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NFL Debrief: Nick Foles' mystery trip

The Eagles have a quarterback of the moment, and it might be all they need to win the NFC East. This week's Debrief tries to understand the Eagles, celebrates the gadget player and wonders what might happen to the Falcons.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Reid went to the desert on a scouting trip. He was only in Tucson for Arizona's pro day and maybe a couple rounds of golf. The peyote was just supposed to be a way to blow off steam, but the "Dream Team" debacle never got flushed out of his subconscious. Mescaline finds those things.

Nobody knows how Reid got out into the Sonoran desert on his own. He woke up in the hotel lobby one morning, wearing nothing but a serape. There was a note pinned to the front that just said "Nick Foles" in a handwriting nobody recognized.

Maybe Chip Kelly put it there, in the midst of his own psychedelic exploration of Philadelphia. However it happened doesn't matter. Foles is quarterbacking the Eagles and making things happen.

Foles followed up his seven-touchdown performance last week by throwing three scores in a win over the Wallace/Tolzien Packers. He finished the game 12-for-18 with 228 yards and no interceptions. In fact, he hasn't thrown an interception all year in seven games and 136 passing attempts.

The second-year quarterback isn't throwing the ball anywhere near the volume you'd expect if Andy Reid had somehow figured out how to push the Eagles over the hump while wandering through the desert. But the numbers are there. He's got a total of 16 touchdowns, 1,256 yards, no interceptions and 9.2 yards per attempt.

Don't get too carried away about Foles. Luck was on his side this week. Two of his touchdown passes had an equal chance of being interceptions. He threw into double coverage on his 55-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson. The ball got tipped, and it ended up in the receiver's hands.



Luck's part of the equation. So is planning and coaching. It wasn't that long ago, back-to-back losses to the Giants and Cowboys to end October, that pundits were writing eloquent, 140-character obituaries to Kelly's NFL coaching career. Both of those games featured a heavy dose of Matt Barkley and a little Michael Vick.

It's hard to work around mistake-prone quarterbacks. Foles might not have Andrew Luck's ceiling, but he can at least keep himself from turning over the ball regularly with the right approach and a little luck. It's no coincidence that LeSean McCoy ran the ball 25 times for 155 yards on Sunday, confusing the hell out of Dom Capers and the Packers.

Kelly's Eagles have the distinction of being the most watchable team in the NFC East this year, unless you enjoy watching the Cowboys go through their usual series of self-inflicted wounds. In fact, Philadelphia and Dallas, at 5-5, are tied for the division lead. You don't need mescaline to think that Foles' best game of the season might still be ahead of him with the Cowboys secondary on the calendar for Week 17.

Rams unwrap Tavon Austin

It's been a tough season for gadget players. Randall Cobb is on temporary injured reserve list. Percy Harvin has yet to take a snap with the Seahawks.

Austin's punt return

The little guy from West Virginia with lots of cousins he'd never heard of until April was supposed to be the new face of offensive weapons. But it's not his fault the St. Louis Rams traded up to draft him with the eighth pick. It's not his fault that his offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, had a secret plan based on one end-around per game, a few Jet sweeps and a whole bunch of dump offs in the flat from a shell-shocked Sam Bradford. As a matter of fact, St. Louis might have been the worst possible landing spot for Austin given the OC and Jeff Fisher's offensive philosophy built around field goals and stout defense.

But it was all OK for a little while on Sunday when the Rams used only a handful of plays from Austin in a 38-8 thrashing of the Colts.

There was the punt return touchdown, which shouldn't have been Austin's first one except for all the special teams penalties that cost him nearly 300 yards on punt returns alone. Then there was a simple go route, sending him streaking down the field for a deep pass and a score. The real highlight, the one that says the Rams might have some idea about what the guy is capable of doing for them, was his 81-yard touchdown in the third quarter.



Austin casually moves in behind the slot receiver half a second before the ball is snapped. It lets him get off the line unmolested by a defensive back. He runs a crossing route and catches the pass from Kellen Clemens. From there all he has to do is beat one man. It's an F-15 versus a transport plane.

Stare at that GIF a little longer. After seeing it a few times, it's not Austin's speed that stands out; it's just how remarkably simple the play is. The Rams took advantage of the Colts man coverage. They got their offensive weapon into the middle of the field where his abilities can turn a simple first down catch into an 81-yard touchdown.

After that, Fisher and Schottenheimer put Austin back in his box. He played just 15 of 55 total offensive snaps for the Rams, albeit very productive ones. The Rams have a bye week to watch the game tape again and again, and maybe Fisher and Schottenheimer can talk themselves into doing more with the eighth overall pick. Or maybe they'll just see it as a way to eat up more yardage and kick more field goals.

Too soon for Gruden talk?

Someone forced to wear a Santa hat to work drags the Christmas stuff out of storage and unfolds it across every retail outlet in the middle of November. Every year it happens earlier. Your aunt mumbles about it each time she runs to Walgreens for menthol cigarettes. It's her one throaty complaint that you agree with.

Jon Gruden coaching rumors are the centerpiece of the annual NFL coaching carousel, but insiders who curate the rumor shop usually don't breakout the Grinder garland until the end of December. Not this year. Hearing Gruden's name mentioned in NFL rumors while you're still eating Halloween candy is early, but it's not especially surprising. What was surprising are the teams mentioned in connection with This Guy, well one of the teams mentioned: Atlanta.

It was actually Atlanta and Oakland that Jason LaCanfora mentioned, via league sources, as the two potential destinations for Chuckie. It's possible that Al Davis actually paid Gruden to hang out with Mark Davis and act enthusiastic about it. But the Falcons?

Gruden rumors in early November are just like Gruden rumors in January, unfulfilling, a lose nugget carefully placed in the media for other purposes. Chatter about the Falcons moving on from Mike Smith is surprising on first glance. Then you realize just how disappointing the Falcons are this year.

Smith is 56-24 as the head coach. He's led the Falcons to a pair of NFC South titles since being hired in 2008. Atlanta's made three playoff appearances and went all the way to the NFC Championship game last season. Finally, there's only so much Mike Smith can do considering the injuries this season. He doesn't exactly make the team as thrilling as it could be, but the results are there. And how upset could Arthur Blank be? The team's owner got the city to buy off a couple historic churches and kick in a couple hundred million bucks for a new stadium that looks like a sphincter.

GM Thomas Dimitroff defended Smith after a 33-10 loss to the visiting Seahawks, telling the press that Smith was "going nowhere."

The Falcons aren't going anywhere this year either, not at 2-7. It's not exactly how most of us thought things would turn out for Atlanta this year. A few rubes even picked them to go to the Super Bowl (stupid). Smith's earned a mulligan year, especially after injuries to key players like Julio Jones and Sean Weatherspoon.

Busted expectations next year could be different for Smith and Dimitroff. That could mean more empty Gruden rumors, followed by Blank hiring Mike Pettine as head coach because he shares the Home Depot ethos.

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