Falcons' scheme plays into Nick Foles' favor


Nick Foles has never gone up against the Falcons or head coach Dan Quinn’s defense, but the Eagles' signal-caller has his share of experience — and success — against their Cover-3 scheme.

The Seahawks famously employ Cover-3 as their base defense under coach Pete Carroll, though its use has spread across the NFL as Carroll’s disciples have branched out. Gus Bradley took it to Jacksonville for four seasons until his firing in 2016 and has since moved on to a defensive coordinator position with the Chargers, while Quinn has used the system in Atlanta for the past three years. It refers to a zone scheme in which three defensive backs are each responsible for covering one-third of the field.

While Foles has yet to face Quinn’s particular brand of the scheme, the sixth-year veteran has been around long enough to have seen his share of it. And wouldn’t you know it, Foles is undefeated against teams that primarily run Cover-3, with some quality numbers, too.

In Week 1 of the 2014 season with the Eagles, Foles completed 27 of 45 passes (60.0%) for 322 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in a 34-17 win over the Jaguars.

In Week 1 of the 2015 season with the Rams, Foles completed 18 of 27 passes (66.7%) for 297 yards with one touchdown in a 34-31 win over the Seahawks.

And in Week 9 of the '16 season with the Chiefs, Foles completed 20 of 33 passes (60.6%) for 223 yards with two touchdowns in a 19-14 win over the Jags.

Altogether, Foles has 61.9 completion percentage, averages 8.0 yards per pass attempt and has thrown five touchdowns to only one interception against Cover-3 defenses — good for a 98.9 passer rating. He's done it with three different teams, playing in varying offensive schemes, too, so it doesn't appear to be a product of his situation. And though two of those wins were at the hands of a Jaguars franchise that posted a 14-48 record under Bradley, an impressive performance against the Seahawks suggests Foles' successes were no fluke.

Which doesn't necessarily rule out coincidence as an explanation, either. Three games is a small sample size. Furthermore, while not typically used as a base defense, Cover-3 is one of the most prevalent packages in the league — it was the second-most common coverage seen in '16, according to Pro Football Focus. Foles has surely faltered in the face of a Cover-3 look at some point.

But there's still something to be said for how Foles has fared historically against defenses that play Cover-3 roughly 50 percent of the time. The track record is positive, and that should give Eagles fans some hope on Saturday against a Falcons defense that's held four of its last six opponents to 17 points or less.

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