Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

McLane: Wentz and Goff: Better to sit or start?

Through the first 11 games of the season the NFL's top two draft picks had nearly identical passer ratings. Carson Wentz eked past Jared Goff, 83.4 to 83.3.

Through the first 11 games of the season the NFL's top two draft picks had nearly identical passer ratings. Carson Wentz eked past Jared Goff, 83.4 to 83.3.

That might be where any similarity between the rookie quarterbacks ends. Wentz started from Day 1 and hasn't missed a snap. Goff was inactive in his opener, dressed the next eight games but watched from the sideline, and finally started two weeks ago.

The Eagles baptized Wentz by fire, while the Rams kept Goff in bubble wrap. Each team had reasons for choosing its path, as have the many teams in league history that opted to either play or sit their rookie quarterbacks.

But with Wentz and Goff forever linked - the latter was drafted ahead of the former - the argument of now vs. later can be further studied as their careers progress. The samples for both, of course, are small, but neither team appears to have clearly taken the wrong approach.

Goff was shaky in his debut against the Dolphins, but he was better the following week against the Saints. And Wentz, while he has tailed off after a scorching start, is still playing at a level that suggests the Eagles didn't harm him by accelerating his instruction.

"You ask 32 executives around the league, 16 will say play him, 16 will say don't play him," Eagles backup quarterback Chase Daniel said this past week. "It's toss him in there right away or it's sit back and take the Aaron Rodgers approach and watch. He definitely wants to be playing.

"I think he's done some wonderful things, especially for a rookie. It's been impressive."

There's no denying that the last few months have been a struggle, though. It almost isn't worth mentioning now because few dispute it as fact, but a subpar supporting cast has increasingly hindered Wentz's production. That being said, the statistics from his first four games compared with those of the next eight have been disproportionate.

Wentz completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,007 yards and seven touchdowns against one interception for a rating of 103.5 as the Eagles opened the season 3-1. His numbers have been pedestrian since as the Eagles lost five of their next seven - a 61.5 completion percentage, 1,586 passing yards, four touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a 72.9 rating.

Each week, Wentz does something spectacular that harks back to his torrid start. And even when he's had poor quarters or even halves, he has found a way to rebound. But the losses and turnovers have been piling up.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has experienced almost nothing but success in his first season. He has played behind an elite offensive line and gets to throw to Dez Bryant and hand off to Ezekiel Elliott. Wentz, meanwhile, may not have one player on offense who is rated above his Dallas counterpart.

"I know for sure I wouldn't trade what's happened for the world," Wentz said. "I'm very excited that I got that opportunity from Game 1. . . . Obviously, before the season we didn't know when would be my time. But I knew it was just a matter of time."

The way coach Doug Pederson has increasingly spoken, though, the Eagles never thought they had a roster that was playoff-caliber. So would it have been beneficial for Wentz to sit, maybe not the whole season as the Eagles coach originally planned, but for a stretch as Daniel held down the fort?

"The fact that he would have sat and watched, I think it's good," Pederson said. But, he added, "Looking back now, obviously this has been very valuable for him to get these reps and to lead this football team like he has. Just going to make not only himself but the team better down the road."

The Rams started Case Keenam for the first nine games. They opened 3-1, but lost their next four, and after an uninspiring 9-6 win over the New York Jets, coach Jeff Fisher finally promoted Goff.

Wentz, who got to know the California quarterback before the draft, said that he called Goff before his first start and "wished him well."

Wentz also said that he wasn't aware of how Goff had performed. Goff completed only 54.8 percent of his passes and averaged only 4.32 yards per attempt in the loss against Miami, but he looked much sharper in New Orleans. He hit on 62.5 percent of his passes, averaged 6.69 yards per attempt, and tossed three touchdowns.

He also threw an interception and fumbled in the loss to the Saints. But Goff had throws that were as good as Wentz's. The jury will be in deliberation for years before a precise comparison can be made between the two, but in the overall picture a nine-game head start may have little impact on the end result.

The only source of knowledge, as Einstein said, is experience. When asked where he was making most of his strides, Wentz said it was in places that aren't visible to the outside. He spoke about his mental approach, which has helped him slow the game down.

Some didn't think Wentz would be able to sustain an entire season. He plays too recklessly. He will either get hurt or his body will break down. There are still five games left, but he has held up remarkably well.

"In this league everyone's going after the quarterback. So the quarterback has to be physically able to play every week," Daniel said. "You're going to have dings and bumps and bruises. . . . But he now knows how to get himself physically ready each day and for each game."

Wentz has the battle scars that come with interceptions, errant passes, and poor decisions, but as Oscar Wilde said, experience is simply the name we give our mistakes. He could have sat back out of the spotlight, where his every error wouldn't have been under a microscope.

"You definitely feel that, without a doubt," Wentz said, "but at the same time, you don't let the circumstances, those expectations, the so-called pressure . . . I don't let it impact the way I approach the game."

What's past is prologue, but for Wentz, there's no looking back.