Eagles film breakdown: Carson Wentz is the least of the team’s problems
Even in his worst game Wentz showed why he is still performing at a high level, if not at one high enough to lift his team, however, unrealistic that may be.
The Eagles are 3-4 and beyond the old Bill Parcells adage that you are what your record says you are, there is a similar assessment as it relates to quarterbacks: You are what your team’s record says you are.
While most understand that there are more detailed, and often more effective, ways to evaluate quarterbacks, Carson Wentz said that using wins and losses was fair.
“Absolutely. I think that’s our job in this league,” Wentz said Wednesday. “We’re trying to win every week and as a quarterback that’s how you should be judged.”
Under that premise, Wentz is a career 26-21 quarterback, and over the last two seasons, an 8-10 one. But there are too many variables in football to appraise quarterbacks solely upon record.
Wentz hasn’t performed consistently at an elite level this season and is probably coming off his worst game. But the Eagles have been disappointing for reasons greater than their quarterback. And while Wentz’s coaches may have previously been guilty of overprotecting him, at least publicly, their faint criticism this season, at least based on the film, hasn’t seemed contrived.
“I am pleased with where Carson is at,” coach Doug Pederson said. “At the same time, I would tell you that there is some room for improvement, too, and he would tell you the same thing.”
Wentz’s passing numbers don’t exactly support the notion that he has been the least of the Eagles’ problems. He’s 19th in passer rating (92.9), 25th in completion percentage (61.3), and 25th in average yards per attempt (6.87). He’s kept turnovers to a minimum but had three alone – an interception and two fumbles – in Sunday’s 37-10 loss at the Cowboys.
“I got to be better,” Wentz said. “Three turnovers killed us. … I got to protect the ball. And I got to do better in leading this team, for sure.”
Leads, though, have been hard to come by. The Eagles have trailed by double digits in the first half of six of seven games. It takes a full-team effort, or lack thereof, to get that far behind, and Wentz’s 72.0 first quarter rating suggests that he hasn’t done much to overcome the sluggish starts.
But Wentz said that the early deficits haven’t altered his approach – at least initially. Either way, his second and third quarter statistics have been very good. He’s completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 7.4 yards per attempt, thrown 11 touchdowns against only one interception, and compiled a 110.2 rating over that span.
But his fourth quarter numbers – he has a 67.6 rating – have shown, in part, that the slow starts can affect passing performance, especially if the Eagles trail into the final frame.
“I think it can at some point in the game,” Wentz said. “I still think that early on we try not to panic, try not to do anything different and stay with our game plan. … Obviously, late in a ball game when you’re down, you got to go.”
Wentz was forced to press throws in the Eagles’ last two losses. But he did enough late in the Packers win to sustain a lead, and if it weren’t for late dropped passes in both the Falcons and Lions losses, the narrative of his and the Eagles’ season might be flipped.
But even in his worst game Wentz showed why he is still performing at a high level, if not at one high enough to lift his team, however, unrealistic that may be. Here’s a look at the film:
The Eagles had the opportunity to hit on a big play on the opening drive. Receiver Alshon Jeffery (No. 17) had gotten behind Dallas cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (No. 24) vs. press man coverage. Depending upon interpretation, Jeffery was either interfered with or failed to get separation and tangled with Awuzie and fell.
Officials picked up a flag for pass interference.
Tight end Zach Ertz (No. 86), meanwhile, was also open over the middle. Wentz made his read based upon the coverage and seemingly made the right one. But this play was one example of why Ertz hasn’t been targeted as much this season, especially early in games.
Pederson: The plays we called, obviously had him in mind on a couple of them. The ball just went to other guys. … That’s just part of playing progression offense.
Ertz has 19 fewer targets than he had through seven games last season. He hasn’t seen a pass come his way in three straight first quarters and wasn’t targeted until the third quarter Sunday.
Wentz: He’s still be a primary quite a bit and we’re still integrating him. Last week, especially, we struggled all across the board. So I’m always confident Ertz will get his.
Tight end Dallas Goedert fumbled on the next play. A series later, Wentz dropped to throw, but he didn’t have anyone initially open. Ertz was his primary read, but he was shaded by two linebackers on a short hook over the middle. Wentz hitched, but Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (No. 90) got around right tackle Lane Johnson (No. 65) and strip-sacked the quarterback in 2.62 seconds.
While Wentz has struggled to hook up with his top receivers downfield after DeSean Jackson’s abdomen injury, he’s had success with running back Miles Sanders and Goedert.
Wentz: I think it comes down each week to matchups and trying to exploit matchups, if you can get Miles on a linebacker with his speed, or Dallas on a linebacker with his speed and ability. Sometimes it’s just by scheme and you’re creating mismatches.
The Eagles used “21 personnel” – two running backs and one tight end -- to get both Goedert (No. 88) and Sanders (No. 26) matched up vs. linebackers on this play. Wentz had the pick of both, but tossed a dime to the former over Leighton Vander Esch (No. 55).
Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh: Great throw by Carson and a really good play by Dallas down there in the endzone for the long touchdown throw.
Holding the ball
Wentz had been getting the ball out pretty fast in his first six games. He averaged 2.51 seconds from snap to release, according to Pro Football Focus, which was seventh among 27 qualifying quarterbacks. But he held the ball for 3.16 seconds against the Cowboys.
There were, of course, many reasons behind the increased time. But there were times when Wentz appeared to hold the ball too long. He agreed.
Wentz: There’s definitely times … got to get the ball out, got to make a play, got to do something different.
On this play, he had receiver Nelson Agholor (No. 13) open over the middle, but he didn’t throw and instead scrambled for five yards.
Pederson: It’s hard when your quarterback sometimes doesn’t necessarily have all the time to throw. He’s having to scramble and move around and it gets you off rhythm, gets you off schedule. So that’s a part of it.
Wentz has been good against the blitz. He’s completed 71 percent of his passes for 7.9 yards per attempt with three touchdowns and only one interception when blitzed. On this third down, the Cowboys gave a 3-3-5 pre-snap look. The Eagles slid protection to the overload side, but the linebackers dropped, and cornerback Jourdan Lewis (No. 27) blitzed off the edge untouched.
Wentz: I got to see that and make the right protection call.
Wentz took the blame, and maybe he could have felt the pressure, but an assignment was missed, most likely by Sanders.
Eagles center Jason Kelce: It was not a new look. We were prepared for it going into the game. It wasn’t executed.
The Eagles offensive line may have had its worst game in terms of pass protection. This third quarter play was a perfect example. Dallas rushed only four, but the Eagles kept seven in to protect and still allowed pressure. Wentz somehow escaped and gained five yards.
Groh: We’re facing some good people up front and I think that we have done a good job of protecting the quarterback. If the goal is to give up no sacks every week then we’re obviously falling a little bit short of that. But there are some things from a pass-protection standpoint that we can clean up and then just individual techniques.
Sanders, somehow, was responsible for blocking Lawrence off the edge on this play. Wentz, again, avoided a sack, scrambled and hit Agholor for a 19-yard gain.
Wentz’s rating when under pressure, per PFF, is 85.7, fifth-best among 28 qualifying quarterbacks in the league.
Groh: There are plays that he makes a hero play, scrambles out of there and makes a play that you just scratch your head and you look at the guy next to you and say, “Holy cow, what a play.”
From the pocket
But Wentz can make all the throws from the pocket, as well. NFL quarterbacks must have the arm strength and accuracy to hit receivers downfield vs. Cover 2. Wentz, on two occasions, tossed darts to Jeffery in the “turkey hole” between a safety and the cornerback. On this attempt, he hit his receiver for 30 yards.
But if Wentz has struggled on a particular pass to Jeffery, it’s been on jump balls.
Wentz: You could argue we could go after that a little more and I can be better at. I can do a better job of giving him those chances.
This throw doesn’t exactly qualify as a 50-50 ball, but it was a pass that required some touch. Wentz overthrew his receiver, though.
Trailing by three scores in the fourth quarter, the Eagles had little choice but to drop on every down. The Cowboys knew as much and often had seven men in coverage. Wentz had no one initially open on this play and forced a pass to Jeffery that was intercepted by safety Xavier Woods (No. 25).
Wentz: We got down early and made it tough on ourselves. So, obviously, late in the game we were forced to throw the ball. They were pinning their ears back. There’s things I could do better. I could have better pocket presence.
Groh: I think it’s part of playing the position is knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them.
The deep ball
The Eagles’ deep ball woes, particularly on passes over 40 yards, have been well documented since Jackson’s injury. Agholor, Jeffery, Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside have been targeted a combined 21 times on passes over 20 yards and they’ve caught only 3 for 96 yards. They’ve dropped four and failed to pull in five more “catchable passes,” per PFF.
The Eagles set up a shot play midway through the fourth – essentially their last gasp at a comeback – and Wentz unfurled a bomb to a deep crossing Agholor.
Wentz: I thought we had a touchdown when I threw it.
But Agholor couldn’t make the grab and came under fire from fans who thought he gave less than full effort.
Wentz: I was on the ground, so I didn’t get a chance to see. When I threw it, I thought we had a good one there. I got to make a better throw, obviously.
Agholor: If I could do it again, I would have probably sold the corner a little less so that I could get out of it and be able to track the ball a little earlier. … I do not feel like I was in position with the way my stride was to leave my feet. For those that think that they would have done that, I think that’s to respect to them. I’ve asked one of the deep ball players in DeSean Jackson what I could have done to be better, and he said, “You know, Nelly, if you see it earlier, you may have be able to run under it perfectly.”
Pederson and Groh defended Agholor’s effort, if not his route and ball recognition.
Groh: I thought he gave tremendous effort; played with great speed down the field. I thought he located the ball maybe a little bit later in the down than we would like and made it a difficult … to catch up to it.