Which former Super Bowl MVP has the best chance of succeeding in his new home in 2019?

Resumé Review

While Nick Foles and Joe Flacco don’t provide the same ring as fellow Super Bowl MVPs Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, it is still rare when two winners of the Rozelle Trophy join new teams in the same season. Foles came to Jacksonville via free agency, and Baltimore Flacco to Denver in exchange for a 2019 fourth-rounder, used to select RB Justice Hill.

In looking to evaluate these candidates it’s important to first compare their resumés, both of which leave question marks for their new employers for different reasons. Flacco’s resumé can best be described as long and dry, with his 2013 Super Bowl MVP written in a font twice as large as the rest. Looking more recently, Joe Flacco started 9 games in 2018 after leading the Ravens to a nine win season in 2017. Flacco’s latest campaign was derailed after a Week 9 hip injury opened the door for Lamar Jackson.

If Flacco’s resume inspires the adjectives “long and dry”, Nick Foles’ transcript can be described as sparse and inconsistent, with two seasons covered in yellow highlighter. Foles was a Pro Bowler in 2013, as he produced a critic-defying 27 touchdown, two interception anomaly. After a few tough seasons in St. Louis and Kansas City, Foles revived his career in Philadelphia. There’s no need to sum up his Super Bowl heroics, which are so entrenched in NFL lore that they speak for themselves.

The questions surrounding Nick Foles are whether he is able to lead a team with relatively few weapons, and whether he can maintain success over a full season at the helm. Foles only started 10 games in his 2013 Pro Bowl campaign, and certainly would not point to his 2015 Rams season, where he started a career high 11 games but was benched for an inexperienced Case Keenum in the middle of the season.

The shortcomings for these two quarterbacks’ resumés are distinct. Flacco brings relative consistency in performance, but nothing that makes your 11 year old son get off the couch. The name Nick Foles evokes visions of his 2013 Pro Bowl campaign and his 2017 Super Bowl run, but he simply has never played a full season of football in his seven seasons in the league. Arriving in new situations where they are each expected to start sixteen games in order for their teams to be successful, we give the nod to Flacco for more favorable body of work.

Juice in the Tank

While Flacco has had a more proven track record overall, the story shifts when you are looking more recently. At age 34, Flacco is also entering his 12th season in the league and has accrued 178 career starts, along with over 350 career sacks.

Even before last year’s injury, Flacco’s season was defined by his trademark uninspiring work. Lamar Jackson’s performances created a stark contrast between Flacco and Jackson’s mobility and play style — Jackson’s 695 rushing yards on 147 rushing attempts led quarterback position, despite only seven starts. While even his critics did not expect Flacco to be mobile, Lamar Jackson aged Flacco five years in Ravens fans’ eyes, and he appeared to be more worn down last year than at any point in his career.

Foles’ journeyman career has left him with a questionable full resumé but also as a very intact 30 year old quarterback. Entering his eighth NFL season, Foles has only started 50 games, and has been sacked fewer than 100 times. Foles has a very strong arm, shows moments of mobility, and the most serious injury in his career was a broken collarbone in 2014.

Foles’ play last year showed opposing GMs that he had a lot to offer outside of a few special runs. He played well as the football equivalent of a middle relief pitcher for the 2018 Eagles, filling in for the oft-injured Carson Wentz during two stints. Weeks 1 and 2 were a mixed bag, with a strong win against the Falcons but an ugly loss at Tampa Bay. The final three weeks of the regular season were phenomenal for Foles, who gave the Eagles faithful hope of a repeat Super Bowl run before falling against Drew Brees and the Saints. The advantage is clear, to Foles for more juice in the tank.

The advantage is clear, to Foles for more juice in the tank.

New Arsenal

John Elway has that Willy Wonka feel right now. He built his Hall of Fame brand, took over operations at the chocolate factory, and is hiding Golden Tickets to find an heir worthy of his own greatness. Unfortunately he hasn’t even gotten close to drafting Charlie Bucket – Elway has found more success in other organizations’ quarterbacks than his own, This 2019 campaign has the feel of a less-exciting 2013 season, where Joe Flacco is Peyton Manning and Drew Lock is Brock Osweiler. In both these seasons, Elway has hedged his bets with aging veterans and hopeful, big-armed backups from the draft. It’s unclear on the backups, but 2013 Manning is certainly preferred to 2019 Flacco.

Unlike Manning, Flacco doesn’t get to throw to an in-prime Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Instead he is handed the keys to a 32-year-old Sanders, who admittedly looks great for suffering an Achilles injury in December, and a “cross your fingers” combination of Cortland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. The Broncos are optimistic that Noah Fant can provide the same type of support as flash-in-the-pan Julius Thomas did for Manning, but first-year tight ends are no safe bet.

Looking to Jacksonville, Marquise Lee has been a below-average WR1 for the past two years, with a sub-60% catch rate on heavy volume. Dede Westbrook is just two years removed from his 4.39 40-yard dash, but has not yet established himself a legitimate starting receiver despite new OC John DeFilippo calling him the “best route runner” he has ever worked with. Matthew Berry suggests that the Foles-Westbrook connection is real, but there is reason to question the hype. Coming off the line, blocking tight end Geoff Swaim, banged up rookie Josh Oliver, and backup James O’Shaughnessy will not raise eyebrows. Bring back Justin Blackmon?

On top of the receiving weapon set, the Broncos get a significant edge with their combination of pass-catching sparkplug Philip Lindsay, and the winner of the Devontae Booker-Theo Riddick scat back competition. Riddick will start the year on IR with a fractured shoulder, so Flacco will throw to Booker in the first half of the season. This combination seems particularly deadly when compared to three-down back Leonard Fournette, who has averaged fewer than 3 receptions per game on his career. Fournette will be supported by passing-anemic Alfred Blue (now injured), and rookie Ryquell Armstead who has shown some potential.

Tally, Flacco.

Backup Distractions

For Joe Flacco, Drew Lock’s red flag filled highlight tape does not present the same ‘look over your shoulder’ threat that electric rookie Lamar Jackson did last year. However, the well-documented ‘Elway searching for Elway’ narrative does present some suspense. “You’re always trying to find an answer to the quarterback position. You can’t wait till you don’t have one,” said Wonka Elway to local media after the 2019 NFL Draft.

Even with Drew Lock out through Week 8 with a right thumb sprain, Elway simply continues to stress the importance of his rookie QB. “I expect him to continue to work hard and get a good feel with everything and keep learning with the offense, understand what he’s doing there and be right in the middle of everything.” Former Ram Brandon Allen will serve as backup in the meantime, but should not provide the same pressure as Lock will in the second half of the season.

Skies are sunny for Nick Foles in Jaguars, who will be backed up by rookie sixth-rounder Garder Minshew. Minshew, who led the Washington State Cougars to an 11-2 record in 2018, is seen as a developmental quarterback and one of the league’s least desirable backups. After a shaky preseason in which Minshew completed only 54 of 96 passes with no touchdowns, he is locked in as QB2, but there are rumblings of outside help.

An easy tally to Foles, who will operate without John Elway’s breath causing the hairs on his neck to stand up.

Opposing Secondaries

According to a Sharp analysis, neither team has a very difficult schedule, with the Broncos taking the second easiest road in the league and the Jaguars still in the weaker half of schedules. However, let’s look at the opposing secondaries each quarterback will face.

A Week 4 matchup between Foles and Flacco in Denver should provide a pretty clear milestone of which team is off to a stronger start — and in that game both quarterbacks will have their hands full. Flacco will have one of the toughest matchups in the league against the Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Foles will face Denver’s Chris Harris and strong safety support in Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson.

Looking at the remainder of the schedule, the Jags will start the season against a depleted Chiefs secondary, followed by a below average Texans group. In fact, the secondaries in the AFC South rank 22nd (Texans), 12th (Titans), and 25th (Colts) per PFF. Nick Foles will also face weak secondaries against Tampa Bay, Oakland, and the New York Jets. Foles can consider his Week 14 matchup against the Chargers to be the most difficult of the season.

Joe Flacco will also face a mixed bag of secondaries. In the AFC West, he will have to face the highly ranked Chargers twice, but should benefit from two matchups against the Chiefs and will open the season against the inexperienced Raiders. A much tougher matchup comes Week 2 against the elite Bears group, and Flacco will also have extremely tough stretches between Weeks 4-6 (Jaguars, at Chargers, Titans) and Weeks 9-13 (Browns, BYE, at Vikings, at Bills, Chargers).

Combining these tough stretches with the daunting Week 4 matchup against Ramsey/Bouye, Joe Flacco will face tougher opposing secondaries in 2019. To add onto these matchups, the AFC West generally presents a greater threat (Chiefs, Chargers) than does the AFC South, particularly without Andrew Luck. Tally to Nick Foles for a more favorable forecast.

Protection

The Jaguars offensive line, which suffered a major loss of left tackle Cam Robinson in Week 2 of last season, is poised for a bounceback year with better health and new acquisitions. Robinson can only be healthier in 2019, as he looks to improve a strong rookie showing with a return from ACL and Meniscus surgery. Headlining the Jags’ offensive line is Andrew Norwell, who enters 2019 as the second-highest paid guard in the NFL. His 2018 season was widely considered a disappointment, with mediocre play and a Week 12 ankle injury that kept him out for the remainder of the season.

Jawaan Taylor, who arrives in Jacksonville en route of a second round pick, has been described as a humble, versatile, grizzly bear during his time at Florida, and the Jaguars traded up in the draft to get him. Nick Foles should hope that Taylor is a significant upgrade over departing tackle Ereck Flowers, who continued to solidify his “bust” status in 2018. Cedric Ogbuehi, on the other hand, is arriving with a similar label to Flowers — but the Jaguars’ coaching staff has praised Ogbuehi for strong, athletic play during offseason reps.

The Broncos’ offensive line play rests on the shoulders of its tackles: the development of struggling former first-rounder Garrett Bolles, and the success of new signing Ju’Wuan James. Bolles’ first two years in the league were disappointing for a first round draft pick, filled with poor technique and penalties. Broncos brass and new HC Vic Fangio are optimistic on Bolles, and continues to bring a high ceiling packed with athleticism and size. Hopefully Fangio is right about his left tackle, and OL guru Mike Munchak can take him to a high level of play.

Ju’Wuan James comes with a four-year, $51 million contract that makes him one of the league’s top paid right tackles. In replacing former starter Jared Veldheer, James brings a strong pedigree from his time in Miami, where he started consistently and was rarely penalized. Whie this deal may leave him overpaid, if Mike Munchak can turn him into a Pro Bowler, this is money well spent. In support, Ron Leary should provide better play at his preferred Right Guard spot this season, and high upside 2019 draft picks Dalton Risner and Connor McGovern round out the line.

With an elite coaching staff and great building blocks, we give the Flacco an edge on protection.

Coaching

Broncos’ new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, a self-proclaimed football junkie, brings an old school approach to the modern, pass-friendly NFL. After being spurned by new Vikings coordinator Gary Kubiak, Vic Fangio hired Scangarello to bring an offensive scheme that values play calling balance, and deception through play action emphasis.

As a first time NFL playcaller, Scangarello’s only true tape is a 2016 Wagner offense that emphasized pro-style concepts. But under Kyle Shanahan, Scangarello was able to get the most out of C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. Key questions remain. How Scangarello will balance the running game with philosophical differences to offensive line coach Mike Munchak, and how well Flacco will perform in Scangarello’s expected playaction and RPO emphasis?

The Jaguars also bring a new leader to their offense: the experienced John DeFilippo, whose ties with Jacksonville EVP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin date back to 2005. Since then, DeFilippo has built a strong offensive transcript that includes OC for the Browns and Vikings, and QB coach for Nick Foles during the Eagles’ 2017 championship run.

Known as a pass-first playcaller and skilled teacher, DeFilippo operates primarily out of the shotgun and works closely with his quarterbacks. In fact, he has such a strong existing relationship with Foles that in 2018 he recalled the high level of comfort he had gameplanning with Foles. While this story may be overblown, his dynamic relationship with Nick Foles has been considered the source material for the improvised ‘Philly Special’ in Super Bowl 51. DeFilippo, however, received criticism during his two tenures as Offensive Coordinator for pigeonholing his weapons, and failing to deceive defenses by overlying on shotgun sets. These issues played out most obviously in the redzone during his time with Minnesota, as the Vikings ranked near the bottom of the league in Red Zone TD%.

This decisive tally is a close call with both first-year offensive coordinators specializing on the quarterback position, but we’re going to give the edge to DeFilippo over Scangarello. DeFilippo brings much more experience, albeit poor results as an OC, and clearly has a special relationship with Nick Foles. DeFlillipo’s gameplan will certainly put more pressure on Foles than Scangarello will put on Flacco, but Foles should be ready to shoulder the load.

Tally to Foles.

Conclusion

Nick Foles squeaks out the win here, with a score of four tallies to three. Despite a streakier and less consistent resumé, and an inferior supporting cast on offense, Foles should benefit from his great relationship with Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo and fewer front office distractions. Foles has proven through two spectacular runs and last year’s backup duty that he has a lot left to give this league, and has a relatively easy road ahead against weaker opposing secondaries. In an AFC South that saw a power shift with Andrew Luck’s departure, Nick Foles is set up well to overachieve in 2019.

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