For the third time this season, the Colts made a change at starting quarterback – 11-year veteran Nick Foles will start on Monday night against the Los Angeles Chargers, interim head coach Jeff Saturday said.
Why make a change now – and why make the change to Foles? Saturday on Wednesday explained his thought process prior to the Colts' first practice ahead of their Week 16 game against the Chargers.
"This is never an easy decision and I think the world of Matt (Ryan), and he's a pro's pro and I appreciate the way he's handled it," Saturday said. "Obviously not the season he expected nor the Colts as a whole. Feel bad for Matt, but ultimately I feel Nick gives us the best chance to win and that's the direction we're heading."
The Colts are 4-9-1; they're 4-7-1 with Ryan as their starting quarterback and 1-4 since Saturday took over as interim head coach. Only three teams are averaging fewer points per game than the Colts (17.5), and only one team is less efficient at turning red zone possessions into touchdowns than the Colts, who've done so on just 45 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line.
And Colts quarterbacks have the lowest average depth of target – 6.7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage – in the NFL entering Week 16. Those were all cited by Saturday as reasons for making the change from Ryan to Foles, with the goal to find a winning formula for 2022's final three games.
"This is not all on Matt," Saturday said. "This is us entirely on an offensive perspective but ultimately that leads into it. I feel like Nick will give us a better chance to go win these last three games and that's why we're heading that way."
Saturday praised Foles' professional approach to a season that hasn't been what he expected when he signed as a free agent in May. Foles, who's close with former head coach Frank Reich, has gone between being the Colts' backup and third-stringer while working almost exclusively with the scout team in practice, meaning he doesn't have much time on task with the team's first-team offense. But Saturday said he's sensed a certain presence about Foles, whether it's on the practice field or around the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"I think just with my career path, I think if you always expect something, it's just going to throw you through a loop, especially here – you never know what's going to happen each week," Foles said. "It's sort of been that year. Unfortunately, in the NFL there are years like that. That's why I say you want a good group of people, and we have that here. For me, it's always just doing what I need to do in my role. If I'm backing up, it's helping the starter, it's also doing my own routine. Then when you're playing, your routine switches a little bit because you're playing, you have more say. For me, it's just sort of rolling with the punches each week and being the best teammate I can for the QB room."
Foles, of course, has experience thriving in unprecedented situations. He won MVP of Super Bowl LII about two months after tagging in as the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback following a season-ending injury to Carson Wentz; more recently, he went from being the Chicago Bears' third-string quarterback to starting in Week 16 last year and leading the Bears to a 25-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks. That win snapped a skid in which the Bears lost eight of nine games.
So while Foles may not have much experience with members of the Colts' first-team offense, he does have experience in knowing how to get up to speed quickly with those guys.
"I think just lock in like it's a game in practice," Foles said. "Obviously, talking to the guys about different routes, different things, different cadence. It's sort of a crash course because sometimes you're with a team for a couple years and then you go in and out, and then you play. Like this is my first time to really be with the guys so first off, just how I am in the huddle, what I'm like conducting – for me, it's also trying to get that mindset of executing the offense, running this offense, saying these plays because really it was training camp and since then it's been scout-team cards. But I've watched Matt and Sam (Ehlinger) do a lot of reps, but there's always that learning curve. I've got to go out there, be in the moment and do what I can."
The Colts' offensive playbook won't change in going from Ryan to Foles – it's hard to make significant changes to a playbook during a season, let alone in Week 16 – but Saturday's expectation is this quarterback swap can spark the offense to push the ball downfield more and have better execution in the red zone. Those things will lead to more points; more points, of course, will lead to more wins.
For now, Foles will start in Week 16, and Saturday said Wednesday he hadn't decided on who would be the backup. As for anything beyond Week 16 – well, we'll see where it goes.
"We'll evaluate it the same way we do every week," Saturday said. "We'll look at it. Hopefully he plays well enough that it leaves no doubt who it's going to be, right? That's the intent."