The real testament to how badly the Eagles beat the Vikings in the NFC championship game in January 2018 wasn’t the 38-7 score. Rather, it was the hallucinations that apparently plagued general manager Rick Spielman the ensuing offseason, when he looked at Kirk Cousins and saw a quarterback worth $28 million per season, a guaranteed $84 million over three years.
A year-and-a-half later, like an old, burnt-out hippie, the Vikings are coming to grips with the decisions they made back when the world was young and free of consequence.
When the Eagles take the field in Minneapolis on Sunday, they’ll face a team that has thrown the ball on just 126 of its 290 offensive plays, the lowest total by an NFL team through five games since 2012. The only thing that passes less frequently than the Vikings is a 1992 Buick LeSabre driven by an 85-year-old grandmother on I-95 through Boca Raton. In a Week 1 win over the Falcons, they threw the ball just 10 times, the fewest by a team with a non-rookie starter since Tim Tebow went 2-for-8 in a win over the Chiefs in 2011.
It’s not that Cousins is a bad quarterback. He’s perfectly capable, which also means he is the worst kind of quarterback that an organization can have.
A bad quarterback is something that you can easily move on from, like a pair of pants that don’t fit right. It took the Broncos just two years to realize that Tebow was a bad quarterback. They made the switch to Peyton Manning, and two years later, they were in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks needed just one season to decide that Tarvaris Jackson wasn’t the answer. Two years later, they won the Super Bowl with Russell Wilson under center.
But an organization really gets stuck when it ends up with a competent quarterback who does just enough to keep a team competitive. The Titans are in the midst of their fifth season with Marcus Mariota under center, but are they any closer to Super Bowl contention than they were when they gave up on Jake Locker after 23 starts? The Bengals have yet to win a playoff game after eight-plus seasons with Andy Dalton at quarterback. Take him out of the equation, and perhaps Cincinnati doesn’t pass on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in favor of wide receiver John Ross two years ago.
All of this makes Sunday as good a time as any for Eagles fans to take a few moments and offer a quiet prayer of thanks for the guy who will be barking out the snap counts on their behalf.
While most of the fan base seems to hold a fairly rational understanding of Carson Wentz’s place in the current hierarchy of NFL quarterbacks, there is a vocal segment that continues to assign a disproportionate weight to his week-to-week imperfections versus all of the things that very clearly make him one of a handful of players in the league who can single-handedly make a team a Super Bowl contender.
I suspect that part of the problem is the bar that Wentz set for himself with his otherworldly play in 2017, when he was the league’s leading MVP candidate before tearing up a knee in Week 14. Another part of it is the Eagles’ 8-8 record with him under center since the injury, especially when compared with the 10-2 mark posted by Nick Foles (which, you may not know, included a Super Bowl victory). But the notion that Wentz is the primary culprit for that .500 record is simply wrong.
In his 16 starts over the last two seasons, Wentz has completed 66.8% of his passes for 4,226 yards, with 31 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 99.8. This year, the Eagles are once again converting third downs at a remarkable rate: 52.1%, better than all but one other team in the NFL (the Texans). Wentz’s 117.4 rating on third down ranks fifth among quarterbacks with at least 30 pass attempts.
Despite all the holes that have emerged over the first five weeks of the season — the inconsistent pass rush, the overly accommodating secondary, the absence of a deep threat with DeSean Jackson hurt — Wentz remains the primary reason to consider this Eagles team as legitimate a contender as any in the NFC.
There’s no doubt that, for them to reach that potential, he needs to be better than he was against the Jets last week. But three-plus seasons are more than enough time to conclude that he can be better, and he will be better. To ignore that overarching reality and consume oneself with nitpicking his performance is to do a disservice to both him and oneself.
The worst place a team can be in today’s NFL is one where it is afraid to throw the football. Whatever the outcome of Sunday’s game, the Eagles have the kind of player a modern team needs to have under center. So look to the opposite sideline, and give thanks.