INDIANAPOLIS – Next up, Nick Foles.
A virtual afterthought as the Indianapolis Colts have bounced from Matt Ryan to Sam Ehlinger and back to Ryan during their turbulent season, Foles gets his shot Monday night when the Los Angeles Chargers visit Lucas Oil Stadium, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
It will be Foles’ first start since week 16 of 2021 with the Chicago Bears, and the 57th of his highlight-filled 11-year career.
The possibility of the Colts benching Ryan for a second time in two months was broached in the aftermath of last Saturday’s historic 39-36 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
There were multiple factors contributing to the largest collapse in NFL history – Indy led 33-0 at the half – and that included a subpar offense. Ryan passed for just 182 yards against the league’s No. 32-ranked pass defense and generated only one touchdown on 15 possessions.
During a season-worst four-game losing streak that has dropped the Colts to 4-9-1, Ryan has completed 62.5% of his passes and averaged 206.8 yards per game. He’s averaging a pedestrian 6.1 yards per attempt and 9.7 yards per completion during that stretch.
Interim coach Jeff Saturday said on Monday he would evaluate every phase of the team, which is the case after every game. That included Ryan’s viability at quarterback moving forward.
“We’ll ultimately make the decision that I feel is best and we feel is best as a staff to give us the best chance to win.’’ Saturday said.
That best chance is 31-year old Nick Foles.
The primetime stage against the Chargers will be the first meaningful exposure for Foles since he signed a two-year, $6.2 million contract with the Colts in mid-April. He’s taken only two snaps in one game, the week 2 loss at Jacksonville.
The rest of the season has involved being routinely rearranged on the depth chart. Consider he was:
- No. 2 and Ryan’s backup in weeks 1-5.
- No. 3 and inactive in weeks 6-7. Sam Ehlinger was elevated to the No. 2 slot.
- No. 2 and Ehlinger’s backup in weeks 8-9. Ryan was benched and dealing with a sprained right shoulder after the 19-10 loss at Tennessee Oct. 23, and Ehlinger would make his first career starts.
- No. 3 when Saturday reinstated Ryan as the starter for the Nov. 13 game against the Las Vegas Raiders. Ehlinger returned to No. 2 and Foles sat at No. 3 for three weeks.
- No. 2 for last two weeks.
As the team continued to shuffle the roles of Foles and Ehlinger, Saturday expressed support for each.
“I think Nick has done a really good job for us,’’ he said. “He’s continued to stay really loyal to this football team. I have confidence in both he and Sam. I think they’re both great players and do a really good job of helping Matt.’’
For the most part, Foles has remained on the periphery.
“I’ve learned in this league that there’s going to be decisions that we as players don’t make,’’ he said in late October. “You can be emotional for a moment, but then you have to get your head right and say, ‘All right, whatever my job is, I have to do my job.’’
Foles was signed to provide veteran support for Ryan. Ehlinger was the team’s 2021 sixth-round draft pick who got on the field for just 18 plays in three games as a rookie.
His track record is well-chronicled. Foles’ high point came with Philadelphia in 2017 when he replaced an injured Carson Wentz and was instrumental in the Eagles’ whipping the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII. He passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns, added a 1-yard TD catch on the “Philly Special,’’ and was named the game’s MVP.
During the Eagles’ three-game playoff run, Foles completed 72.6% of his passes for 971 yards, six TDs, one interception and a 115.7 rating.
Since 2017, Foles has appeared in 20 games and posted a 7-10 record as a starter with the Eagles, Jacksonville, Chicago and the Colts.
For his career, Foles is 29-27 as a starter during the regular season. In 69 career games, he’s passed for 14,003 yards and 82 touchdowns with 43 interceptions and an 87.3 passer rating.
It’s worth wondering if Ryan has played his final game, barring injuries to Foles and Ehlinger.
The 2016 NFL MVP has been unable to recapture the efficiency and productivity that was evident throughout much of his 15-year career.
Ryan was acquired in a March trade with Atlanta and viewed as a significant upgrade over Carson Wentz, who was traded to Washington earlier that month.
But that hasn’t been the case.
In 12 starts, Ryan has completed 67% of his passes, but he’s averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt and 9.9 yards per completion with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’s been undermined by shoddy pass protection – the Colts have allowed 49 sacks, second-most in the league – and a running game that never found traction. The run game ranks 25th in yards per game (105.2) and 27th in yards per attempt (4.0).
The most troubling aspect of Ryan’s performance has been ball security. He has fumbled 15 times – a franchise record and career high – with five lost fumbles. His 18 total turnovers are most in the league.
Ryan, 37, is under contract through 2023.
The final year of his deal includes $18 million in guarantees and another $17 million if he’s on the roster in early March.
It’s very possible the Colts release Ryan before that March trigger date arrives.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.