The last time Carson Wentz visited Lambeau Field, some of his passing stats looked a bit like the modest figures Wentz has been compiling lately – 16 completions on 27 attempts, 160 yards.
But then there was the part of the line with the three touchdowns and no interceptions, in the Eagles’ 34-27 victory over the host Green Bay Packers on Sept. 26, 2019.
That night, a little more than 14 months ago, Wentz dueled Aaron Rodgers toe to toe. Rodgers threw for 422 yards, but he also tossed a fatal final-moments interception, and lost a fumble. There were no Eagles turnovers, on a night when the visitors ran the ball 33 times for 176 yards. Every time Rodgers drove Green Bay down the field, Wentz and the Eagles answered.
You could say the quarterbacking matchup looks a bit different as the Eagles prepare for Sunday’s visit to Lambeau. Rodgers is the NFL’s top passer, with a 117.6 rating, to go along with a league-high 33 touchdown passes against only four interceptions and a 68.5 completion percentage for the 8-3 Packers.
The 3-7-1 Eagles don’t even have 33 touchdowns total. They have 29, 16 passing and 13 rushing. Wentz is stumbling through the worst of his five NFL seasons, with a 30th-place 73.4 passer rating, a league-high 15 interceptions, and a 58.1 completion percentage, which ranks 31st.
Wentz was asked Wednesday if he had watched film of last year’s meeting. His answer was a disappointment to anyone who might have expected, “Yeah, and, gee, I sure played a lot better that game than I’m playing these days. What the heck has happened to me?”
“It’s a good defense, for starters,” he said. “It was a very complete game. I don’t think we had any crazy stats throwing the ball. I think we ran the ball very effectively, but it was a complete game all the way around, down to the wire against a really good opponent.”
Wentz added that the Eagles need to once again play a complete game, “not making mistakes, or limiting turnovers, big errors, costly errors, the way we played a complete game there last year.”
This was consistent with the way Wentz has handled his puzzling descent into the quarterbacking depths. If you only watched or listened to his interviews, and had no idea how the games were going, you would think things were just a touch off here or there, a bit sloppy, but with some fine-tuning, everything should be fine.
It would be unfair to say that Wentz doesn’t take blame, or recognize the need to do better. But it would be fair to say that he holds his failures at arm’s length, talks of them in abstract terms.
NFL Research released a list this week of quarterbacks with the biggest passer-rating regressions from their previous three seasons. Wentz is 24.9 points below the mark he compiled from 2017-19. That is the largest regression on record for a quarterback under 30. Of the five players ahead of him regression-wise, four were in their final seasons when they fell so abruptly. The other was journeyman Mark Rypien.
Wentz’s demeanor and his responses don’t indicate that he really grasps where he is right now, how he is viewed. Maybe that’s a good thing if it means that he is tough enough to weather the storm. But if it means he doesn’t really grasp how he needs to change, to avoid having his career come crashing down around his ears, then this clinically detached perspective is not a good thing.
“Whether we’re 10-0 or 0-10 … I feel confident in the process, how I prepare, how I get ready,” Wentz said. “You can’t press. You can’t try and do too much. But at the same time, you have to look at where you can get better, where you can improve, and what’s maybe holding you back.”
Asked about not being on the same page with receivers so often – this was a recurring theme from ESPN’s broadcast of the Eagles’ Monday loss to Seattle, epitomized by the killer end zone interception Wentz threw with 8 minutes, 35 seconds remaining, when Dallas Goedert turned inside and Wentz threw outside – Wentz said he needs to do a better job of ironing out such problems during the practice week.
“At the end of the day, I gotta trust everybody, and I do trust everybody,” Wentz said.
This assertion was at odds with the way Wentz has seemed reluctant to target some receivers, or to get the ball out quickly in many situations.
“The second you play indecisive, whether they’re indecisive or I’m indecisive, that’s when bad plays happen,” Wentz said.
Asked if he sees himself as being less decisive than in past seasons, and if he sees himself not identifying open receivers more now, Wentz said this:
“I don’t feel indecisive out there. I think there’s times in every game, whether it’s in the past, whether I’m playing at a high level or struggling, whatever it is, where you miss plays. You miss a play, miss a throw. You miss a read. That happens, and every week I look at those. OK, how can I learn from it? How can I go forward?
“I don’t feel any different on that respect. I know I can play better every single week. But as far as being decisive and trusting these guys, that’s not going to change. I’m going to keep trusting what I see and letting it rip. I know I can do a better job of that, and I plan to.”
Wentz added that he doesn’t think he’s not seeing open receivers, though this seems to be a prevailing theme of analysts examining his play this year.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “No.”