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Nov 05 2013

There Can Only Be One: Nick Foles vs. Michael Carter-Williams

We settle a debate that’s been quietly (okay, silently) raging for days. Pretty boss Highlander reference though, right?

Michael Carter-Williams and Nick Foles each had a pretty good week.

highlander-bannerIn the last seven days, the backup quarterback and the rookie point guard have transformed themselves from afterthoughts–mere placeholders for the (better) thing that was supposed to come next–to reigning princes of the city. Carter-Williams, by virtue of his historic debut, has made Sixers fans (sort of) forget about Andrew Wiggins (okay, think slightly less obsessively about Andrew Wiggins) while Nick Foles record-tying 7 touchdown game has (for the time being) quieted suspicions that a quarterback needs 4.5 speed to run a Chip Kelly offense.

All of which begs the question: who’s better? Below, using science, facts, categories, and relentless logic we come to a definitive answer. Case closed. You’re welcome.

Greatest moment

This one is easy. While Carter-Williams’ insane 22/12/9/7 line in the opener gave him the highest game score in a debut of any player since 1963, the record for most steals in an NBA debut, and left him a single swipe shy of joining Oscar Robertson as the only other player in NBA history with a triple-double in his first game–and a steal and three rebounds short of a first ever NBA debut quadruple-double–Foles was otherworldly on Sunday. During the Raiders game he: 1.) Tied an NFL record with 7 touchdown passes. 2.) Became just the third quarterback to do so without throwing an interception. 3.) Became the third quarterback to do so in a road game. 4.) Became the first quarterback to do so on the road, without throwing any interceptions. 5.) Threw his 7th touchdown pass with 4 minutes remaining in the third quarter, which no one had ever done. 6.) Threw more touchdowns than incompletions. MCW was historically good against the Heat–but historically good in the context of debut performances. Foles was historically good, period. Foles takes this one.

Body of work

Foles is, through four starts this season, second in the NFL in QBR behind Peyton Manning, and would be first in passer rating if he qualified. He’s thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception, which gives him the fourth most touchdowns without an interception to start a season in NFL history. For his career, he has a passer rating of 94 and a 19-to-5 touchdown to interception ratio.

Carter-Williams, entering Monday’s tilt against Golden State, was tied for third in the NBA with 0.9 wins produced, 6th in PER with 29, and 9th in win shares with 0.6. On the season, he’s averaging 20 points/7.8 assists/5 rebounds/3.25 steals–each of which, save rebounds, leads all rookies.

Here’s the thing though: while Foles has been really, really good, he has more tools at his disposal than MCW. The quarterback is succeeding with one of the best offensive lines in football, a league-best running game led by one of the most dynamic halfbacks in football, and, in Desean Jackson,a game-breaking wide receiver. He also has Chip Kelly–one of, if not the, preeminent offensive thinkers in the sport–drawing up and calling his plays. When evaluating Foles, it’s instructive to consider that, before his hamstring went, Vick was pretty good this season too. Michael Carter-Williams, conversely, is surrounded by a roster Vegas thought would win 16.5 games. I’m taking MCW by a hair.

Ceiling

MCW has all the raw materials necessary for an explosive career. (If Syria had Michael Carter-Williams, we’d probably be in a land war now.) He’s 6’6″–crazy height for a point guard, though his wingspan is a less crazy 6’7″– runs like a gazelle, is possessed of tremendous floor vision, and has the requisite physicality to bully smaller guards. The downside: he’s already 22–not old necessarily, but certainly a bit older than he looks–and he can’t shoot a lick. He’s already shown improvement in the second area.

Nick Foles is a big, slow, old-fashioned quarterback. He has 50th percentile arm strength, but has shown a knack for reading defenses and standing in against the pass rush. He’s, up to this point, been a good redzone quarterback and seems comfortable making the quick decisions necessary in Kelly’s uptempo offense.

They’re close, but MCW gets the nod on naked physical ability.

Rock bottom

Against Dallas on Oct. 20, Foles played as badly as is biomechanically possible. He misread the field throughout and overthrew receivers to a jaw-dropping extent on the few occasions when he properly read the field. His line–11-of-29 for 80 yards–was much worse than it sounds. And it, of course, sounds terrible.

Carter-Williams, meanwhile, had his worst professional game against the Warriors–shooting 4-of-17 from the floor, the sort of inefficacy many anticipated when he was selected No. 11 overall in the summer. But he did some things to offset it. He got to the line–shooting 12 Fts and hitting 9 of them–and despite 6 turnovers, pulled down 6 rebounds and added 4 assists. He finished with an 18 points/6 rebounds/4 assists line, which, if that’s as bad as it gets, isn’t too bad. Chalk up another for MCW.

What the future holds

Things could clearly go either way for both the quarterback and the rookie. As good as Foles has been, and he’s been very good, it’s still entirely possible, if not outright likely, that this is his last season as the Eagles starter. Kelly, cryptic interviews notwithstanding, has demonstrated a preference for mobile quarterbacks, which the 2014 draft class has an abundance of. And while Foles job appears safe for the remainder of 2013, the coach hasn’t committed to keeping him under center when Vick returns. Based on his performance this season, if it holds, Foles is likely to get another starting job elsewhere, even if the Eagles decide to go in another direction, but it’s unclear if he’ll have the success he’s had in Kelly’s offense. In other words: is the system the star, or is the quarterback? Things are murky for the Wildcat.

MCW is on comparatively firmer ground. There’s less imperative (less, as in zero) to win now in Sixerland, so the rookie will have every opportunity to make mistakes and grow. It’s an opportunity that he, if the last week is any indication, is well-positioned to capitalize on. The point guard wins this one, and takes the round 4-1.

online poll by Opinion Stage