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Diagnosis QB: Trying to find out what’s wrong with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz

The veteran has strung two coyote-ugly games together, and the Eagles are 0-2. ESPN football analyst Dan Orlovsky has some thoughts on the subject.

The Eagles' struggling quarterback Carson Wentz (11), and his rookie backup Jalen Hurts are under heavy scrutiny after an 0-2 start.
The Eagles' struggling quarterback Carson Wentz (11), and his rookie backup Jalen Hurts are under heavy scrutiny after an 0-2 start.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

So, what’s wrong with Carson Wentz? How can he be playing this bad this deep into his NFL career?

This was supposed to be the year he took a giant step toward greatness. Instead, two games into the season, he has the second worst passer rating in the league, and he has thrown multiple interceptions in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.

“Ninety-five-plus percent is on Carson Wentz,” said ESPN pro football analyst Dan Orlovsky.

Orlovsky, who played eight years in the league, historically has been one of Wentz’s biggest defenders. But he can’t defend what he’s seen from the Eagles quarterback the last two weeks.

“Every one of his interceptions this year is because he’s just trying to force it,” Orlovsky said. “There’s no other explanation other than him trying to force that football. Now, the good thing is those are always correctable things. You can always make smarter decisions instead of forcing the ball.”

Unfortunately, the interceptions haven’t been Wentz’s only problem. His accuracy is fast approaching the can’t-hit-the-broad-side-of-a-barn neighborhood. He’s tied for 29th in the NFL in completion percentage (58.8).

“There’s a lot of reasons quarterbacks miss [passes],” Orlovsky said. "But watching Carson on tape, there’s a recurring theme with his misses. And that’s that the misses are high.

"Carson is a big guy. He’s 6-5-plus. When big quarterbacks strain, when they try so hard throwing the football, they often become overextended. That forces the left leg to become straight.

"If you could think of an upside-down V, that’s what it looks like when he’s throwing the football right now. When that leg straightens out, that ball is just going to go high. It’s just physics.

"Is it cause for concern? I’m not in a panic mode yet. But [I’m wondering] why are you here when I saw you there [playing much better] last year under worse circumstances?

“You can control those things. You can fix those things. I think he needs some really good individual work at practice. But those are fixable things. But it needs to get better yesterday.”

Which raises the question: If Orlovsky can figure this out, why can’t Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, like Orlovsky a former NFL quarterback, and his offensive coaches?

Orlovsky thinks part of the problem might be that the Eagles don’t have a full-time quarterbacks coach. Press Taylor, who was the quarterbacks coach last year and still has the title as part of his expanded job description, now is spending a good portion of his work day as the passing game coordinator.

"You get what you emphasize,'' Orlovsky said. "They don’t have a full-time quarterbacks coach there right now. There’s a lot on Press’ plate. So how much are they doing when it comes to [Wentz’s] mechanics? Was this stuff showing up in training camp? Or did it just start to present itself when the live bullets started flying?

“I don’t care what age you are at quarterback in the NFL. You always start with your mechanics and your fundamentals at that position. That’s why, when Peyton Manning went to Denver [in 2012], he demanded that he have a quarterbacks coach. Because he wanted a guy that would push him and make sure that stuff never slipped off.”

Orlovsky also wonders whether the communication between Wentz and Pederson is as good as it needs to be. He used the quarterback’s end-zone interception last week as an example.

“Coaches call plays for certain reasons,” he said. "They don’t just throw things against the wall. Sometimes it’s to get the ball out of your hands. Sometimes it’s, I just don’t want you to think on this play. And then sometimes, it’s hey, we’re going to take a shot here.

"That interception in the end zone, I would have loved, if I’m the quarterback, if the coach had said, ‘Hey, dude, I’m calling this to get you out of the pocket. But just get 5 yards here. I’m not even giving you the thought to think about throwing that backside post there.’

“That kind of thing helps frame the quarterback’s mind before the ball gets snapped.”

Figuring the Eagles

  1. The Eagles played 12-personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR) on 54 of 69 plays against the Rams (78.3%). In their first two games, they used 12-personnel on 92 of 136 plays (67.6%). There have been seven other plays in which they’ve used multiple tight ends with other personnel groupings.

  2. Wentz has a 51.7 passer rating with 12-personnel. He has completed just 53.3% of his passes, averaged 4.9 yards per attempt, and thrown one touchdown and three interceptions with 12-personnel. Last season, Wentz had a 94.8 passer rating with 12-personnel. Threw just two interceptions in 314 pass attempts with 12-personnel.

  3. All eight of Zach Ertz’s receptions in the first two games came in 12-personnel. Just five of Dallas Goedert’s team-high 12 catches were in 12-personnel packages. Last year, 57 of Ertz’s 88 receptions and 40 of Goedert’s 58 catches were in 12-personnel.

  4. Jim Schwartz called five blitzes on the Rams' 10 first-quarter pass plays last weekend. Rams quarterback Jared Goff completed passes on all five blitzes, including a 4-yard touchdown to tight end Tyler Higbee. Schwartz blitzed just once more the rest of the game.

  5. Wentz attempted just two passes against the Rams that traveled 20 or more yards. One was a 25-yard completion to DeSean Jackson. The other was the interception in the end zone. Wentz attempted seven 20-plus-yard passes in Week 1, completing two of them.

Evaluating Jalen Hurts

The Jalen Hurts era officially got underway Sunday.

After being a game-day inactive in Week 1, the second-round rookie was on the field for three plays Sunday against the Rams, though he never actually touched the football.

He lined up in a split backfield with Miles Sanders on a first-down play at the Rams 19 midway through the second quarter. They flared him out to the right, which drew the linebacker and opened up the middle for an easy 10-yard completion to tight end Dallas Goedert.

Two plays later, on a first-and-goal at the 3, they lined Hurts up wide-left, where he ran a decoy route into the end zone while Sanders ran up the middle for 2 yards and set up Carson Wentz’s 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown.

On the next possession, Hurts was used as a decoy again on a misdirection play in the red zone. He lined up in the right slot and went behind Wentz, who faked an end-around to him and handed the ball off to Sanders, who gained 6 yards as a prelude to his 5-yard touchdown run just before halftime.

Hurts' use as a multi-faceted offensive weapon figures to increase, and not strictly as a decoy. He almost certainly will get to run the ball on occasion. And by golly, he might even get to throw it.

If Wentz continues to play as badly as he did in Weeks 1 and 2, which is very unlikely, but if he does, the we-want-Jalen chants no doubt will start because that’s what always happens when the starting quarterback is stinking up the joint, especially when an intriguing rookie is sitting on the bench.

But benching Wentz, no matter how many two-interception games he might have, won’t be an option this season. The only way Hurts becomes the starter is if QB1 tears another ligament or breaks another bone.

Which raiseds the all-important question: Is Hurts even good enough to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League, or is he just a gadget guy like the Saints' Taysom Hill whom the Eagles paid too high a price for? The truth is, we don’t know the answer right now, and neither do the Eagles.

Former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick has co-authored a book on quarterbacks with Jim Dale called The Q Factor, which comes out next week. The book is centered on the five quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2018 draft – Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson.

Jackson’s success with the Baltimore Ravens is what emboldened the Eagles to take Hurts in the second round this past spring. In case you haven’t noticed, pocket passers are a dying breed in the NFL.

Wentz’s mobility was one of the many things that intrigued the Eagles about him when they traded up to the second spot in the 2016 draft. And it’s definitely one of the things that intrigues them about Hurts, who ran for nearly 1,300 yards and 21 touchdowns at Oklahoma last season, in addition to throwing 32 touchdown passes.

Hurts has been compared to Jackson, a dual-threat quarterback at Louisville who threw 36 touchdown passes and rushed for 1,206 yards and led the Ravens to a 14-2 regular-season record and their second straight playoff berth last year. But Jackson and Hurts are very different physically.

“The way it was put to me by one NFL general manager, and I kind of agree, is that Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray are tailbacks that can play quarterback and Jalen Hurts is a fullback that can play quarterback,” said Billick.

“His is a much more physical running style than those other guys. I don’t know that he can protect himself the way those other guys do. And so, what’s the long-term prognosis [of his being able to hold up]? I don’t know.”

As runners, Jackson and Murray are catch-me-if-you-can guys. Slippery, elusive. Much like Michael Vick when he played, they don’t take a lot of punishment.

The 6-1, 218-pound Hurts is fast, but not as fast as Jackson and Murray. He ran a 4.59 forty at the scouting combine before the draft. He runs with power and speed.

Hurts is more Cam Newton than Jackson or Murray.

“Cam has run the ball a lot in his career,” Billick said. "He’s got more than 1,000 career carries. Had 139 carries in 2017, when he was 28.

"Maybe [Hurts] could have a Cam Newton-ish career. But Cam was a better pocket passer coming out than Jalen was.

“Right now, I would put Jalen’s passing skills in the category of Lamar’s. Which isn’t bad. But even Lamar, we don’t know whether he could win strictly from the pocket.”

And we don’t know that about Hurts yet, either. He completed 69.7% of his passes last year at Oklahoma. He threw 32 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions. He’s got a strong, accurate arm. But he’s got a lot to learn about the NFL passing game.

“I have questions,” Billick said. "I think he is capable. But he’s going to have to throw from the pocket a whole bunch to develop his skills. And we just don’t know because he hasn’t had to do that.

“The only question with Philadelphia taking him is, if the time comes [for him to play], are you willing to totally buy in? And with the success of Carson Wentz, that time frame, I mean does that happen in the next three-four years? I don’t know. You can’t just plug him in and say, ‘OK, now we’ll use him that way.’ It doesn’t work that way.”