No quarterback is perfect.
Tom Brady is slow. Drew Brees has trouble seeing over the line. Aaron Rodgers holds the ball too long. Patrick Mahomes takes unnecessary risks.
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Even the best quarterbacks have flaws. And sometimes their greatest strengths can exacerbate a weakness.
Carson Wentz can throw off-balance as well as any NFL passer. It’s an important skill to master when there are, ultimately, not many opportunities to set your feet and cleanly distribute the football. But Wentz can sometimes throw from an awkward stance when unnecessary, which can lead to inaccurate results.
“You’re never perfect, without a doubt,” Wentz said this week. "You got to throw off-platform a lot of times — in the pocket, out of the pocket, pressure in your face, all sorts of things. So you can always get carried away on either side of the spectrum.
“It is something that I feel that I can do to help create big plays or make things happen when pockets break down. … But for sure, there’s a time and place that maybe you don’t need to do it, but that’s part of learning, that’s part of growing, that’s part of football.”
Wentz is arguably one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. Some analysts and evaluators even have him among the top five. So it might seem like nitpicking to point out a deficiency when he excels in so many areas.
But elite athletes often know their shortcomings as well as anyone and meticulously obsess over the most-minute of details. Every quarterback tinkers with his mechanics, in-season and out. Wentz is no different.
This offseason, though, because he wasn’t rehabbing from injury for the first time in three years, he was able to spend more time on his throwing motion. He went back to “swing doctor” Adam Dedeaux in Southern California shortly after last season ended and worked on his footwork more than anything else.
Wentz would rather discuss most any other subject than his mechanics. When asked previously about them, he would downplay any changes, noting they would be indiscernible to the naked eye. The theory here is that he doesn’t want to highlight a certain feature for fear of further hair-splitting analysis.
It is likely why Eagles coach Doug Pederson feigned ignorance when asked recently about Wentz’s offseason training.
“Without being sarcastic, you know what, I wasn’t with Carson in the offseason,” he said. “I honestly don’t know what they were working on. He works on a lot of different things. He works on his feet. He works on the mechanics of his arm motion, head, and eyes.”
At this stage of his career, the 27-year-old Wentz doesn’t need to make significant alterations. The Eagles adjusted a few things, like how high he held the ball, early in his career. But even as a rookie, they didn’t want to make wholesale changes considering how successful he had already been.
The coaches might have had certain preferences, but the general philosophy of most NFL instructors is to not change a quarterback so much as to make him uncomfortable.
Rich Scangarello, who the Eagles hired in February as a senior offensive assistant, is a Kyle Shanahan protege, and with that lineage comes preferred teaching methods. Shanahan acolytes are proponents of right-handed quarterbacks having their left foot forward in the shotgun because there’s one less movement in their drops.
“I think it times out better,” Shanahan said in February. "You lose a step, you lose time [with the right foot forward] because you don’t have the ball in your hands right away. So I think you need to lose a step in your drops.
“Some guys have been doing it with their right foot up or parallel their whole life, and they just struggle with it. You try to coach them in the offseason, and if they can’t get it, you make sure you do what they’re comfortable with.”
Wentz is a right-foot-forward quarterback, as are backups Nate Sudfeld and rookie Jalen Hurts. But none have changed. The cancellation of offseason workouts might have kept Scangarello from teaching this method, but it’s probable that Wentz would have resisted.
“Carson, his mechanics have gotten better and better. He’s worked really hard in the offseason. He’s not changing in any way,” Scangarello said. “We’re continuing to do what they’ve done here. Press [Taylor] has done an outstanding job with those guys. He’s very detailed in his coaching.”
Taylor has been the Eagles' quarterbacks coach the last two years, but Wentz hasn’t been as dynamic as he was in 2017 when he was arguably the league’s MVP. Knee surgery and a back injury certainly factored into his decreased mobility. But Wentz did become a more-accurate thrower.
He completed 69.6% of his passes in 2018, and while his accuracy declined to 63.9% percent in 2019, it was still higher than it was in 2017 (60.2%). Some of that simply had to do with the length of Wentz’s attempts.
He had the league’s second-highest 9.91 yards per attempt in 2017, but averaged only 7.67 yards in 2018 (21st) and 8.07 yards in 2019 (18th). That regression had something to do with personnel and scheme, but even Wentz would concede that he needed to be more precise down the field.
In 2017, he completed 25 of 65 passes for 912 yards and 10 touchdowns against four interceptions on throws longer than 20 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2018, he was 17-of-45 for 572 yards and three touchdowns and four interceptions. And last season, he hit on 26-of-74 for 793 yards and seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
“I think offensively my personal goal — and I think everybody’s — is just to create more explosive plays,” Wentz said.
Receiver DeSean Jackson, if he can stay healthy, should help, as should speedy rookies Jalen Reagor and John Hightower. But not all of Wentz’s misses were downfield. When he’s off with his throws, they tend to sail high, even on short passes.
Wentz can throw from almost any position and with any arm angle. There have been myriad examples in his first four seasons. But there can be an overreliance on this proficiency when a simple setting of the feet would suffice.
It’s hard to quibble when Wentz’s athleticism produces so many big plays. The same could be said of Mahomes as it relates to his tight-window throws. But if Wentz wants to be mentioned in the same breath as the Chiefs quarterback, or similarly win a Super Bowl, he will need to control some of his more-aggressive impulses, such as exposing himself to harm.
“Scrambling around, anything you can [do to] extend a play and make a play, I think, it puts a lot of stress on the defense," Wentz said. “So that’s something I really never want to lose, I never want to take out of my game.”
But he has done a better job of protecting himself. He played in all 16 regular-season games for the first time since his rookie season. Of course, he was knocked out of the Eagles' first-round playoff loss to the Seahawks with a concussion, although by a questionable Jadeveon Clowney hit.
Wentz has addressed his durability, or perceived lack thereof, by changing his diet last year and adding 13 pounds of presumed strength this offseason. He and the Eagles have dissected each of his 26 fumbles the last two years — the most in the NFL over that span — to find a common thread for improvement.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the negatives and overlook all the positives. That’s what can happen over time in one place. Scangarello, with his new perspective, recently brought perhaps Wentz’s greatest attribute to the forefront.
“He’s an elite processor, in my opinion, both pre-snap and post-snap,” Scangarello said. “He’s able to do a lot of things because of it. That’s what separates him to me from a lot of people in this league.”