Frank Reich helped guide Nick Foles to the pinnacle of his NFL career thus far, pushing all the right buttons during the Philadelphia Eagles’ run to a Super Bowl LII victory.
So as the Chicago Bears place their hopes in Foles’ hands for his first start with the team Sunday at Soldier Field, it’s an interesting coincidence that Reich will be leading the Indianapolis Colts on the opposite sideline.
The story goes that in the lead-up to the Eagles’ first playoff game in January 2018, Reich, then the Eagles offensive coordinator, showed Foles a cut-up of about 150 of his best plays.
Foles, who had replaced injured starter Carson Wentz in Week 14, was reminded of the player he was during his successes early in his career in 2013 and 2014 and realized he is at his best when he reads defenses and reacts. Reich also knew that Foles played best with an uncluttered mind and adjusted his coaching accordingly.
“He was the one who really figured me out as a player and realized that we had it all wrong,” Foles said. "They just threw some plays out there one day and said: ‘Just go play these plays. We studied you and these are the plays you do.’ And sure enough, something triggered inside of me.
“And he figured me out as a player to where, even during games when I’d come to the sidelines, usually coaches want to coach you up and all this, and he’d go, ‘Just keep doing it, just keep doing it.’ Like, he wouldn’t say much. At first it was sort of weird because you’re not used to a coach doing that. He was like: ‘I trust you. Just go do your thing.’ No matter what, if I threw an interception or I threw a touchdown, he cared more about the person than the player. And that says a lot about him and that’s why I have all the respect in the world.”
Reich and Foles heaped praise on each other Wednesday during news conferences with Chicago media as they prepare to meet on the football field for the second time since that improbable playoff run. They also met last November in Indianapolis, when Foles started for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Colts won 33-13.
Reich called Foles “a great point guard” and “a magician with the ball” and praised his deep ball and his poise in difficult circumstances.
As a player, Reich quarterbacked the Buffalo Bills to the greatest comeback in NFL history, overcoming a 32-point third-quarter deficit against the Houston Oilers for a 41-38 overtime playoff victory in January 1993. So he knows a little bit about what it takes to engineer a comeback like the one Foles led Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons after the Bears were down 16 in the fourth quarter.
“Really composed, unflappable under pressure,” Reich said of Foles. “Nick is a really unique player in that regard. A lot of quarterbacks in the NFL have that composure. I just think Nick’s is maybe at another level.
“Part of that is he’s fearless. He’s a fearless competitor. That’s where a lot of it comes from. He’s not tied up mentally or emotionally with failure. He deals with it in his unique way, and that makes him a better player.”
The bond between Reich and Foles goes beyond the football field to the shared importance they put on their families and faith, and Foles said they have stayed in touch since Reich left Philadelphia to become the Colts head coach in 2018. Foles and former Eagles teammate Chris Maragos had Reich on their podcast, “Mission of Truth,” over the summer to talk about football and faith.
“We saw the game similarly, but I think we see life similarly,” Reich said Wednesday. “All of the principles and things that Nick feels close to as far as off-field, with his family, with his faith in Christ, those are things that are first priority to me as well.
“That made it very easy to connect off the field and have a lot of those conversations, not just X-and-O conversations but have conversations about life and family and living out our faith in Christ as a player or as a coach. Those were all great discussions and really breed confidence in a player-coach relationship.”
Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo all worked with Foles before, so despite limited offseason time because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Mitch Trubisky starting the Bears’ first three games, they also have an understanding of what makes him tick as they cram to get their offense ready.
Nagy noted taking the same tack to in-game coaching as Reich just before Foles threw the winning touchdown pass to Anthony Miller against the Falcons.
“He just was kind of in his own zone, and I could just tell, like, not to mess with him,” Nagy said. “Just let him go. He’s in a good place right now. And again, that doesn’t mean that something good’s going to happen because there are going to be times he’s going to throw a pick or he’s going to make a bad decision. That’s going to happen. But in the big moments, the calmness, being cool, collected, all that, that’s a strength of his.”
Reich noted the importance of maintaining that unflappable attitude not just in big moments but week after week, and that will be big for Foles as he sets out to start more than 11 games in a season for the first time in his nine-year NFL career.
The Colts appear to be a stiffer test than the Bears faced in September. Reich, of course, guides the Colts offense, but the defense led by coordinator Matt Eberflus ranks among the best in the NFL. The Colts held the struggling Vikings and Jets to 11 and seven points, respectively, and have allowed just 225.3 total yards and 132 passing yards per game. And they lead the league with six interceptions.
“They’re really working in unison right now,” Nagy said. “That front line, man, they get after you. They’re nasty. Those linebackers flat-out can run. Their DBs are opportunistic ballhawks that just make plays. They are playing really, really good defensive football right now.”
Foles is excited for the test against a team coached by “one of my favorite people I’ve come across playing this game.”
“They’re a really talented team, and watching them on tape, knowing Frank as a coach, I know they’re going to be very well-coached,” Foles said. “You can see they play with a lot of energy. And they do their assignments really well, so it will be a really great challenge for us on Sunday.”
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