With the Eagles season nearly irrelevant, and with Carson Wentz limping to its conclusion, it seems appropriate to address the hysterical criticisms and unwarranted consternation regarding the Wentz Wagon’s value and development.
His value is immense. His development is fine. Recent suggestions that Wentz has regressed, or that he isn’t worth the mega-millions the Eagles assuredly will pay him in an extension this offseason, are unwise. He’s 40 starts into what should be a 200-start career, possibly as fruitful as Aaron Rodgers'. As Rodgers once said, R-E-L-A-X.
I understand the temptation. Almost 20 years ago, we did it to Donovan McNabb. More than anyone else, I did it to Donovan McNabb. Now, we’re doing it to Carson Wentz, and, yes, I’ve done it to Wentz, too.
Done what? Demanded perfection. Dissected each throw, each run, each decision, as if McNabb and Wentz already were what we hoped they would become: the next Brett Favre, or Steve Young, or Joe Montana, or Rodgers. They weren’t them, and they cannot be them, and to wish for it is foolish. They are who they are.
We expected more from McNabb, and that was irresponsible and immature. The constant clamor diminished McNabb’s appreciation of the city, and perhaps worse, it diminished the city’s appreciation of McNabb. Don’t make the same mistake with Wentz.
Wentz missed practice Wednesday with a sore back, which might cost him a start Sunday against the Rams, if not more.
Even before Wentz’s chronic back problems resurfaced, folks were calling for backup Nick Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, to take over. Those folks forgot that Nicky 6 was so exquisitely awful through the preseason and the first two regular-season games that they were begging for Wentz to return, immediately, even if he was at 75 or 80 percent.
That’s what those folks got: 75 or 80 percent.
Astoundingly, hindered by a brace and offensive coordinator Mike Groh, Wentz still has a 102.2 passer rating. If those folks had been told in September that Wentz’s rating would be slightly higher than it was when he led the 2017 MVP race (101.9), and that it would be better than three guys whose Hall of Fame busts are already cast — Rodgers (99.6), Tom Brady (98.2), and Ben Roethlisberger (97.4) — those folks would’ve made reservations in Atlanta.
Wentz’s teammates and coaches are growing weary of the Wentz-is-regressing narrative.
“Dude’s playing lights-out,” right guard Brandon Brooks said. “He’s carrying the team.”
So, if it hasn’t been Wentz’s perceived poor play, how did the Eagles reach the brink of elimination?
The Eagles were injured beyond depth.
Not even Wentz could save them.
Their top three running backs — Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, and Corey Clement — could have played a combined 39 games, or 13 games apiece, by now. They have played 18 games, 46 percent. That’s the same percentage as their top two wide receivers, Alshon Jeffery and Mike Wallace (12 of 26). Furthermore, the offensive line — last year’s best unit — has been this year’s most disappointing, largely because of injury. Offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce have played most of the season with leg and arm injuries, and right tackle Lane Johnson was compromised for Games 6 through 11 with ankle and knee injuries.
As bad as all that sounds, the real injury issues have come on the other side of the ball; specifically, in the defensive backfield. Free safety Rodney McLeod was lost in Game 3, and his replacements, Corey Graham and Avonte Maddox, have missed six of the next 20 possible games. Starting cornerbacks Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, and Sidney Jones have played in 26 of 39 games, or 67 percent. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan missed the first 10 games and the last two, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks has missed the last three games, and both of the other starting linebackers have broken hands.
Asked Wednesday whether he felt snakebitten by injuries, Eagles coach Doug Pederson replied, “You look around, and it feels that way.”
The poison has crept into the evaluation of Wentz, and that’s ridiculous.
Is it Wentz’s fault that the Eagles blew leads against Tennessee and Carolina? Is it Wentz’s fault that Jones and De’Vante Bausby couldn’t cover Cowboys star Amari Cooper? Is it Wentz’s fault the Jasons in front of him are each playing with one arm and one leg?
All those issues affect Wentz’s play, which, by some metrics, actually improved. He’s completing 69.6 percent of his passes, 9.4 percentage points better than last year, and, again, better than Rodgers, Brady, and Big Ben.
“That’s almost unheard of at this level, to be able to increase your completion percentage the way he’s done,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said.
Brady needed seven seasons as a starter to compile a passer rating higher than Wentz’s current rating, and Brady was never better than 92.6 until that seventh season. Roethlisberger needed four seasons. Rodgers was slightly better his first two seasons as a starter, but he’s the best passer in history.
None of them has finished a season with a completion percentage as high as Wentz’s 69.6.
Times are different — certainly, life is easier for a quarterback in the NFL now than it was when those three were breaking in — but Wentz’s rating is seventh best in the league today.
Is he perfect? No. Should he throw into tight coverage more often? Probably. Could he use better footwork in the pocket? Yes.
In Sunday’s loss at Dallas, at the end of the first half, he had a man open on a deep route on the first play of the two-minute offense. Later in that series, he threw off his back foot because he didn’t move. He threw a pair of consecutive, lazy passes in the third quarter. Early in the fourth, he missed a running back in the flat in the red zone.
Big deal. Everybody misses receivers. Everybody makes bad throws. He missed receivers and made bad throws last season, too, but the defense was better, he was mobile, and the offensive line was outstanding: Three of five starters were All-Pro or Pro Bowl players, and that doesn’t count Peters, who was headed to his 10th Pro Bowl until he blew out his knee in Game 7.
Call those excuses, or explanations, or whatever you want; but they are reasons, and they are valid. To ignore them devalues whatever criticisms you want to level at the kid.
And yes, he’s still a kid. He has played one 16-game season. He has zero playoff starts. If he’s on a yellow brick road, he hasn’t even met the Scarecrow yet.