It’s hard to sell reassurance when it isn’t clear that you understand why the problem is happening, or how to fix it.
This was Doug Pederson’s dilemma Monday when the Eagles coach endured a round of questions about why his fifth-year franchise quarterback has made devastating mistakes in losses that have left the defending NFC East champions 0-2. Pederson wanted fans to relax, and trust that he can fix this. Details were scanty, though.
Pederson said he believes that Carson Wentz needs more time to sync with his receivers, after a disrupted offseason, and that the coach needs to keep stressing to Wentz that he doesn’t have to carry the offense on his pale, freckled back.
But do these factors truly account for four interceptions (plus a lost fumble) in two games? Do they explain back-to-back passer ratings of 72.5 and 56.5, two of the four worst marks Wentz has posted since his rookie season of 2016? (That’s a span of 42 starts.)
Pederson can’t be sure of that. This was apparent from the way he grappled with questions about his management of the man the Eagles last year signed to a four-year, $128 million contract extension.
Asked why Wentz is regressing, Pederson said, “It’s a good question,” before clicking into we’re-all-going-to-work-harder mode, and talking about how “I want him to just be Carson” instead of trying to make plays that aren’t there. Such as the killer pick in Sunday’s third quarter, with the Eagles having whittled a 21-3 Rams lead to 21-16, first-and-10 at the Los Angeles 21.
Pederson said that late throw to JJ Arcega-Whiteside was “unacceptable.”
“That one is not part of the play. It’s a backside progression, obviously, and it’s unfortunate. I’ve got to do a better job, offensively we have to do a better job with plays of that nature, that we coach those a little bit better and [explain] the details of that particular route,” Pederson said.
“It was a little bit of a new concept for us in the game plan this week and we’ve got to do a better job, but that one’s unacceptable. Carson would say the same thing. We’ve got to own that one.”
Pederson has talked previously about not wanting Wentz to feel he has to perform miracles, to take unnecessary risks. You could say the Eagles' utter failure to mount a respectable defensive effort put that sort of pressure on Wentz Sunday, but really, when the home team had the ball, the offensive line kept the pass rush away and the running game hummed along consistently. All Wentz had to do to keep the Eagles in the game was make good decisions.
In fact, in both losses so far, Wentz’s killer interceptions have come at times when he and the offense have built strong momentum. You could make a case, both times, that the mistake looked more like overconfidence than the sort of pressing Pederson described.
Sunday, turnovers weren’t Wentz’s entire problem. He was alarmingly inaccurate, routinely placing the ball a foot or two from where it needed to be. There was nothing resembling that lovely rainbow of a touchdown throw to Dallas Goedert in the opener. Wentz completed five of his final 13 passes.
“Just missing,” Pederson said. “I guess you can point to a lot of different things: missing OTAs, not having all the necessary, maybe, reps during training camp, missing preseason games, whatever it might be, the timing of things that we do in the passing game, and just missing these throws. They are throws that he typically would [make] and it’s a little bit, too, on the receivers. Sometimes the receivers need to make the catch.”
The thing is, though, every team faced the same restrictions this spring and summer. In other cases with a veteran QB playing in a familiar offense, the QB is not struggling. Jared Goff certainly didn’t struggle Sunday. Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll seem to be doing pretty well. Ditto John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson, Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, and so on.
Pederson referenced “a lot of new pieces, particularly in the skill positions.” Ignoring the evidence of similar situations, Pederson insisted that “two-and-a-half weeks to prepare for your first real game; it’s not enough time.” But he also said he has been restructuring practice to give more time to detailing such work. (Maybe he could have done that sooner, back before the start of the season?)
Asked whether the back-to-back bad outings alarmed him, Pederson said: “I’m not concerned about that, because of just who Carson is. I see his work ethic during the week. One way to get out of it is, you’ve just got to continue to stay aggressive, right? Stay on the attack, and I don’t want anybody to go into a shell. That’s no way to approach our business, our craft, our jobs, and for sure I don’t want the quarterback position … to do that, as well. We just have to stay on the attack, and we have to continue to work, so I’m not concerned about that at all.”