PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and the rest of the Philadelphia Eagles protect the ball at an unusual rate.
The Eagles (10-6) set a team record for fewest turnovers with 19 this season. That’s a major reason they won the NFC East title and will host the New Orleans Saints (11-5) in a wild-card playoff game Saturday night.
Only Indianapolis (14), San Francisco (18) and Kansas City (18) had fewer turnovers and each of those teams also made the playoffs. However, only eight of Philadelphia’s turnovers were made by starters. The other 11 came from current backup quarterback Michael Vick (5), third-string QB Matt Barkley (5) and former punt returner Damaris Johnson (1).
Foles threw just two interceptions and fumbled twice. McCoy, wide receiver Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek each fumbled once. Center Jason Kelce also fumbled on a snap to Vick. Each of the other 11 starting QBs in the playoffs had more interceptions than all of Philadelphia’s starters have combined giveaways.
“I just try and be as smart with the ball as I can,” Foles said. “I always want to get the ball out of my hands, so a sack doesn’t happen. But the one thing you don’t want to do is put the ball in harm’s way, because a turnover usually gives the other team good field possession and momentum. You can see what happens when a turnover happens. Everyone on the sideline is jumping around and excited. You don’t want to give them momentum.”
Foles had 27 touchdown passes in 10 starts, and posted the best TD/interception ratio in NFL history. He is the only quarterback to throw more than 20 TD passes and two or fewer interceptions. He joined Tom Brady (36 TDs, 4 interceptions in 2010) as the only quarterbacks to throw more than 25 touchdowns and fewer than five picks. His interception percentage (0.63) ranks as the third-lowest in league history.
“It’s a credit to him in terms of what he understands to do,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He doesn’t really put the ball in harm’s way. Very rarely do you look at it and go, ‘I don’t know about that one.’ That’s one of the reasons he’s as productive as he is, is that he’s really, really smart when he has the football in his hands.”
The Eagles had 37 turnovers last year when they finished 4-12, costing coach Andy Reid his job. Kelly has preached the importance of ball security since his arrival in Philadelphia. His up-tempo, fast-paced offense seems hectic, making players prone to turnovers. But that’s not necessarily the case.
“We try to keep it simple and make it look complicated to the outside world,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “The guys that carry the football and touch the football understand how important it is to possess it. That’s first and foremost.”
Taking care of the ball obviously is a key for any team’s success. Ten of the 12 playoff teams were even or on the plus side in takeaways. Only Green Bay (minus-3) and San Diego (minus-4) had more a negative differential.
“We knew we had the pieces. The only thing we had to do was protect the football. We did that,” Avant said. “We haven’t done that in recent years. That’s the key to winning games, winning the turnover battle. That’s what we’ve been doing. That’s why we stay in games.”
The Eagles not only protect the ball, but they do plenty when they have it. The offense led the NFL with 98 plays of 20-plus yards, the most such plays in a single season since the stat started being recorded by STATS in 1995. It also set club records for points (442), total net yards (6,676), TDs (53), and gross yards passing (4,406).
NOTES: Rookie safety Earl Wolff (knee) and backup offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde (back) didn’t practice Wednesday. Wolff has missed five of the last six games and Vandervelde was inactive last week. Kelly said Wolff won’t start unless he can practice this week.
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