Doug Pederson’s biggest problem is Carson Wentz; specifically, his handling of the quarterback.
The Eagles coach manages Wentz like he’s won Super Bowls, when in fact he’s yet to even win a playoff game. He coaches him like he’s the 2017 version of himself, who went 11-2 as a starter, and not the one who’s gone 17-18-1 since.
Pederson’s staff decisions, his offensive scheming and play-calling, his use of Jalen Hurts, and his messaging are too often in deference to Wentz. The 27-year-old quarterback’s preferences should be considered, but not at the expense of the team, and not to the point where there has been significant individual regression.
Wentz, of course, must shoulder his share of culpability for his and the Eagles' woeful play through nine games this season. This isn’t a chicken-or-egg argument. Both the coach and quarterback are responsible for the 3-5-1 record, as are the front office, assistants, and other players.
But of all the problems plaguing the Eagles -- from personnel to injuries, from coaching to execution -- the most troubling is Wentz. He has yet to have what could be described as a good outing, and even when he finally avoided turning the ball over, as he did in Sunday’s 27-17 loss at the New York Giants, he was merely adequate.
Pederson deserves credit for Wentz’s progression in his first two seasons. And while the quarterback wasn’t as dynamic from 2018-19 as he was in 2017, he did show growth in areas such as accuracy and late-game situations.
But Wentz has struggled in nearly every category this season. He has been arguably one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. So how did he go from ending last season on an upswing -- minus the playoff concussion -- to debatably worthy of a benching in a span of 10 months?
At this point, it’s fair to question every move the Eagles made this offseason in relation to Wentz. The first was firing offensive coordinator Mike Groh. Pederson initially wanted to retain him but moved on after meeting with owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman.
Wentz and Groh didn’t see eye-to-eye on many areas of the offense, but taking the latter out of the equation wasn’t exactly the remedy many had hoped it would be. The Eagles then hired Rich Scangarello as senior offensive assistant and added passing game coordinator responsibilities to quarterbacks coach Press Taylor’s plate.
Pederson also brought Marty Mornhinweg aboard as a senior offensive consultant. But the head coach oversees the offense, with Taylor in charge of the passing game, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland in charge of the running game, and Scangarello as the bridge between.
There has been a narrative about there being too many voices in the quarterback room, but with Pederson, Taylor, and Scangarello, the number is no different than before. The question then becomes: Do the Eagles have the right voices in the room and on the field?
While there has never been reason to doubt Wentz’s practice routine, NFL Network reported Monday that “there’s been some sloppy practice habits he’s been allowed to perpetuate.” Pederson dismissed the notion later, but it’s safe to assume that at least someone at the NovaCare Complex believes the quarterback hasn’t been held accountable in that regard.
If the front office can be viewed as having Wentz’s back in instigating the removal of Groh, Roseman’s decision to draft Hurts in the second round suggests otherwise.
The Eagles have insisted that drafting Hurts had nothing to do with Wentz. They did give Wentz a four-year, $128 million extension with $66.5 million fully guaranteed at signing. But it would be only human if the selection, particularly when the team had other pressing needs, bothered him.
If it has Wentz looking over his shoulder and allowing it to affect his play, then maybe the Eagles were warranted in adding Hurts. The rookie has seen the field for about 30 plays, and while there was initial success, the results have been mixed in the last several games.
“I think early on, we’ve been very explosive with him,” Pederson said Monday. “Gosh, I think we were close to 11 or 12 yards per attempt when he was in the game. I would say here recently, defenses are playing him a little bit differently.”
Hurts has thrown only twice, with Wentz split wide both times -- thus taking away one possible receiver secondaries have to account for -- and defenses have keyed on the run. Asked if Wentz needed to come off the field for Hurts' plays, Pederson gave a snide response.
“It’s a great idea,” he said sarcastically. “Something we’ll look into.”
Whether Pederson has opted not to pull Wentz for fear of bruising his starter’s ego is unclear. But if future Hall of Famer Drew Brees can watch from the sideline as Taysom Hill receives the snap with the Saints, certainly Wentz can as well.
Pederson and his assistants don’t seem to know how to play to Wentz’s strengths anymore, while also adopting some of the newer trends around the league. And Wentz, in turn, doesn’t seem to know what kind of quarterback they want him to be.
The Eagles have been trying to coach the “hero” out of him, and understandably so. Many of Wentz’s mistakes have come when he’s forced passes downfield or held the ball too long. But turning him into a game manager also takes away from his ability to improvise and make tough throws off-platform.
Wentz’s best drive Sunday came when he threw out of the pocket several times, by design or not. There has to be an element of the passing offense in which throws are made from the pocket. After all, rollouts reduce the field and, typically, receiving options.
But Wentz simply isn’t a consistent enough thrower from the pocket and has increasingly looked jittery vs. the rush. On Sunday alone, he overthrew three open receivers downfield and had another pass tipped. Mechanics played a role in the sailing passes, but his eye level suggests that he’s also concerned about batted passes.
“I thought, for the most part, there were a couple throws that were high early in the game from him,” Pederson said, “but as the game wore on, he settled in and he stood in there.”
He stood in, but he made questionable choices. He made poor decisions to check down to receiver Greg Ward on third-and-11 and to covered receiver Jalen Reagor on fourth-and-10.
It’s hard to point fingers at Wentz, especially for Sunday, when so many others made mistakes. And also when Pederson once again strayed from a successful run game. The Eagles have been behind often this season, which has necessitated more passing. But it’s important to note that Wentz was at his best when the offense was balanced in 2017.
He averaged only 34 pass attempts per game that season. In his four other seasons, he’s averaged 38, 36, 38, and 38 attempts. And this season, in particular, he hasn’t had enough “easy” throws -- screens, run-pass options -- to offset his intermediate throwing problems.
“I feel good about the plays that have been called,” Pederson said. “I even looked at the game yesterday and felt I was in rhythm. I’ve always looked at the game through the eyes of the quarterback and how he views it and how he sees it.”
Sure, but what if the quarterback sees the game through a funhouse mirror? It’s on Pederson to give him a clearer image -- not publicly, but privately. And if the message isn’t getting through, then there are times when actions speak louder than words.