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Carson Wentz or Doug Pederson: Who’s the Eagles’ biggest problem? | Jeff McLane

Something is rotten in Wentz, and the big-picture concern is that the first half of this season wasn’t an anomaly.

Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch forces a fumble from Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. on November 1, 2020.
Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch forces a fumble from Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. on November 1, 2020.Read moreYONG KIM/ Staff Photographer

Carson Wentz wasn’t the worst quarterback at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday night.

That may be the best you can say about his performance in the Eagles' uninspiring 23-9 win over the Cowboys. He had four turnovers, and yet wasn’t as dreadful as Ben DiNucci. That he is even being mentioned in the same breath as Dallas' rookie quarterback isn’t a comparison anyone would have conceived of before the season.

But that’s where Wentz stands after eight games. He is a quarterback lost in search of his former self. Each time he has seemingly righted himself and taken a step forward, the 27-year-old has subsequently regressed.

“I’m not good enough,” Wentz said when asked to assess his play this season. "I’m pumped we got the win. … But I’m a little frustrated with just how I played and how we left some plays out there, left some points on there, and missed some big opportunities.

“And I can be better. I know I will be.”

Wentz’s gallant fourth-quarter comeback against the New York Giants 10 days ago should have provided momentum heading into another important NFC East matchup. But all it took was three plays before Wentz coughed up another turnover — a strip-sack fumble in which he held the ball too long.

» READ MORE: Eagles bumble and stumble before finding the right direction to beat Dallas, 23-9

There would be another fumble, an interception, and another interception. All told, he has an NFL-worst 16 turnovers (12 interceptions and four fumbles) this season, and needs only one more to match his career worst set four years ago as a rookie. Wentz had only 14 turnovers in 16 games a season ago.

“Too many turnovers. I got to be better,” Wentz said. “There’s mistakes out there, some of it maybe not on the same page [with receivers]. … The first fumble I got to throw the ball away. That stuff I can keep cleaning up.”

The last turnover could have warranted a benching. But Eagles coach Doug Pederson wisely didn’t open that Jalen Hurts can of worms. For one, the Cowboys had virtually no chance of reaching the end zone with DiNucci under center.

“No, there was never any of that conversation to pull him,” Pederson said.

And a quarterback controversy is the last thing the Eagles need, especially since they — oh, yeah — lead the division at 3-4-1. Wentz, to his credit, managed his team to victory down the stretch, but the Eagles' defense were the heroes this night, with an assist from DiNucci.

Wentz turned it around, somewhat, after his fourth giveaway. The fourth had been his quarter in the previous two games, but he settled down midway through the third. The key plays came in Dallas territory — a 15-yard pass to tight end Dallas Goedert — his first catch of the night — a 9-yard scramble, and a 9-yard touchdown fade to receiver Travis Fulgham.

The Eagles tacked on a two-point conversion when Wentz found Jalen Reagor and retook the lead, 15-9.

As disappointing as the season has been, and no matter the final outcome, if there’s a silver lining to all the offensive injuries it’s Fulgham. The Eagles found themselves a receiver, if by luck, but with Reagor (three catches for 16 yards and a touchdown), the future at the position could be bright.

But even two wins in a row and the division lead can’t seem to compensate for how poorly the Eagles’ offense has played for long stretches this season. Dallas entered the game allowing a league-worst 36.3 points a game and Pederson, Wentz, and company couldn’t figure out a way to consistently move the ball.

» READ MORE: Doug Pederson needs to get the Eagles’ offense going, or the team will need to find someone who can | David Murphy

The first half felt like a race to the bottom, of course, with even the most inept able to win the division.

On most nights, DiNucci’s performance before the break would be about as limp as it gets for a quarterback. He completed just 7 of 17 passes for 67 yards, was sacked twice, and fumbled when defensive end Brandon Graham stripped him on second-and-goal at the Eagles 7.

The seventh-round rookie, who was pressed into duty after injuries to Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton, was jittery in the pocket and inaccurate on most of his throws beyond 5 yards. But Wentz was just as shaky in the first 30 minutes.

He, once again, got off to a slow start, but this was among his worst-ever halves of football. He had three turnovers, all of them coming in Dallas territory. The first two were strip sacks, and Wentz could be faulted for holding the ball too long, or failing to see open receivers, but they weren’t nearly as egregious as his interception late in the second quarter.

On first down at the 34-yard line, Wentz rolled to his right and fired to a double-covered Reagor. The pass was errant and Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs made the pick by sliding his knee down just before the sideline.

“I thought Reagor had a step on the guy," Wentz said. “I was out of the pocket and I pulled the trigger quick to try and give him a chance. [Diggs] beat him to the spot.”

» READ MORE: Carson Wentz must abandon football for two weeks, for the Eagles' sake | Marcus Hayes

Wentz’s early struggles have been a season-long problem. But Pederson hasn’t done enough to help his quarterback. His play-calling has been inconsistent, his decision-making hesitant. The second fumble came after a late decision to go for it on fourth-and-3. By the time the huddle broke, there were 7 seconds left on the play clock and Wentz seemingly rushed the snap.

A series later, the Eagles faced third-and-6. They had four receivers on the field and the Cowboys called timeout. Pederson countered with two-tight-end personnel and called a trick play in which Corey Clement flipped to Greg Ward, who appeared set to throw back to Wentz, à la “Philly Special.”

But Dallas shaded Wentz over top and Ward was dropped short of the marker.

After Wentz’s first interception, Pederson rolled the dice again on fourth-and-1 at the Cowboys' 44. Wentz had previously converted a third-and-1 with a sneak, and Boston Scott had rushed for a career-high 63 yards up until that point. But Pederson went to the air and a timing route to Fulgham that wasn’t completed on time.

The Eagles' first drive of the second half was pretty much a continuation of the first half. Wentz heaved another deep pass to the post route-running John Hightower, but the ball sailed and Diggs had his second interception of the game.

“The coverage definitely dictated that’s where to go with the ball,” Wentz said. “John and I just weren’t on the same page.”

Hightower made a couple of 50-yard-plus catches in the previous two games, but the rookie hasn’t done well down the field, whether tracking the ball or pulling it in. Wentz and the receiver have lacked chemistry.

“Some of these shots down the field — I’m going to keep giving these guys chances and I can be better and put the ball in the right spot,” Wentz said. “But I’m not going to change my aggressive personality.”

But the same could be said of the quarterback’s on-field relationship with most of his ball catchers this season, even with longtime teammates like tight end Zach Ertz.

Something is rotten in Wentz, and the big-picture concern is that the first half of this season wasn’t an anomaly.