Watching the Eagles from the Monday Night Football pregame set, ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck became a big Carson Wentz fan. Even after Wentz was injured and Nick Foles stepped in as the starter, Hasselbeck said he's "not off the bandwagon" yet when it comes to the Eagles.
"Clearly, Nick Foles is not the same style of player as Carson Wentz," said Hasselbeck, who spent one year as Doug Pederson's teammate in Green Bay. "But I do believe you can win with Nick Foles. I think Nick Foles can be successful. I know Andy Reid feels that way. I know Doug Pederson feels that way. I know everybody is jumping off the ship and freaking out a little bit because of the Monday night game [against the Raiders], but I've seen every quarterback have a game like that this year – Tom Brady vs. Miami on Monday Night Football, Case Keenum at Pittsburgh. I don't think it's time to freak out quite yet."
Hasselbeck's career as a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback was bookended by stints as Brett Favre's backup in Green Bay and Andrew Luck's backup in Indianapolis. His objective as backup was that nothing would change for his teammates when he entered the game. He said there's an art to being a good backup quarterback, but it changes once the backup gets a promotion. So the Eagles can tailor the game plan to what Foles does best.
"I know Doug, I know Frank [Reich], those guys played the position," Hasselbeck said during a phone interview Friday. "They fully understand that."
Hasselbeck admitted that parts of what Wentz did can't be replicated with Foles. The mobility and the escapability are most apparent. That has affected the Eagles during the last two weeks, when they became allergic to third-down conversions. Hasselbeck said the Eagles need to play like the New England Patriots or Atlanta Falcons when it comes to pass protection because Foles won't elude an unblocked defender like Wentz does.
"That, to me, isn't a deal-breaker," Hasselbeck said. "What's a deal-breaker is when you're leaving the ball inside on an out route…or you have a wide receiver that's open enough, you have to be consistent getting the guy the ball. That's going to be the biggest challenge with Nick Foles. He hasn't had the reps with Zach Ertz or Alshon [Jeffery], or whoever the guy might be. He's got to be automatic. And he's got to be automatic in bad weather."
Foles' last two games have come during a bitter winter chill. The temperatures might be milder when the Eagles host their playoff game on Jan. 13, but it will still be January in Philadelphia. That affects quarterbacks. Foles insisted it hasn't been the problem during the last two weeks and he has played in the cold before, but he still must show he can thrive in those conditions.
When Hasselbeck attended Boston College, he wasn't invited to the scouting combine. Only one coach went to scout him at his pro day: Andy Reid, who was an assistant with the Green Bay Packers at the time. There was a blizzard in Boston and no indoor facility. Reid asked Hasselbeck if he wanted to go outside to throw. Hasselbeck obliged – and that was the test. It was all Reid wanted to know of Hasselbeck, gauging the quarterback's willingness to combat the elements.
Hasselbeck pointed this out as a way of suggesting that when Reid drafted Foles, he similarly vetted the quarterback. But having the mind-set to play in the cold is different from thriving in those conditions.
"Having played in Philly many times, in college and in the NFL … you need to have a tight spiral," Hasselbeck said. "And you either have that or you don't."
Hasselbeck knows there's concern in Philadelphia. He still believes in the Eagles, although he favors the Vikings in the NFC. Even though they have been struck by injuries, they haven't lost as many key players as the Eagles. He wonders if at some point, there's too much to overcome.
Foles has an elimination game in two weeks to show whether the Eagles can overcome Wentz's injury.