Nick Foles, Eagles' Receivers Finally Develop ‘big Left Hook'

Nick Foles went into Sunday's game against the Vikings having completed one pass of 40 yards or more in his last 361 pass attempts over three seasons for three different teams.

The Vikings went into the game having allowed only five 40-yard completions all year.

So naturally, Foles became the first quarterback since Joe Flacco against the Colts in 2013 to hit three 40-yard pass plays in a postseason game.

One of the biggest reasons the Eagles reached Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis is Foles' ability to beat the Vikings deep. Something no other quarterback had done this year.

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"Those are game-changers in the sense of momentum change," Foles said. "Any big explosive play just ignites the sideline, ignites the fan base, ignites everyone. So anytime you can get that, that's huge. 

"Methodically driving 80 down the field yards is great too, but anytime you get an explosive play like that, it's really big. We haven't had many of those the last couple weeks just because of the defenses we've played, and a lot of it was underneath, but it was great to get some over the top."

In the span of 13 ½ minutes over the second and third quarters Sunday, Foles threw a 53-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery, a 36-yarder to Zach Ertz to set up a field goal just before halftime, a 41-yard TD on a flea flicker to Torrey Smith and a 42-yarder to Nelson Agholor to set up another touchdown.

In those 13 ½ minutes, the Eagles turned a 14-7 lead over the Vikings into a 38-7 lead.

And that was that.

Then it was just a matter of booking flights to Minneapolis.

"Everybody knows that Nick is a good deep ball thrower," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "He can make all the throws, but he's a very good deep ball thrower. 

"We said it right from the very start. He's not afraid to throw it. He wants to throw it. But what he's demonstrated in the last few games is that, hey, we can dink and dunk, we can throw it deep, take your shots."

When you think about it, it's not surprising that until Sunday's NFC Championship Game, Foles didn't have a completion longer than 32 yards since replacing Carson Wentz and didn't have a completion to a wide receiver longer than 25 yards.

He missed all of training camp, thanks to an elbow injury. He didn't play in the preseason. He had never played a meaningful snap with Jeffery, Agholor and Smith. And he never got reps with the first offense until after Wentz got hurt.

Deep balls take the most timing and chemistry, so it makes sense that they were the last thing to materialize for Foles, now six games into his stint leading the Eagles.

"The fact that he's had a chance to work with our guys now for the past month, there's a lot more confidence there," Doug Pederson said. 

"They're on the same page. The run game obviously helps. Some of the play-action stuff we've done helps him. Listen, that's who Nick is. Just having time now with the offense has been able to open up some of those opportunities down the field."

Why is this so important?

Big plays win games. It's no coincidence that 24 of the Eagles' 31 offensive points Sunday night came on drives that included a deep ball.

"Again, it's the analogy we've used of boxing," Reich said. "It's jab, jab, jab, then throw the big left hook. And it's how do you know when to throw that? When do you have him set up? When you have the right play call. When coach is aggressive here."

The 53-yarder to Jeffery couldn't have happened a month ago. 

It was a classic scramble drill, with the offensive line giving Foles time after the play broke down and Jeffery just finding an opening in the defense.

This was a play that doesn't exist in any playbook. It was just the product of chemistry developed over the past few weeks.

"That was just Foles standing in the pocket and Alshon being a football player and knowing that no one was back there," Smith said.

"That was huge by them and that was a key play for us. But Nick has been on fire the past few weeks throwing the ball deep in practice, so it was no surprise."

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