Of all the questions that will swirl around this Eagles team between now and the start of next season, these are the ones that matter most:
Can Howie Roseman and his personnel staff build a roster that is capable of winning games with a quarterback who is less than superhuman?
Can Doug Pederson and his assistants coach and develop the players that such a roster demands?
Yes, there is another elephant in the room. In a 17-9 loss to the Seahawks where the margin of defeat should have been triple what it was, Carson Wentz looked like a quarterback unaccustomed to life on two feet. He lost two fumbles. He threw two interceptions. He threw behind Zach Ertz, and over Miles Sanders, and underneath Jordan Matthews and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Two of those throws would have extended promising drives. Against a Seahawks team that seemed desperate to give away a game, the Eagles had more opportunities than they deserved, and they failed to take advantage.
There’s no getting around it. Wentz was as bad as we’ve seen him as an Eagle. For the second straight week, he looked skittish, unsteady, out of balance in the pocket. His fourth-and-2 incompletion to Arcega-Whiteside with 7 minutes, 54 seconds remaining was emblematic of the afternoon. Instead of stepping into his throw, he slung it off his back foot, forcing his receiver to make an awkward adjustment. The ball hit the rookie in the hands. It could have been caught. But it also could have been thrown a heck of a lot better.
Even if your default mode is to extend to Wentz every conceivable benefit of the doubt, you still must acknowledge that this was a loss that lies squarely on him. He knows it. His coach knows it. Nick Foles used to talk about the comfort of seeing his dog after a tough game. This was a game where even the dog would know it.
“I’ve just got to be better,” Wentz said.
At the same time, the Eagles have done a lackluster job at creating an environment that would aid him in that quest. Their Super Bowl win of a couple of seasons ago is increasingly looking like a mirage that was built on a foundation of sand. The inconvenient truth about that magical run is that they needed every bit of the superhuman quarterback performances they got, first from Wentz during the regular season and then from Foles in the NFC championship game and Super Bowl. The cast of characters that surrounded those quarterbacks wasn’t all that different from what it has been this season. Their misfit nature made for a compelling story, but, in the end, perhaps relying on a collection of misfits is not a sustainable way to build a team.
A lot has been made about the injuries that have plagued the Eagles this season, and there’s no getting around the fact that they entered Sunday’s game without their most dependable rusher and their top three wide receivers and their Pro Bowl right tackle. But two of those receivers are aging veterans on the wrong side of their prime who knew their way around an inactive list well before their arrival in Philadelphia. Maybe what really hurt the Eagles against the Seahawks wasn’t the absences of DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, but that they were relying on such players to begin with.
Look at the supporting cast the 9-2 Seahawks had around Russell Wilson. At wide receiver: Tyler Lockett, a third-round pick in 2015; D.K. Metcalf, a third-round pick in 2019; David Moore, a seventh-round pick in 2017. At running back: Chris Carson, a seventh-round pick in 2017; Rashaad Penny, a first-round pick in 2018.
Lockett was drafted behind Nelson Agholor, Metcalf behind Arcega-Whiteside, Carson behind Donnel Pumphrey.
No question, Wilson made his players better in Sunday’s loss while Wentz made his worse. This was particularly evident in the first half. Consider a 17-yard catch by Metcalf on the Seahawks’ second possession that gave Seattle a first down in Eagles territory. The key wasn’t the separation that Metcalf created against Ronald Darby — the coverage wasn’t particularly bad — but the fact that Wilson located his throw precisely where it needed to be. His 50-yard touchdown off a throwback from Carson was similarly on point, as was a 31-yard throw to Moore. Those three plays were the difference in the game. Wilson made them. Wentz didn’t.
“I felt good mentally,” Wentz said. “Mentally, I think that everything was good. We were right there. Physically, I just missed some throws.”
Yet we’ve seen Wentz make those sorts of throws before, which makes it fair to wonder whether his struggles are at least partially attributable to a lack of comfort within the offense as a whole. If Wentz at times looks like a quarterback playing with one arm tied behind his back, perhaps it is because that is how he feels.
“Listen, we’ve always said this, that it’s not about one guy,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “But obviously our quarterback is a big part of our success and the things we do. Sometimes, even as a play caller, you’ve just got to get back to some of the basic plays, some of the things you have a lot of time invested on and get back to that and try to get something going.”
Wentz needs to be better. Pederson didn’t bother to attempt to dispute that fact. But the coach is correct when he says that generating that improvement is partially on him. It’s also on the men in charge of putting together the roster.
Wentz isn’t going anywhere. His skills aren’t either. What the Eagles really need is to create an environment that affords him some margin for error.