger. Forwards are expected to drop back and create plays as well as finish them. Wingers are expected to be inverted and score more goals. Center backs are expected to start plays and pass out of the back instead of just clearing it. While we are seeing extremely great talents and moments of play in football, we are also seeing a possession-based game that can be largely wasteful and can lead to mistakes when the defense attempting to pass out is put under pressure. For many traditional “specialists” in their position, asking them to change to fit the style of the modern game is like fitting a round hole in a square peg. Look at Brazil. Because of the emphasis on wide-forwards, Brazil has not had a good center forward to carry them through a World Cup in years. A country where soccer is everything is failing to produce a specialist in the most popular position youth play at, center forward. There is also the issue of leadership. A quarterback is the undisputed leader of their team, which is why sharing and rotating has never worked in the NFL. With football players currently acting as mercenaries because of the massive amounts of money in football, there is little loyalty and leadership often. Attitudes among many young players are atrocious. And with the frequency of managerial changes, footballers lack leaders. The only upside could be that some players will see this leadership vacuum and become great leaders themselves.

Football is a changing game, that could revert to a more traditional “specialist” role for players and find relative success (like many would argue Leicester did in 2015/2016). Football needs leadership. NFL teams, according to my proposal here, could change to be more dynamic and find a way to have two quarterbacks playing at once. But since there aren’t American football academies and national youth set-ups like in football, this change would have to start from college American football and transition into the NFL, which rarely seems to happen. All I can say, is that Nick Foles wants to play more, in our football he could adapt to a new position.

 

 


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