We live in a weird, warped world in which there always must be a “both sides."
Well, sometimes there isn’t a “both sides.”
One of those times is when the franchise quarterback, holding a 17-0 lead, throws two interceptions unmolested. And he takes four bad sacks. And he fumbles the ball away.
Carson Wentz, the $128 million franchise quarterback who is entering his fifth NFL season after the Eagles traded a staggering number of assets to draft him, was the chief offender at Washington. No one was more important. No one performed worse. It was Carson, and it wasn’t close.
But somehow, in this era of analytic parsing and hypothetical deep-diving, there exists a sentiment that there must culpability beyond the bad play of a central player, that the pocket-protector types who look at out-of-pocket percentages and ignore elite defensive linemen, or maybe the Neanderthal knuckle-draggers who want to run it, punt it, and play field-position football, knew better all along, if only they’d been asked.
A sentiment that somehow Sunday’s opener was lost as much by Doug Pederson’s alleged poor coaching as by Carson Wentz’s obviously lousy play.
This is madness. You don’t need to dive deeply into analytics to see that the Wentz Wagon broke down. A team missing three starters on each side of the ball cannot absorb two picks and four bad sacks. That was the ballgame, folks.
First interception: Wentz was given almost four seconds in a clean pocket with an unobstructed sight line, and he still missed the proper window for Jalen Reagor by four yards, and missed to the inside on Reagor’s “out” route, a deadly mistake. Worse: Zach Ertz was uncovered on the right side.
Second interception: Out of a shotgun formation, Wentz took two short steps but still threw late to John Hightower. Wentz again missed inside. Worse, Wentz stared at Hightower from the time the ball was snapped, which allowed Jimmy Moreland to jump the route before Hightower even finished it.
“I’ve got to make better throws, first and foremost,” Wentz said Wendesday.
Washington’s first sack: Ryan Kerrigan blew up a screen, and Wentz refused to throw the ball away. This was the same, unforgivable decision he made against the Seahawks in the playoffs when Jadeveon Clowney ran him down and gave him a cheap-shot concussion.
Washington’s fourth sack: Wentz throws well on the move, and Pederson took heat for not moving Wentz more often behind a patchwork offensive line. But on the fourth sack, early in the second quarter, Pederson did, in fact, call a bootleg to Wentz’s right. Montez Sweat correctly diagnosed the bootleg But instead of throwing the ball away, Wentz froze, looked downfield, and got crushed for a 12-yard loss.
Washington’s fifth sack: Simple. Wentz had four seconds before Washington’s four-man rush beat the Eagles' five offensive linemen. He simply chose to not throw the ball away, and the 13-yard loss turned a 40-yard field-goal try into a 53-yarder, which Jake Elliott missed.
Washington’s eighth sack: Late in the fourth quarter, trailing by 10, it was a microcosm of everything Wentz did wrong Sunday: Given four seconds to throw, he came off his first read slowly and looked deep to Hightower. But he but missed Greg Ward, open underneath. Wentz stepped up into the pocket, got sandwiched, fumbled the ball away, and, with it, the game. This was the second time Wentz unnecessarily fumbled a snap on a sack. He got stripped on Washington’s third sack, too, but the Eagles recovered.
This isn’t an aberration. It’s his norm.
He leads the league in fumbles with 50 over the last five seasons, by 12 percent. Jameis Winston is second, with 44. He recognizes the problem.
“At the end of the day, I just can’t put the ball on the ground,” said Wentz.
So there are six key plays, called by Pederson, all of which worked, except for one crucial element:
Pederson is a big, goofy guy with a corny sense of humor. He can be petty. He can be kind. He is an outrageously bad liar.
But he’s a great football coach. Not good; great. He won 13 games and the took the No. 1 seed in the NFC in his second season as a head coach despite playing without five starters, including Wentz, then beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in a Super Bowl with Nick Foles. He has defeated 2018 coach of the year Matt Nagy twice, once in Chicago; has beaten 2017 coach of the year Sean McVay twice in L.A.; and he got 2016 coach of the year Jason Garrett fired.
Pederson bettered these highly-regarded peers with an aggressive philosophy that mostly relies on playing percentages, which, in turn, requires the quarterback to make the proper play. That’s why Pederson insisted on drafting a playmaker quarterback, around whom he constructed his scheme.
Shrink the playbook? Alter the philosophy? Madness. If he needs to limit the offense or play it safe to accommodate a quarterback in a league that rewrote its rule book to accommodate quarterbacks, then you need a new quarterback.
Did Tom Brady need that accommodation? Did Aaron Rodgers? Russell Wilson? Ben Roethlisberger? These were well-paid franchise quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings by their fifth season as starters. When they didn’t play like it, nobody blamed their coaches for not protecting them.
Wentz is still a horse worth betting on. His arm is as powerful as ever, and more precise. He improved his mechanics and footwork. He quickened his release. He enlarged and hardened his body. He even developed a jeweler’s touch during lockdown, probably from throwing diapers into the trash. You don’t want to miss with those.
But don’t use the thin, battered roster to defend Wentz. A similar roster, performing brilliantly, won four games down the stretch last season. This year’s team held a 17-0 lead after 20 minutes Sunday. The roster, last year and this, was coached by Pederson, and it was well-coached. On Sunday, it was not well-quarterbacked.
So some other players played poorly. So what. Come on. Wentz is not measured with the same yardstick as, say, 38-year-old left tackle Jason Peters, who also played horribly Sunday. When the franchise is built around the $128 million quarterback, the $128 million quarterback must play at least moderately well for the franchise to succeed, because the $128 million quarterback is sucking up all the cash. Earn it.
Wentz didn’t earn it Sunday.