The old NFL adage that it’s never as bad as it looks and never as good, either, is usually an apt one when re-watching the coaches’ film. But there are exceptions, and in the case of Carson Wentz’s performance in the Eagles’ season-opening win over the Redskins, the quarterback played as good as he looked live.
The surface numbers were impressive. Wentz completed 28 of 39 passes (71 percent) for 313 yards (8 yards per attempt) and three touchdowns without a turnover. But he was superb across the board.
He was outstanding on third down, completing 12 of 13 passes for 197 yards and three scores. He was great under pressure, hitting on 9 of 10 passes for 141 yards and two scores. And he was good when blitzed with 12 of 16 passing for 70 yards.
He threw darts from the pocket, from the perimeter, and completed short, intermediate and deep passes. Were there a few tosses he’d like to have back? Sure. But, overall, it was probably Wentz’s best outing since before he tore his ACL in December 2017, and possibly only a sampling of the leap he may take in Year 4.
Here’s a closer look at the film of his performance:
Wentz (No. 11) completed 2 of 5 passes on throws over 20 yards, but the two he hit on were massive – 51- and 53-yard touchdown passes to receiver DeSean Jackson. For comparison, he tossed just one 50-plus-yard touchdown last season – a 56-yarder to Jordan Matthews against the Titans.
Jackson (No. 10) hit a speed of 21.4 m.p.h. on the first score, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, but the touch on Wentz’s heave was perfect. The quarterback not only hit his receiver in stride, but his rainbow floated into Jackson’s arms.
Wentz has had mixed results as a deep passer. His statistics in his first three seasons on 20-plus-yard throws hasn’t been great. He was 25th among starting NFL quarterbacks in 2016, 11th in 2017 and 25th in 2018.
But Wentz hasn’t had a deep threat like Jackson, a receiver who can not only get beyond a secondary and track bombs but also clear out space for intermediate-deep passes. The quarterback has had a tendency to overcook some of his throws with a low trajectory.
It’s early, but the arc and touch on his long tosses to Jackson were exquisite.
Wentz: Having a guy like DeSean obviously helps a ton. And so, not playing with him over the years and having him out there, that helps without a doubt. I feel like it’s something I’ve worked on since I’ve first gotten in the league, and I’ll keep getting better at.
The second deep connection didn’t require Wentz to be as pinpoint. His reading of the defense and his check to Jackson pre-snap made sure of that. Eagles coach Doug Pederson dialed up a third-and-10 play that, against a certain coverage, would force the deep safety to have to choose between Jackson and receiver Nelson Agholor (No. 13) on deep routes.
Wentz looked off the safety to Agholor and dropped a teardrop to Jackson before the goal line.
Pederson: I just think these two guys have really worked on it not only in practice but after, throwing those deep balls. That’s really what it comes down to. If they miss in practice, they’re going to spend some time afterwards and get another two or three throws at that ball. That’s something that Carson, I think, is learning with DeSean, and the speed, just being able to put the ball up and out there and let him go get it.
The Redskins didn’t pressure Wentz much, but when they did, he was often able to extend plays by escaping the pocket. Scrambling has always been a part of his game but less so as his command of the offense and of reading defenses has improved.
But there will be times when he has no other choice, and on this third-and-15 in the fourth quarter, he improvised. Wentz rolled to his left to buy time, and when tight end Zach Ertz (No. 86) adjusted his route, he threw across his body and hit the tight end for 16 yards.
Wentz: Obviously, I want to stay on the field first and foremost. But [I’m] trying to learn to take what’s there, and at times you got to improvise and make a play. It’s always a fine line.
Later in the drive, the Eagles faced another third down, but this time of only seven yards. Wentz had nothing on his initial reads. While the pocket was collapsing, he had time. But his internal clock told him it was time to leave, and again he hit his target – receiver Alshon Jeffery (No. 17) in this case – moving to his left.
Sunday’s opponent, the Falcons, are aware of Wentz’s ability to throw on the move and of his chemistry with receivers when plays go off-script.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn: The route started as one thing, and then now that he got on the move – people have different terms, it can be “plaster” or “scramble” rules – you can clearly see they’re in sync to him.
Wentz may have run for yards in his first two seasons under similar circumstances. But he kept his eyes downfield Sunday, delivered the football, and avoided undue contact.
Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh: We would never put the reins on him so to speak. That’s who he is. That’s in his DNA, it’s in his bloodstream. He has the ability to extend plays, and we saw that come to life on Sunday.
Because of the long touchdowns, the Eagles offense ventured into the red zone only three times. But they converted two into touchdowns. In 2017, the Eagles had the No. 1 red zone offense in the NFL. Last season, they were 17th.
On yet another third down, Wentz made a play, this time at the Washington 5-yard line. The Redskins blew their coverage, and tight end Dallas Goedert (No. 88) was wide open in the middle of the end zone. But Wentz was pressured and had to escape. He had Jeffery matched up against a linebacker but had little margin for error and gunned a pass into a small hole.
Groh: First of all, he does a great job of stepping up, eluding the rush, getting out there and fitting that ball.
Wentz: I didn’t go looking for it. Just the way the pocket got condensed, and I was able to get out is something I try not to overthink and let instincts take over.
Quinn: Man, he can really rip it. I thought the accuracy was there. From the running side of things, that was certainly a part of his game with his legs earlier in his career. I think the things that jumped out were the arm strength, the accuracy, the confidence to go put it in tight windows.
Les Bowen did a great job writing about the Eagles’ success with sneaks on short yardage plays, but here is visual support. Wentz converted three third- or fourth-and-1 Sunday, and he’s 21-for-23 in similar situations over his career.
The Eagles didn’t have him sneak as much last season – he was 3-for-4 – but he was 12-for-13 in 2017 and is already off to a perfect start this year.
Wentz: The key is the big guys up front, honestly, especially the three interior guys with [center Jason] Kelce, [guards Brandon] Brooks and Isaac [Seumalo]. … That makes my job easy. I just got to fall forward.
From the front view, Kelce (No. 62) gets so much push that he’s visible by the end of this play.
Eagles tackle Lane Johnson on Kelce: He root hogs.
In another attempt, Seumalo drove a Redskin defender backward, but Wentz ran behind Kelce and Brooks and kept his legs churning.