Like the rest of his teammates, defensive tackle Chris Jones watched his starting quarterback, Alex Smith, go down after a blow to the head in the first quarter of the Chiefs’ win over Indianapolis on Sunday.
And like the rest of his teammates, Jones — a loquacious 6-foot-6, 308-pound rookie — was very comfortable with Smith’s replacement.
“It’s cool, we got Nicky back there,” Jones said while on the bench following Smith’s injury. “Nick Foles gonna air it out. He cold-blooded.”
Fellow defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who was sitting to Jones’ right, agreed.
“Let’s go Foles,” Nunez-Roches replied.
Understand, this had nothing to do with Smith; rather, it was the realization and understanding that in Foles, the Chiefs have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league.
After all, how many other teams — in a moment of crisis — can call on a 27-year-old with a Pro Bowl appearance under his belt? How many other backup quarterbacks can say they’ve played an NFL season in which they’ve posted a 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio?
“Just watching him throw, just watching him compete in practice, I could tell that he was ready for the opportunity and to seize the moment,” Jones explained. “Our (backup) quarterback can be a starter.”
And Foles — who signed with the Chiefs in early August after being unceremoniously dumped by the Los Angeles Rams after one poor season as a starter — did little to quell that thought, as he completed 16 of 22 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions in relief of Smith during the Chiefs’ 30-14 victory over the Colts.
“I think we all knew he was capable of that,” Chiefs receiver Chris Conley said.
And while Chiefs coach Andy Reid made it clear this week that Smith will be the starter again, once deemed healthy enough to play — the club says Smith does not have a concussion but is holding him out to be safe — there’s little doubt many eyes will be on the big-armed Foles, a 6-foot-6, 243-pounder who slung it around pretty good against the Colts’ 29th-ranked defense and will get the start Sunday against the Jaguars’ 13th-ranked defense.
“I mean, he’s got a cannon, and I don’t think there’s any spot on the field where he can’t get the ball, and get it there on time,” Conley said. “He’s a big guy, and he can launch it.”
But if you’re wondering why Foles had so much success against the Colts — beyond Indianapolis’ considerable defensive struggles — you should take a look at his footwork, which was a mess when he first arrived in Kansas City three months ago and has been, the Chiefs hope and believe, cleaned up considerably.
Much of that has to do with the post-practice work Reid and co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy did with Foles for three weeks in training camp, when they’d work with him on his drops with “slide” drills where they’d watch him repeatedly drop back into an imaginary pocket for 10 minutes and harp on his feet.
“A lot of it was balance, you know?” Nagy, a former Arena League quarterback, said before cocking his hands into a throwing position. “The ball was up here and your balance is off, your feet are wide … you just want to get the balance nice and controlled — smooth — and that will calm everyting down.”
The extra work with Foles lasted for about three weeks, but QB mechanics — such as whether they are squeezing the ball too hard, or their elbows are out too wide, etc. — remains something all the quarterbacks work on before every practice.
“This offense has a rhythm and timing with the footwork, so I feel more comfortable,” Foles said. “We have a routine that we do every week as quarterbacks. We continue to work on the fundamentals and be very detailed with it.”
And three months into his stint with the Chiefs, Foles’ receivers can already tell the difference in his accuracy and anticipation — which were admittedly off a bit when he first arrived during training cam three months ago — though Conley attributes Foles’ improvement to more comfort in the offense.
“That has to do with timing, mostly,” Conley said. “A lot of times early, when he was getting back, he was just feeling things out.
“Just because he’s so strong throwing the ball — he could throw off his back foot and still complete it — that’s not ideal. In tight situations, you want to have the right footwork. His timing’s got a lot better, he’s been on the same page with us and that equals completions.”
Or at least, it certainly did against the Colts. No one is expecting Foles to be a world-beater on Sunday — he only completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 2,052 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 11 games with the Rams last year — but the Chiefs’ coaching staff is confident they’ve helped the player they watched struggle on tape last season.
“The good thing is that we drafted Nick, so we knew who Nick was,” said Nagy, who was a part of Reid’s Philadelphia staff in 2012, when the Eagles invested a third-round pick in Foles. “We knew what he could do.”
And after a solid week of practice — “he handled himself well and didn’t have to change anything,” Reid said Friday — Foles will get another opportunity to prove it.
“It’s happened so fast,” Foles said of his first start as a Chief. “I feel great about the playbook and where we’re at as a team and where I’m at understanding it.”
His teammates and coaches feel the same way — hence the scene that played out on the Chiefs’ sideline last Sunday, as Jones and Nunez-Roches and countless others expressed confidence in Foles.
“He was put in a couple situations in camp and he was put in some situations in practice, and I’ve seen him do it time after time — this is everyday,” Nunez-Roches said. “Game day is only one day but he does it everyday in practice, so I’m like, ‘He’s just going to do everything he’s been taught.’”