IN FOCUSING on the failings of Carson Wentz's receiving corps, are we overlooking some shortcomings in the Eagles' rookie quarterback?
His three NFL rookie of the week awards came in the first five games; Wentz was rookie of the month for September, but he wasn't really in the running in October and won't be in November. His season passer rating peaked after the Detroit game, at 103.7. It has declined each week since, through wins and losses - 103.5, 99.9, 92.7, 92.5, 87.7, 87.6, and now, 84.2 as he prepares to take the field Monday night against the Packers.
No question, Wentz missed on a handful of throws last Sunday at Seattle. He was playing the defense that allows the fewest points in the NFL. I don't recall him missing anyone who was running through the secondary wide-open. It was mostly the kind of thing where a perfectly thrown ball might have fit into a window, maybe - like that first deep ball to Bryce Treggs in the end zone. There were times he was late to decipher what was in front of him.
"There were some times where he was a little bit late or kept his eyes in a spot too long and could have gone other places with the ball," Doug Pederson acknowledged. "I think, too, it was just the speed of the defense that he was facing, on turf and with the crowd noise, all that is huge. It does affect you. And then just knowing game situations, understanding down and distance, play calls, designs and everything, and what you're seeing on defense and things that he continues to process through."
Looking at Wentz last week, what I saw more prominently was a 57-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz called back because of a stupid penalty, and a 25-yard (at least) drop from Nelson Agholor, who actually was standing wide-open. Those plays alone would have pushed his 218 passing yards to 300. There are things Wentz still needs to learn, times he needs to step into throws and doesn't. But the basic "right stuff" remains, from all available evidence.
Wentz said this week that he thinks the Eagles' offense is close to breaking out. It hasn't produced more than 24 points since the Pittsburgh game, Sept. 25. The Eagles might need more than 24 to beat the Packers, who can still light it up - they rank 11th in the league in scoring but are giving up 27.6 points per game, 27th in the NFL.
"I think we're close. We all come back, we watch the tape, and you just see little things, but the little things add up. We know we're right there," Wentz said Wednesday. (There was no media access on Thanksgiving.) "We've got a lot of young guys, myself included, that are getting all this experience, all these learning opportunities, and we see 'em all - 'Oh, we're right there.' We know we can do it. We've just got to fine-tune our details and we'll be all right."
Wentz has seen a lot, as the Eagles have traversed a ridiculously tough, road-heavy schedule.
"I think just for me, the experience has been huge," Wentz said. "It's every week there's something new that happens. There's a new situation . . . Every week there's something new to learn. Hard to say if I'm better or worse, but I just know I'm learning a lot. Getting valuable experience.
"I'm playing confident. Mistakes are going to happen - that's football - but I'm playing faster and faster every week, and I'm feeling good with the playbook, feeling good with what I'm seeing with other teams."
Every week reporters covering the Eagles talk to the opposing coach and a prominent player on a conference call. Every week there are questions about what those guys see when they watch film of Wentz. Of course, when you're getting ready to play somebody, you tend to err on the side of elaborate praise, but most weeks, the opponents cite specific points, plays or situations that impressed them.
Here is what Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Wednesday: "I've seen a decent amount, with some of the common opponents we've had, and (am) very impressed. From the start, just watching the way he handles his media obligations, the way he handled draft night, he obviously is a very mature young man, and he's been playing really well - taking care of the football and making good decisions . . . Some of the throws he had late against Washington were really impressive. He can throw from numerous platforms, with his feet different spots. Obviously, he's got a big-time arm, but you see the anticipation on film, even in the Chicago game (just Wentz's second NFL start), he stood in there a couple of times and took some big hits, delivered the ball very accurately. I think he's well on his way.
"He comes off as a very humble guy. That plays well in any locker room. Handles himself with a touch of class."
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said something similar.
"The athletic ability, it jumps off the video. It's no different than when we were all at the (Scouting)Combine. You could see right away that his attributes were special. I think he's played very well; I like the way he's commanded the offense. He plays with poise, plays with command of the offense, as far as getting through his reads and so forth. Can make any throw from all the different launching points that they're asking him to do in their offense. Particularly, I've always preferred the athlete that can play in the pocket and out of the pocket. He definitely has that ability."
Wentz talked Wednesday about his leadership style, as the team and particularly the offense navigate a rough patch. He doesn't like to give reporters much beyond the obvious, but it's apparent he puts thought into how he handles the huddle.
"I try to be the same guy when things are good, things are bad, everywhere in between," Wentz said. "Even on game days - I'm going to get excited when we score touchdowns and this and that, but at the same time, when mistakes happen . . . I'm trying to be the same guy. I think the guys, they want to see that out of one of their leaders. This position, especially, everyone's looking at me in the huddle type of thing. We've got to stay consistent with who we are, personalitywise, and I think it carries over through practice, through meetings, to the game."
The Eagles said corner Leodis McKelvin was a full practive participant Thursday, which means he has made it through the concussion protocol and should play Monday . . . Running back Darren Sproles (rib) also was a full participant. Defensive end Connor Barwin and running back Ryan Mathews did not practice with knee injuries, but they have a good chance of playing Monday.