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Wentz throwing deep downfield less of late

Carson Wentz may not have thrown many passes downfield against the Cowboys, but his reluctance to go deep wasn't because Doug Pederson didn't call plays with those routes.

Carson Wentz may not have thrown many passes downfield against the Cowboys, but his reluctance to go deep wasn't because Doug Pederson didn't call plays with those routes.

The Eagles quarterback dropped back to pass 46 times on Sunday night, and 19 of those plays had multiple receivers running 20 yards or more downfield. Not every play was designed for a deep option to be the first read, and by comparison to previous games there weren't a high percentage of stretch routes. But upon further review of the coaches' film, shots were taken.

Wentz, for various reasons, just didn't pull the trigger. Mostly it was because his receivers were covered. The Cowboys often had the right defense called to take away the deep ball. But in many man-to-man situations the Eagles couldn't get open.

Open can be a subjective term as it relates to some receivers. Good receivers, as the saying goes, are never covered. But Wentz has become increasingly gun-shy when it comes to targeting his receivers deep and certainly when they have been covered deep.

"Dallas . . . played a little bit more two-deep against us than what we've seen in previous weeks," Pederson said on Monday after the Eagles lost to the Cowboys, 29-23, in overtime. "I thought that Carson was very efficient with the throws he did make. . . . There were some situations there."

A week after Wentz took some criticism for being too much of a gunslinger, he attempted only one pass more than 15 yards, when receiver Jordan Matthews dropped what would have been a 16-yard completion. Overall, he was 32 of 42 for 202 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per pass attempt. The current NFL average is 7.0 yards per attempt.

"We had some shots called," Wentz said after the game, "and I just had to check down because that's what they gave us."

Subjectively speaking, he mostly made the right read - nearly 80 percent of the time. But, as Pederson said, there were a few opportunities deep.

Late in the second quarter, the Eagles faced second and 1 - a down and distance on which chances can be taken down the field. Pederson called for a three level stretch play that had receiver Nelson Agholor (a deep post) and tight end Zach Ertz (a corner) running criss-crossing routes to Wentz's left.

The Cowboys were in Cover 2, and the deep safety to the left (Barry Church) had to choose whether to cover Agholor or Ertz once they broke their routes. Wentz looked in that direction and saw Church in between both receivers. But if he held the ball a beat longer - he had time in the pocket - he would have likely had an open receiver.

Instead, Wentz checked down to running back Darren Sproles in the flat for 4 yards. In was a fine decision - he picked up the first down - and the Eagles would eventually end the drive with a field goal. But there was an opportunity for more.

Wentz hasn't been willing to hold the ball in the pocket seemingly since he took several early hits in the Redskins game. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been more consistent over the last two games, but the rookie's insertion at right tackle has clearly had an effect on Wentz.

Pederson hasn't had to keep tight ends and running backs in to help Vaitai with chip and double-team blocks as much as he did two weeks ago. But many of his pass plays have called for Wentz to get the ball out quickly.

Wentz threw eight screen passes against the Cowboys - although a few appeared to be run-pass option plays - and he tossed 19 passes on one-read timing routes. His longest completion was a 14-yard throw to Green-Beckham on a comeback route.

The Eagles have just one play of more than 30 yards over the last 230 offensive snaps. When Pederson was asked if his team could win consistently without throwing downfield, he pointed to the Chiefs last season, when he was their offensive coordinator.

"We went 9-0 in Kansas City and didn't do it," Pederson said. "I've seen it done."

He may not have had a big arm in Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, but he has a thoroughbred in Wentz. Of course, the Eagles, who didn't make a trade before Tuesday's deadline, don't have Kansas City's receivers.

Wentz will have to work with what he has. He rebounded from his worst outing of the season against the Vikings, though. While the level of difficulty wasn't always high, Wentz did complete 74 percent of his passes. He was sharp. In his three previous games, his completion rate was 54 percent.

A week after turning the ball over three times in the first quarter, he had neither an interception nor a fumble. He had success when the Eagles went up-tempo before the half and on their second possession of the third quarter and netted 10 points.

"It's not our identity by any means, but it's just a good change of pace," Wentz said of the fast tempo. "It gets the defense on their toes."

But he hasn't had success with games on the line. The Eagles have had three opportunities to go ahead late in the fourth quarter in three of their last four games and have fallen short each time.

They have had a collective 14 plays over four drives in those three games and have gained only 10 yards. Wentz has gone only 4 of 8 for 27 yards and has tossed an interception and been sacked four times over that span.

"Those ones I'm kind of kicking myself over," Wentz said after the Dallas game. "We had two chances to go win the ball game at the end of regulation, and we didn't get it done."

He was hardly the most at fault.