PHILADELPHIA — Nick Foles wore a winter cap as he prepared to exit Lambeau Field after a Nov. 10 win over the Green Bay Packers. He noted the challenges of throwing the ball in cold weather and through wind, fully understanding that those conditions are a reality of quarterbacking in Philadelphia.
“I’m a southern boy, played at Arizona, so I’ve got to keep working on that,” Foles said that day.
The temperature that afternoon was 45 degrees. It is expected to be in the 20s on Saturday when the Eagles host the New Orleans Saints in the opening round of the playoffs.
For all of the attention on how Saints quarterback Drew Brees will handle the cold weather, it’s also worth remembering that Foles grew up in the same hometown as Brees. Aside from one season at Michigan State, Foles had not required a warm winter jacket until arriving in Philadelphia. When he was informed before the Dec. 22 home game against the Chicago Bears that the temperature would be in the 60s that night, Foles smiled and expressed gratitude for the weather anomaly.
That was the last time he played at Lincoln Financial Field. He won’t be so lucky with Saturday’s weather.
“It’s definitely different than throwing in hot weather, humidity, inside,” Foles said this week. “The ball has a different grip. Sometimes balls that feel good when it’s humid are very, very slick in this weather.”
Foles wore gloves on both hands during practice this week, but he’ll continue to keep his right hand bare during the game. Foles likes to feel the ball to grip it.
His mechanics do not change, but Foles knows he must put “a little more on the ball” in the cold weather. The emphasis is on flicking his wrist.
He will wear a hand warmer on the sideline. The weather can affect a quarterback during those idle moments while he waits to enter a game.
“When you go out there, you try to zone out the weather,” Foles said. “I think the big adjustments are when you’re on the sideline, trying to keep your body warm, your legs warm, whatever that may be.”
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has spent most of his career coaching quarterbacks in cold weather. Foles said the pregame warm-ups are key for the quarterback to get a feel for the conditions.
On general manager Howie Roseman’s radio show following the Eagles’ Dec. 8 win over the Detroit Lions in the snow, Roseman noted how a player can succeed in winter climates factored into different evaluations. Roseman said Foles’ hand size is an advantage when playing winter football in the Northeast.
The big hands allow for a better grip. At the 2012 combine, Foles’ hands measured at 105/8-inches — bigger than any of the six quarterbacks who were drafted ahead of him.
Foles is 2-3 when the temperature is 40 degrees or below. All three losses came in 2012, when the Eagles had trouble winning regardless of the weather. The coldest game Foles has played in was against the Lions, when the temperature was 27 degrees with a wind chill of 20 degrees. Foles finished 11 of 22 for 179 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. His statistics seemed to be more affected by the precipitation than the temperature.
Brees said a quarterback must consider the elements for variables such as wearing sleeves, how much moisture is on the ball, and how the wind affects passes. He said he has experience playing in this kind of weather, albeit not on a consistent basis.
That experience has been unimpressive. Brees is 3-7 when temperatures dip below 40 degrees. All of those games came away from his domed confines in New Orleans, where the Saints are a far superior team.
The weather can be an issue for the Saints when on the road, where they have never won a postseason game and are 3-5 this season. But the noise could be just as much of a factor, especially for an offense that is so precise when playing in front of its home fans.
That’s where the home-field advantage could be a true advantage. Kelly praised Eagles fans throughout the season, and specifically referenced the chants of “We want Dallas” chants in the Bears win and the frenzied atmosphere in the snow against the Lions.
The Eagles have won their past four home games after a 10-game home losing streak.
The crowd and the weather might help the Eagles on Saturday. But the bitter cold won’t just affect the Saints; it’s been an area of emphasis for Foles, too.
“Everybody’s got to play in this weather,” Foles said. “It’s not going to be perfect conditions. There was a pretty big snowstorm here a couple weeks ago. You’re still playing football.”