Dejected Eagles fans aren’t the only ones digging up Carson Wentz’s 2017 highlights, searching for answers.
Coach Doug Pederson, whose offense has been listless through 11 weeks, said he and his staff, along with Wentz, turned back the tape to the quarterback’s better days in hopes of reversing Wentz’s regression ahead of Monday night’s home game against the Seattle Seahawks.
“I’ve gone back and looked at ’17 and ’18 tape, our coaching staff has, I know he has,” Pederson said. “We’ve looked at everything from play-calling – me, am I different? Am I using personnel right? Am I making decisions that are beneficial for the team? I look at a bunch of that stuff.”
Pederson’s offense has been one of the worst in the NFL so far this season, largely because of Wentz’s struggles. The Eagles are 30th in passing offense and they’re tied for 24th in passing touchdowns. Wentz is at the bottom of several advanced metrics, including completion percentage over expectation, and leads the league in turnovers and sacks.
The Eagles have tried several things this season, teetering between a vertical passing attack focused on deep shots to a less risky, more underneath approach. Nothing has cured the 27-year-old quarterback’s issues, and Wentz said Wednesday it’s not up to the coaches to help him out of his rut.
“I don’t think it’s really the game plan when we’ve been struggling,” Wentz said. “I just think it’s little things that hurt us maybe early in games, turnovers or different things that we’re really just shooting ourselves in the foot. I think the game plans have been solid this year, and I think how coach calls it, I always have a lot of trust in him and everything. I don’t want to dive into that as much as it’s really just us, and on me to drive this thing the right way and stop hurting ourselves.”
Still, Pederson offered some ideas for how to turn things around at Wednesday’s media session, suggesting a different approach to the offense could benefit both Wentz and young skill-position players like receivers Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham.
“We want to simplify overall,” he said. “Maybe for the quarterback position, but we’re also simplifying for the rest of the offense ... especially this time of year when fatigue and bodies are sore and the minds kind of get tired.”
Pederson also hinted the team could be going with heavier formations, with the possibility of tight end Zach Ertz returning. Ertz, missed the last four games with an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve. He returned to practice last week and has a chance of playing Monday.
The Eagles have consistently been one of the most frequent users of “12″ personnel sets — formations that utilize one running back and two tight ends — under Pederson during the last few seasons. With Ertz sidelined and fellow tight end Dallas Goedert missing two games earlier this season, the team has used more “11″ sets, with three receivers, one running back, and one tight end.
In Ertz and Goedert’s absence, third-string tight end Richard Rodgers became the team’s second-leading receiver in terms of yardage. Even after Goedert returned two games ago, Rodgers was still productive, catching six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown in those two games.
With three proven entities at tight end now, Pederson wouldn’t rule out using three-tight-end sets once Ertz returns, a stark contrast from the speed-heavy “11″ formations the team used at points this season.
“Based on analytics, based on coach’s film study during the week, and how the games kind of unfold, I like ’12′ personnel,” Pederson said. “I like when Zach and Dallas are in there. I think [Rodgers] has been a very positive complementary piece in Zach’s absence right now. I’ve been very happy with how he’s played, and he’s played well. So, I do think that maybe ’12′ or ’13′ personnel could be a little more involved in our game plans.”
The Eagles have run only six plays out of “13″ personnel so far this season according to Sharp Football Focus, primarily in goal-line situations. Wentz’s passing numbers are similar in “11″ and “12,” but the team has been significantly better running out of “11″ this season. According to SFF, the Eagles are averaging 5.6 yards per carry in “11″ compared to 4.4 in “12.”
Using three-receiver sets also allows the Eagles to get Reagor, Fulgham, and Greg Ward on the field at the same time, something Pederson said he’d still like to utilize.
“At the same time, I do like ’11′ personnel as well,” Pederson said. “I still like having some of those young guys on the field with the speed and being able to attack in that way as well.”