During the offseason between his first and second seasons, Carson Wentz altered his throwing mechanics. He flew to southern California to work with Adam Dedeaux of 3DQB, a protégé of noted “swing doctor” Tom House, and made minor changes to his footwork.
The Eagles quarterback, when he missed throws during his rookie season, would often sail them over receivers’ heads. Dedeaux shortened Wentz’s right foot, which kept it under his shoulder when he threw and made him less likely to over stride.
The modifications were indistinguishable to the untrained eye, but Wentz had become a better passer in his sophomore season, especially on deeper throws. While he wasn’t as dynamic down the field post 2017 knee surgery, Wentz had become a more accurate thrower the last two seasons.
But long completions just haven’t been as plentiful over that span. There have been myriad reasons for the lack of deep passing success, one being Wentz’s inconsistent touch, but the biggest issue has been the personnel at receiver.
The Eagles have been unable to generate chunk plays, which has forced Wentz to be precise with more throws during long, sustaining drives. Even the most exact of quarterbacks will falter under that kind of pressure, and Wentz has missed his share.
In Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks, he was erratic and mistake-prone. The Eagles were without a perfect storm of key offensive players by the middle of the first quarter, which affected Wentz. There were also moments when the quarterback was errant on passes he normally completes.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson mentioned that Wentz’s footwork was occasionally off. Wentz said he didn’t notice any specific mechanical issues after watching film of the game.
“There’s always a few plays here and there every game, where you’re like, ‘Ah, could have been better. Could have set my feet there. Could have done this or that,’” Wentz said Wednesday. “But I notice that Week 1. I notice that Week 10. That’s football. And so, it’s something I got to be every week, every offseason just focused on.”
What had to be most disconcerting, aside from the five turnovers, were the short passes to running back Miles Sanders that sailed over his head. Wentz had a similar problem during his rookie season.
Wentz had spent most of the last two offseasons rehabbing the knee and a stress a fracture in his back, but he would also go to Dedeaux for mechanical tinkering. But a quarterback’s throwing motion needs constant fine tuning. Is Wentz’s a problem again?
Here’s a closer look at the coaches’ film from Sunday, and Wentz’s mechanics, but also his decision-making:
While some of Wentz’s missed passes could be attributed to miscommunication between the quarterback and younger receivers like J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward, he should have had little problem connecting with favorite target Zach Ertz (No. 86).
But Wentz (No. 11), on the Eagles’ first drive, threw behind the open tight end on this dig route over the middle.
Wentz: I missed the throw. I have to do better. There’s no excuses. It wasn’t the wind, it was nothing. I have to do better.
Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin (No. 49) had gotten around substitute right tackle Andre Dillard (No. 77) and was at Wentz’s feet, but he could still step into his throw.
Dillard, of course, would have a forgetful first half before getting benched. The Eagles offense has struggled since starting right tackle Lane Johnson suffered a concussion in the first half of the Patriots game last week. In the last four seasons, there is great disparity in Wentz’s passing numbers with Johnson (97.9 passer rating) and without (79.0).
On the Eagles’ second drive, they faced third and nine at the Seahawks 10. Sanders (No. 26) released out of the backfield and Wentz overthrew him by about five yards. He might not have scored, but a first down was within reach.
Two series later, the Eagles had a screen set up for Sanders. But Wentz was high with his throw again.
Wentz: I just have to own those. I missed a few and there’s no excuses. I just missed them.
Pederson was asked if Wentz had a case of the yips.
Pederson: It’s not the yips. There are times when it’s just a matter of setting your feet as a quarterback and just delivering a short throw or getting your eyes on target a lot sooner than you do. … We have to make sure Miles is in the right spot, too.
Sanders was in the right spot – and open -- on this flat route. But Wentz didn’t pull the trigger and was sacked.
Was Wentz gun shy after the previous two misses to Sanders?
Wentz: I felt good mentally. Mentally, I think that everything was good. We were right there. Physically, I just missed some throws.
Wentz lost 2 of 3 fumbles Sunday. He was charged with one after a poor exchange with Sanders. While not all of his career fumbles have solely been his fault, Wentz has lost 17 of 40 fumbles since 2016. Only Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (20 of 43) has lost more over that span.
On this play, Dillard was run over by Seahawks defensive end Rasheem Green (No. 98). Wentz’s first reads weren’t open, and he held the ball for nearly five seconds. The pocket collapsed, however, and he was striped sacked.
Wentz could have maybe thrown the ball away, or in a spot where only his receiver could catch it, but taking the sack wasn’t as much of a problem as was losing the football.
Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh: We just have to keep two hands on the ball in the pocket when we start to feel pressure. Obviously, he’s really good in escaping, but being able to keep two hands on the ball, protect it against your chest, lock it up until you do break out in the clear, get out of the pocket.
Wentz: I turn on the tape and I get frustrated with myself because instincts take over. My instincts need to be to put two hands on the ball and protect it.
Wentz has created many positive plays with his feet but striking a balance between extending a play and taking a loss remains difficult.
Wentz: You got to know when you’re in the pocket and when you’re clean and when you’re not. When there are guys around you, you have to put two hands on it. Once you get out and you’re able to make things happen, things kind of change.
Wentz had thrown only four interceptions in his first ten games. He had the sixth-best interception ratio in the NFL heading into the Seahawks game. But he tossed two picks Sunday. On the first, Seattle blitzed, and Wentz went to tight end Dallas Goedert (No. 88) over the middle.
Seattle safety Bradley McDougald (No. 30) stepped in front for the interception. Wentz had a defender in his face and couldn’t step into his throw, but it was still an ill-advised decision.
Groh: There was a lot of push in his face, and it’s not like you’re able to throw off a pitcher’s mound every time the other day.
Pederson: I do know that because he got hit early in the game that there were a couple of times, he [was] just a little erratic -- just be able to set your feet and that comes with the extra contact.
After Dillard was pulled, the offensive line play improved. But on the first drive of the third quarter, faced with a third and three, Pederson called a sprint draw that was poorly executed and resulted into the botched exchange between Wentz and Sanders.
Wentz injured his right hand trying to tackle Seahawks defensive end Quinton Jefferson after the fumble. He briefly ran into the locker room for x-rays, which were negative, and didn’t miss a snap. The injury didn’t appear to affect his throws.
On this third and 14 play a series later, Wentz had Arcega-Whiteside (No. 19) open, but as he slid to his left to avoid pressure his pass was tipped by defensive end Branden Jackson (No. 93).
Wentz has had ten of 388 passes batted at the line this season (2.6 percent), per Pro Football Focus. Only four other quarterbacks with more than 200 pass attempts have a higher percentage of batted passes this season.
Wentz: There’s really no big trend. Different teams coach to do that when guys are blocked, to jump or put their hands up.
Wentz was among quarterbacks with the highest percentage of batted passes in 2016 (2.5) and 2017 (2.3), but that number had dropped significantly last season (0.7). An early criticism of Wentz in the NFL was that he had a loop in his windup that led to a longer release.
This fourth and two pass to Arcega-Whiteside late in the game has drawn a lot of attention because former NFL players-turned analysts have pointed out the late hop in the receiver’s route that likely led to an incompleted pass.
But what hasn’t drawn as much scrutiny is Wentz’s footwork. He didn’t set his feet and threw off his back foot.
Groh: It’s vitally important to quarterbacks and playing with a good base and all that. … If you’re off balance or out of rhythm, then you have to adjust arm angles and that kind of thing. You have to take a bunch of things into account there.
Wentz: It’s always frustrating to not be on the same page [with receivers], and that starts with me. I got to be clearer with what we’re expecting and what we’re seeing. Just be more decisive.
Blame for the Eagles’ offensive ineffectiveness Sunday can be sprinkled all around. Wentz wasn’t solely responsible. The issues stretch back to the start of the season. And if anything, he had kept the ship from sinking for weeks. But Sunday’s performance might have been the worst of his career.
And yet, there were still throws that were peak Wentz, like this 10-yard dart through the eye of a needle to Ertz.
And this 30-yard toss in the turkey hole to Arcega-Whiteside, who finally showed a glimmer of hope.
Groh: When he has room to complete a throwing motion, he’s still Carson Wentz.
And that’s the difference between Wentz now and the one from 2016. While the gimmes that he missed Sunday are cause for concern, mechanics don’t seem to be as much of a problem as other variables.