Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Stafford are two of many reasons to reserve judgment on Carson Wentz | David Murphy
Reports of Carson Wentz's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Why his awful season could easily prove to be nothing more than that.
I’ve come to believe that, a generation from now, psychologists will look back on the year 2020 and conclude that our entire society was clinically insane. So it doesn’t surprise me that most of the Carson Wentz takes I’ve read seem divorced from objective reality.
The disconnect is best illustrated by an infographic that you’ve probably seen floating around the content-sphere. In one column are Wentz’s statistics in his first four seasons in the league. In the second column are his statistics from this season. Above the table is a headline that, depending on the source, has some iteration of the phrase, “What happened to Carson Wentz?”
The amusing part of this breakdown is that it usually begins with the number of games in each sample. There, in the first row of the table, just below the headline that wonders how the heck a quarterback can instantly transform from a perennial Top 10 performer into one of the lowest-rated passers in the league, are the following numbers:
2016-19: 56 games
2020: 12 games
Golly, the answer to the question feels like it is this close, doesn’t it? Can’t quite put my finger on it. Anyway, here’s a look at Wentz’s salary cap hit for next season! LOL!
I’m not a trained mathematician, but I do know that if somebody tasked me with predicting the future behavior of some entity, and if the only available evidence of that entity’s past behavior were two conflicting datasets, the first thing I would do is look at the size of those datasets. And if one of those datasets happened to be five times larger than the other, I would at least hesitate before concluding that the smaller dataset was the better predictor of the future.
Look, if the month of June ended with five straight days of rain, you’d pack an umbrella, not build an ark. That is where we are with Wentz. Can we rule out the possibility that Wentz’s struggles will prove to be biblical? Of course not. Is there a chance that the hit that knocked him out of last year’s Wild Card game will prove to have been one hit too many? Sure. But it’s hard to conclude that is likely to be the case.
Take, for instance, the small handful of me-against-the-world performances we’ve seen Wentz deliver this season. Consider also the 28 consecutive regular-season games that he has started. Both offer plenty of reason to believe that his problems are not physiological. Besides, nobody has a closer view of Wentz, or more information about his health, than Doug Pederson. It is notable, then, that Pederson continued to run Wentz back out there as long as he did.
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If you were responsible for deciding how to proceed with Wentz from your armchair, the only reasonable course of action would be to assume that Wentz’s bad season is exactly that. One bad season. The only reason he looks existentially bad is that the Eagles are an existential mess around him. The guy has been sacked 50 times. He’s been crushed on countless other occasions. Often, when it looks like he is holding the ball too long, it’s because there are seven guys blocking for him and three receivers blanketed down field. And he still ends up getting crushed.
As Jason Kelce noted earlier this week, the Eagles are not your average bad football team. They are dysfunctional. You could design the best quarterback in the world, and if you forced him to play 7-on-11, he’d look like the worst quarterback in the world. The Eagles might be playing 11-on-11, but the logic stands. Every quarterback’s competence is at least partially dependent on his supporting cast, and there is a threshold at which the deficiencies of that supporting cast render him useless.
None of that means Wentz would be having a great season if he had more help. But there have been plenty of good quarterbacks who have had not-good seasons.
Take Ben Roethlisberger. In his fifth year in the league, the future Hall of Famer threw 15 interceptions on 469 attempts, fumbled 14 times, completed 59.9 percent of his passes, and finished with a Total QBR that was four points lower than Wentz’s this season. Sure, he was two biological years younger than Wentz. But he has gone on to play 12 more seasons and counting. The biggest difference between Roethlisberger’s fifth season and Wentz’s is the Steelers had the NFL’s top-ranked defense, rushed the ball 29 times per game, went 12-4, and won the Super Bowl.
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I know, I know. Oh, by the way, they won the Super Bowl. Scoff all you want. Point is, people are using Wentz’s individual numbers to conclude that he’s more cooked than a Trump Steak. But the only reason Roethlisberger’s regression wasn’t as bad as Wentz’s is Wentz’s numbers were better in his first four seasons.
Matt Stafford, Ryan Tannehill, Derek Carr -- all have had seasons that were on par with Wentz’s current season. That might sound like faint praise, but keep your eye on the point: all have gone on to outperform those seasons.
There’s a reason why ESPN.com’s preseason panel of executives, scouts and other personnel men ranked Wentz as the eighth-best quarterback in the game. There’s a reason why a recent story on that website quoted a variety of GMs as saying that Wentz was a victim of the team around him.
Again, could they be wrong? No doubt. Could Jalen Hurts far outperform Wentz over the next four weeks? Absolutely. It might even be probable, given that Hurts is inarguably better equipped to run for his life. But it takes a lot longer than four games to establish oneself as a legitimate NFL starter. It’s highly unlikely that Hurts will show as much as Lamar Jackson did last season, and we’ve seen how quickly the league has adjusted to the reigning MVP.
Fifty-six is greater than 16, and 12, and four. You want to compare numbers? That’s where you should start.