What to Watch for in Philadelphia Eagles' QB Battle This Week

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 14, 2013

Jun 4, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) and quarterback Michael Vick (7) pass the ball during minicamp at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The starting quarterback race being run by Michael Vick and Nick Foles certainly isn't a sprint, but marathons are 26.2 miles and you'd have to believe they're beyond the 20-mile mark by now.

At the risk of mixing the metaphor and doubling down on clichés, let's conclude that it's the home stretch. Head coach Chip Kelly told CSNPhilly.com's Geoff Mosher that it might take the entire preseason to determine a winner, but that means only three appearances each over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

Let's face it, not a lot is usually left up in the air for that preseason finale.

The Philadelphia Eagles will likely have a good feel for who their starting quarterback is when they leave Jacksonville next Saturday. In the meantime, they'll take on the Carolina Panthers Thursday night, with Foles getting the start.

Vick and Foles looked solid in the preseason opener against the New England Patriots, and according to Sheil Kapadia of phillymag.com, Kelly came away impressed with both.

Their workloads are expected to increase Thursday, though, so here are the key factors to keep an eye on when Carolina comes to town.


Turnovers Are Deadly

In late July, Zach Rogers of ESPN Stats & Information detailed how much Kelly despises interceptions and turnovers in general.

Vick had a turnover-free effort against New England.

Foles fumbled while facing intense pressure. That was mainly the fault of his pass protectors, but a fumble is still a fumble and it's a big reason why I believe Vick has a small edge in the competition right now. 

A few incomplete passes and even some three-and-outs can be tolerated for now, but if either quarterback turns the ball over more than once, this competition will pretty much be over.

The only way that changes is if both screw the pooch multiple times, in which case Eagles fans become depressed and Matt Barkley and Dennis Dixon join the battle. 


Who Can Make More Big Plays?

Of course, Kelly isn't just looking for a caretaker. Mistake-free football is ideal, but the Eagles also want to see someone go above and beyond. 

Vick and Foles took a combined 21 snaps in the preseason opener, but on only one of those plays did either throw a pass that traveled 20-plus yards. That resulted in a 47-yard touchdown from Vick to DeSean Jackson

Foles didn't go deep quite as often as Vick last year, but he was just as accurate on deep balls. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), both finished with four touchdowns and two interceptions on 20-plus-yard passes. 

Still, under Andy Reid, the Eagles were obviously a little more cautious with their rookie than they were with Vick under center.

Now, Kelly likely expects Foles to be able to make the same throws Vick can. He's not being given any strokes. 

Kelly's offense at Oregon wasn't really built on big plays, but he has to be smart enough to know that stretching the field is a necessity at the NFL level. Watch for both Vick and Foles to take some more shots downfield against the Panthers.


Handling the Tempo Is Key

For whatever reason, the Eagles weren't operating at a particularly high pace when Vick started things off last week, but with Foles in the game, the tempo picked up.

It'll be interesting to see if the opposite happens, with the order reversing this time around. Kelly certainly needs to get a feel for how both quarterbacks can run his no-huddle offense, so expect to see more of that Thursday nightespecially for Vick.

According to PFF, Foles was getting rid of the ball faster on Friday too. That has to be important in an offense that is designed to work as efficiently as this one, especially when you consider that Kelly also has a low tolerance for sacks.

Huddle command and pocket presence will be extremely important items on the menu Thursday at Lincoln Financial Field.


Can Foles Run the Read-Option?

Foles did a good job Friday night running packaged plays out of stacked pistol formations. And on a more traditional play in the second quarter, he took off for 10 yards on a scramble.

He might not possess half of Vick's speed, but it looks as though he has the ability to do the types of things Kelly requires of his quarterbacks.

We already know that Kelly doesn't necessarily require a speedy quarterback, so Foles just has to keep proving that he can handle all of those zone-read concepts.


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