Carson Wentz must play smarter for the Eagles | Marcus Hayes
The franchise quarterback must understand that he's too valuable to continually put himself in peril.
What makes you crazy with him is what makes him special.
Twice on Sunday, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz refused to surrender under pressure; twice, might have broken a leg, or worse.
Also twice on Sunday, Wentz refused to surrender under pressure; and twice, he made the plays of the game.
“That fighter mentality -- ‘I’m not going to go down and I’m going to make a play’ -- is something that I am always trying to juggle and balance," Wentz admitted.
This juggler needs better balance.
With 44 seconds to play in the first quarter, the Jets’ Darryl Roberts sped into the backfield on a delayed cornerback blitz from the left end. Wentz faked a handoff, so his back was to Roberts, and when he turned Roberts was there, and he was unavoidable. Wentz should have thrown the ball away immediately. When Roberts wrapped himself around Wentz’s legs, Wentz should have simply fallen and taken the 5-yard sack. Instead, Wentz twisted his body against the torque of the tackle and threw the ball away -- weakly, and foolishly; it might have been an interception.
Yes, Wentz saved 5 yards, but Wentz might have lost his season. Besides, the situation didn’t call for heroics. The Eagles held a 14-0 lead, had the ball at the Jets’ 41, and faced second-and-10. Third-and-15 against the NFL’s worst team wouldn’t have been so bad. Instead, their $128 million quarterback spent the next 15 seconds walking off what might have been a shredded left knee -- the same knee he shredded in 2017.
It got worse.
Early in the second quarter, same score, Wentz held the ball for 6 full seconds and gazed longingly downfield as the pocket collapsed in front of him. Three seconds into the play, untouched, Wentz had running back Jordan Howard open in the flat, completely undefended, with 10 yards of space in front of him. Wentz never looked at Howard. Instead, defensive tackle Steve McLendon drove himself into Wentz’s chest. This time Wentz’s right leg got caught under his body. McLendon’s full 310 pounds landed on Wentz -- who, you might recall, missed the end of the 2018 season with a fractured vertebrae.
Wentz popped up, uninjured -- and maybe wiser?
“My body is fine. I feel good coming out of it,” he said, and, for once, offered a concession: “Yeah, it’s hard to say if those are times I’m [unwisely] fighting to get rid of the ball, to throw it away.”
It isn’t hard for his coach to say.
“We have to understand with the quarterback position, too, that it’s OK to either check it down or throw it away from time to time,” Doug Pederson said.
But then Wentz does the other things.
The magical things.
Early in the third quarter Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams blew past Jason Kelce and had a free shot at Wentz. He swiped at him with a huge right arm.
Williams whiffed and flew past, like a cartoon character.
Wentz then straightened and ripped a 21-yard third-down conversion to Zach Ertz.
It will be a signature play in his career.
That play didn’t lead to points. A similar play, at the end of the second quarter, did.
The Jets called a “zero” blitz: They sent six pass rushers and left every remaining defender in man-to-man coverage, with no help. Wentz and Ertz recognized it, so Ertz, knowing Wentz wouldn’t have much time, cut off his pattern. Wentz didn’t flinch: He stood tall, snapped off a pass, and hit Ertz for the 11-yard touchdown that made it 21-0 at halftime.
“We repped that play, like, 1,000 times in practice,” said Ertz. “What the guy does at the quarterback position -- I’m glad he’s our quarterback.”
Ertz knew that play looked good, but he didn’t get a chance to watch Wentz’s third-quarter Houdini escape until after the game. Ertz was amazed. Again.
"He makes some plays where you just shake your head, like, ‘How did you possibly even do that?’ " Ertz said. “It truly was phenomenal."
The goal, of course, is for Wentz to keep being phenomenal. That means taking a sack, or hitting the shorter route, or aborting a play sooner than later.
If he doesn’t, sooner or later, he’s going to get hurt again.