Four of the five Eagles turnovers Sunday were more or less Carson Wentz’s fault, and for that, fans have every right to be disappointed, angry, and critical of their $128 million quarterback.
But further review of the 17-9 loss to Seattle showed that some of those awful-looking Wentz throws, leading to so much angst, were actually awful-looking pass routes, run by the least accomplished group of wide receivers the Eagles have fielded in recent memory.
Exhibit A was that fourth-and-2 slant to rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside with just under eight minutes remaining, from the Seahawks’ 23. Live, it sure seemed that Wentz threw wide of Arcega-Whiteside, who got his hands on the ball but couldn’t bring it in. Even Fox analyst Charles Davis, a former college defensive back, called it “an inaccurate throw by Carson Wentz” on the broadcast.
Former Eagles receiver Bryce Treggs was the first to differ there, via Twitter Monday morning: “The sit point on a crossing route is two yards outside of the hash, where J.J. begins to sit down. Instead of sitting down and setting a definitive target for the quarterback, J.J. takes an extra hop outside and that makes the throw inaccurate.”
Former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky also took to Twitter to declare that he had rewatched the game and that it was “the single worst game I have ever seen at the WR position when it comes to details/being where you’re supposed to be when [you’re] supposed to be there/& not fooling the QB. I try to be positive-BUT THAT WAS AWFUL. They hung their QB out.”
Orlovsky later posted an analysis of three such instances, two involving Arcega-Whiteside, one being the play Treggs pointed out. He made the same point there as Treggs, noting that Wentz started to throw when the receiver turned toward him with his hands up, then Arcega-Whiteside hopped to the side, as the ball was leaving Wentz’s hand.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson referred to Wentz and Arcega-Whiteside not being on the same page on that play.
Some of the decisions Wentz made, particularly the ones that led to turnovers, definitely weren’t what you want to see from your fourth-year franchise quarterback. It’s still hard to fathom how he lofted the ball well over Miles Sanders, twice, or why he seemed so oblivious to pass-rush pressure. He fumbled the ball away twice, fumbled and recovered once, and there was yet another Wentz fumble, recovered by the Seahawks after an “empty-hand” blocked pass, that was negated by a Seattle penalty.
But it seems that maybe Wentz wasn’t as bad, overall, as his receivers made him look, and that maybe his problems will recede if Alshon Jeffery (ankle) and Nelson Agholor (knee) return to the field this week against Miami, and Lane Johnson (concussion) and Brandon Brooks (anxiety) return to the offensive line.
“No, no, it's not the yips,” Pederson said Monday, when confronted with a brisk line of questioning about his quarterback. “There are times when it's just a matter of setting your feet as a quarterback, and just delivering a short throw, or getting your eyes on target a lot sooner than you do. He's such a great thrower of the ball down the field, and these are the things that we continue to work on with him, and we have to make sure Miles is in the right spot, too.
“It goes both ways. It's not always about the quarterback. We can coach that up, obviously, and we will, but we also have to get the other guys in the right spots as well.”
In retrospect, it seems pretty restrained of Wentz that after the game, he talked about having to be better, as a passer and as a leader, and never once alluded negatively to his wide-receiving corps of Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward, Jordan Matthews, and Mack Hollins. Matthews was waived on Monday, after playing 73 of a possible 76 offensive snaps against the Seahawks.
Pederson was asked about tailoring the offense to Wentz’s strengths. Pederson’s answer, when contrasted with the weapons he and Wentz are working with right now, seemed revealing.
“Vertical concepts, for instance, down the field with maybe a third element coming into his vision, those are all things that he is successful with. Obviously, the quick passing game, being able to throw slants, being able to throw the ball to the flat, the RPO game, he's very successful at that,” Pederson said. “Those are the things that, as we construct these game plans, that we think about. And we have to think about our personnel, and what we have, obviously, that week going into the game, and [we] try to have as many of those concepts in that plan against that opponent.”
Pederson also said that Wentz should be able to practice and play this week with the bruised throwing hand he suffered making a tackle after a fumbled handoff exchange on Sunday.
That you could hold Tom Brady to a 67.3 passer rating one week, then hold Russell Wilson to a 75.4 passer rating the next week, and go 0-2?
Zach Ertz became the second receiver in Eagles history with 500 catches on Sunday. His 12 receptions for 91 yards gave him 504 in 102 Eagles games, for 5,539 yards. Harold Carmichael (589 for 8,978, in 180 games) is the leader.
Rewatching the game, it was easy to see why the coaching staff felt it needed to pull the plug at halftime on Andre Dillard at right tackle.
As former Eagles left tackle Tra Thomas pointed out on Twitter, Dillard was setting up with one foot cocked on every pass play, and with his feet parallel on every run. Then there were the following obvious miscues:
1. On Carson Wentz’s first fumble, Rasheem Green deposited Dillard on his rear end with a two-hand shove, Green went to the ground, and then reached up and punched the ball out of Wentz’s hands.
2. On the Wentz lost fumble that was negated by a defensive hold in the secondary, Ziggy Ansah went through Dillard, straight to Wentz, who was starting his throwing motion.
3. At the first half two-minute warning, the Eagles might have had something going on a Greg Ward end-around, but Green easily eluded Dillard to run down Ward at the line.
Reporters had an uneasy feeling about the team asking its first-round rookie to switch sides for the first time in his life, after on Friday he likened it to having to write a perfect essay with your opposite hand. Lots of offensive linemen have lined up on the other side of the center with considerably less hyperbole. But Doug Pederson said Monday he had no indication that Dillard wasn’t ready.
“He got so much better as the week progressed, and by the time we got to Friday, the Friday practice was great,” Pederson said. “He felt comfortable, the Saturday walkthrough, he was ready to go.”
Pederson said that although “you just can’t take your left guy and go stick him on the right without taking practice reps,” Dillard had such reps.