If Carson Wentz doesn’t play a perfect game, the Eagles are going to struggle to win. If he makes a trio of mistakes like the ones he made against anybody other than Bengals on Sunday afternoon, they would have been screwed. That shouldn’t get drowned out as we embark on our third straight week of hand-wringing about No. 11, which seems inevitable despite his late-game heroics in a 23-23 tie. The Eagles problems are a whole lot bigger than the quarterback, to an extent that any discussion about the position is wasted breath.
But in the interest of topicality, let’s start our survey of Sunday’s tie with the game’s most important position.
1) Wentz needs to eliminate the mistakes, but Sunday’s game was a good sign that his career isn’t close to being over.
Wentz’s mechanics are a problem. This is beyond dispute. The ball simply isn’t coming out of his hand with the consistency that he needs, particularly given the narrow margin for error that the rest of the roster provides him. This has been the case in all three games, and Sunday featured a trio of eyebrow-raisers in huge spots. You can’t fault Wentz for deciding to give Zach Ertz a chance to make a play late in the third quarter, but he needed to actually give his tight end that chance. Instead, he threw a ball where only LeShaun Sims could get it, and the Bengals defensive back did exactly that, with ease. Likewise, his overthrow of a wide open Miles Sanders for a sure touchdown was inexcusably bad. As was a pass intended for Greg Ward that was nearly picked off deep in Eagles territory in overtime.
These are throws that Wentz has made before. They are throws that he needs to find a way to make again. It’s that simple. He still has the physical ability. We saw that on a couple of throws to Ertz, the second of them a 30-yard over-the-shoulder dime in overtime.
The encouraging thing about his performance on Sunday afternoon was that he looked enough like his old self to tamp down concern that the injuries are catching up to him. Wentz was as creative on his feet as he has been in quite some time. He absorbed hits, he spun out of sacks, he made throws on the run. He sent the game to overtime by scrambling and bulling his way into the end zone for a touchdown. I remain convinced that Wentz’s biggest problem is that the team around him stinks. Down the field, he’s seeing less separation than a Puritan divorce court. Can you really blame him when he feels like he sees a defender with his back to the pocket and feels like he needs to take a shot down the field? Is it really that far-fetched to think that his awareness of a need for perfection is exacerbating his long-present mechanical flaws?
On a Greg Ward end around midway through the third quarter, Carlos Dunlap went unblocked and dragged the ballcarrier down for a six-yard loss. Then, on the ensuing 3rd-and-12, Doug Pederson called a screen to Ward that the Bengals easily sniffed out and bottled up for no gain. This stuff is every bit as basic as Wentz’s missed throws.
That’s not to say that the quarterback isn’t to blame for the pass that was thrown toward a crowd of Bengals defenders and picked off after being batted at the line of scrimmage. Nor is it to say that the interception to Ertz and his overthrow of Sanders weren’t ones that you’d like a franchise quarterback to be able to make with his eyes closed. But Wentz has never been the most mechanically sound quarterback. He’s always been a player who is prone to losing his lower half. We saw on Sunday that he has the ability to make the sort of plays that make up for his accuracy issues. But he needs a supporting cast that is constructed to maximize his ability to make those plays. And the Eagles are way, way short of that.
2) The defense looks like it was constructed by a third-rate contractor hoping to take advantage of an irrationally exuberant real estate market.
As bad as the Eagles offense has looked through its last 10 quarters of football, the No. 1 problem facing this team is far and away the complete and total breakdown of the unit that the was supposed to be the biggest reason to think this season could be something greater than nine wins and a first-round playoff. Look at the payroll. This is where the resources were spent. On Malik Jackson. On Javon Hargrave. On Brandon Graham. On Fletcher Cox. On Darius Slay. The Eagles' entire receiving corps and backfield are on the books for about as much salary as any two of their defensive linemen (or any one of Fletcher Cox). This was supposed to be a team that could pressure the quarterback, roll coverage away from Slay, and give the offense a magic number of three touchdowns.
Not only is that not happening, but the middle of the field is turning out to be such a disaster that the failure of the front four might be irrelevant. Giovanni Bernard’s 42-yard catch-and-run on 3rd-and-15 late in the fourth quarter was as inexcusable a play as you could have drawn up. The Eagles did a nice job of holding Joe Mixon to 34 rushing yards on 15 carries, but the rest of the field was far too wide open for a team that has invested the level of capital that the Eagles have in their D. Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow completed passes to nine different receivers, with Tyler Boyd catching nine passes for 114 yards and rookie Tee Higgins added five catches for 40 yards and a pair of touchdowns. On one of those touchdowns, Higgins was wide open after running a delay route near the goal line. This was one play after Jalen Mills was flagged for a crucial pass interference penalty with 1:39 remaining in the second half after Burrow floated a desperation throw into the corner of the end zone and Mills appeared to lose his balance against Auden Tate.
The Eagles need much, much more from Jim Schwartz’s unit.
3) Maybe the Eagles should give Jason Peters more money to play left tackle well
Look, Peters’ career is beyond question. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s the best offensive lineman in franchise history. He’s the biggest reason the Eagles have been able to seamlessly transition between three different coaching regimes since 2009. But he had a disastrous first half against the Bengals, and right now looks like another liability on an offensive line that is full of them.
This wasn’t the Washington game, but it also wasn’t the kind of performance that the Andy Reid offense counts on up front. Miles Sanders had another solid day with 16 carries for 92 yards, but this offense is missing that between-the-tackles punch that it had with Jay Ajayi and Jordan Howard in previous years. The Bengals entered the day having allowed 150+ rushing yards in each of their first two games. Last week, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt gashed them for 210 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. One way to take the pressure off your quarterback is to pound a defensive onto its heels. I’m just not sure the Eagles have the ability to do that. Matt Pryor’s false start that eliminated the possibility of a game-winning field goal attempt was just the icing on the top.