Originally Published: December 25, 2017 5:59 a.m.
PHILADELPHIA — Since the last time the Philadelphia Eagles saw the Oakland Raiders, Nick Foles was traded, released, contemplated retirement and returned as a backup quarterback.
Foles tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in Philadelphia’s 49-20 win at Oakland on Nov. 3, 2013. His performance sparked an impressive turnaround and the Eagles went 7-1 in the second half after a 3-5 start to win the NFC East title in Chip Kelly’s first season.
“Our team was trying to figure out our identity at that point,” Foles said. “We had ups and downs and we were trying to put it all together. I look back at that day as sort of our ‘aha’ moment, like we can do this, we know who we are, we know we can be explosive, and we took off at that point.”
Kelly traded Foles after the 2014 season and was fired the following year. Foles spent one season in St. Louis, another in Kansas City and returned to Philadelphia to back up Carson Wentz.
Now, he’s the starter looking to help Philadelphia (12-2) win a Super Bowl. The Eagles host the Raiders (6-8) on Christmas night needing a victory to secure the NFC’s No. 1 seed. They would lock it up before taking the field if the Vikings (11-3) lose at Green Bay (7-7) on Saturday night.
Here are some things to watch for when the Raiders visit Philadelphia on Monday night:
The Raiders will be missing a key piece on the offensive line after Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn underwent surgery on his injured right foot. Penn had started 170 straight regular-season games before the injury, but did miss Oakland’s playoff game a year ago with a knee problem. The Raiders haven’t decided whether they will replace Penn with rookie David Sharpe or by moving right tackle Marshall Newhouse to the left side and inserting Vadal Alexander. Sharpe has played three snaps on offense all year and struggled in that brief time earlier this month against the Giants when Penn went down.
“It made me want more,” he said. “If I get the opportunity, I can’t wait to get out there. It wasn’t the best of snaps, but it was definitely a learning experience.”
LACK OF URGENCY
The Eagles haven’t missed a beat on offense since Wentz tore his ACL against the Rams on Dec. 10. But the defense has allowed 36 points in five quarters. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz blamed it on a lack of urgency.
“We needed to come out with more fire,” Schwartz said about the defense giving up three consecutive TD drives to start the game in last week’s 34-29 win at the Giants.
Coach Doug Pederson suggested guys overlooked New York (2-12).
“We’ve all been in situations where sometimes you know you’re probably going to win the football game, but at the same time, you either look past it or whatever,” Pederson said.
The Raiders’ defense has shown major signs of improvement since firing defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. last month and replacing him as play caller with John Pagano. The change has been dramatic as Oakland has as many sacks the past four games (14) as in the first 10, and has all four interceptions this season since the change. The passer rating against the Raiders has dropped from 113.3 to 75.9.
“I think he’s done a good job of providing clarity on assignments,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think he’s a good teacher. I think he does a good job with the group. I’m pleased with the way he’s worked at it, but it’s exactly what I expected him to do.”
RUN FOR IT
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr used his legs for a change last week in a development that pleased Del Rio. Carr scrambled four times for 47 yards in the loss to Dallas, including a 32-yarder that set up a touchdown. That run was his longest since a 41-yarder against Houston in the second game of his career in 2014, and the 47 yards were the most he’s had since gaining 58 in that game against the Texans. Carr hadn’t had more than one run in a game this season, excluding kneel-downs.
“That was an example of him being him, being aggressive and taking off and making some plays with his feet,” Del Rio said.
Unfortunately, Carr fumbled in the final seconds of the loss to Dallas.
If the Eagles already have the No. 1 seed secured before kickoff, Pederson isn’t saying whether he’ll rest Foles or any of his starters. He talked like a guy who didn’t want to lose momentum.
“You’ve got to maintain that confidence and that dominating swagger and you’ve got to keep that alive,” he said.