DOUG PEDERSON says he isn't worried about Carson Wentz, but that doesn't mean we can't be.
Sunday's game was alarming, and the short, uncomfortable postgame media session with the rookie quarterback didn't provide any reassurances.
Wentz has never been as off-target as he was for nearly three quarters against the Bengals, until they loosened up the coverage after taking a 29-0 lead, en route to a 32-14 victory. He dropped his elbow, threw off his back foot, threw into coverage, telegraphed throws so badly that defensive players rushing him knew exactly when to get their hands up for a deflection (or an interception, a la Vontaze Burfict on Wentz's last of three picks).
Afterward, Wentz didn't defiantly vow to pull the team out of its tailspin. He didn't castigate himself for, say, missing a wide-open Dorial Green-Backham for about 25 yards at the right sideline, on one of the few occasions when Wentz's protection was perfect. He brushed aside questions about the mechanical problems Pederson had just finished discussing.
Asked how the Eagles go about fixing this mess, Wentz said:
"Obviously we're on a skid. There's really nothing to change. We've just got to lock in, and we've got to be more disciplined. At the same time, you don't get down. That's what I've been saying. This locker room, guys aren't going to get down. We've got to be better with our discipline and keep attacking. Obviously we're in a tough spot, but we've just got to take it one game at a time."
That's all ya got, huh? One game at a time.
Without a rushing attack, a reliable offensive line and top receiver Jordan Matthews, the Eagles weren't really developing Wentz Sunday; they were crossing their fingers that he would emerge from the Ohio River shorefront in one piece. Thanks to those problems, compounded by Wentz's inaccuracy, plus a defense that seems to have thrown in the towel, Pederson called upon Wentz to throw the ball 33 times in the fourth quarter. Thirty-three times. In the fourth. Quarter.
Suddenly, it is easier to remember all those good reasons why the Eagles weren't going to start Wentz as a rookie, before they traded Sam Bradford to Minnesota, eight days before the season started. You can ruin a rookie quarterback by sending him out week after week to get his ribs bashed in, with no hope of winning, which seems to be where the Eagles are headed, having lost three in a row and seven of nine.
After the game, teammates rallied around Wentz. They didn't cite any of the 60 throws he made, but seized on the way he chased down Burfict after that final pick. Ideally, this is not what you want to see the quarterback praised for. There was a poignant quality to these testimonials, in a New York Jetsian or Cleveland Brownsian way.
"He's a competitor. Did you see, after the interception, how he chased the linebacker down, to get him out of bounds? That's my quarterback," Nelson Agholor said. "In fact, I was disappointed in myself because I was gassed (and couldn't get Burfict). I don't want him doing that. But the fact that he's that passionate, he still found a way to do that - I have a lot of respect for him."
Monday, Pederson was asked if he would have had more time to work on mechanics this year, if Wentz hadn't become the starter.
"Well, that's hard to answer, because if we'd have had Sam here or whatever, yeah, I mean, you would have time to work on this. These are some of the decisions that I made back when the trade was made, that . . . these were going to be some of the pains we were going to have to go through, and just him understanding, and him learning, and us growing together as an offense, he and I growing as coach and quarterback together, it's all part of the process," Pederson said.
"You know, the thing about Carson is, he continues to work and practice on it. I know (offensive coordinator) Frank (Reich) and (quarterbacks coach John) DeFilippo work on it every single day with him, and he's very conscious of it. Obviously, we're all disappointed that things aren't turning out our way. But yet, we just continue to work."
When the Eagles were winning, the talk was about how much Wentz was learning about leading the team and running the offense and competing at this level. Now, Pederson is touting how Wentz is learning to handle adversity.
"We all sit here today, and I sit here today, and say, 'Hey, I wish things were different this season with the way things are going' . . . I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward; I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro, and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career," Pederson said. "(The mechanical issues are) something that, we get to the OTAs, and we get a full offseason in, and we just continue to work on it."
Pederson said sometimes on Sunday Wentz had pressure in his face, keeping him from stepping into his throw, and other times he just threw from the back foot when he didn't really need to.
One of the things Wentz still has to learn, Pederson noted, is how to step and slide around the pocket to find a better spot, a better angle, when there is pressure. Pederson has mentioned, going back to training camp, that the first priority has to be getting the throw off on time, so sometimes an inexperienced QB has to just do that, whether his feet and shoulders are set correctly or not.
"We talk about subtle movements in the pocket - not big, drastic movements," Pederson said. "They could be . . . hitching forward to avoid a lateral or a side rush, maybe stepping lateral to avoid anything coming into his face, but the biggest thing is we want to make sure that he's on time and in rhythm with the throw. Listen, there's going to be times when you're going to have to throw off your back foot . . . That's just the nature. There's never really a pure pocket, with the way teams are either blitz rushing or the pressure that you get from a bull rush. It's just things that we learn and we continue to work on."
Developing story lines
* The second snap of the game offered a neat bit of foreshadowing. Carson Wentz looked to throw over the middle. Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap used Allen Barbre as a vaulting horse, leaped up and pawed the pass out of the air. This happened about a half-dozen times, mostly courtesy of Dunlap, though not always. Dunlap did it again on the Eagles' second series, though the intended receiver, Kenjon Barner, was already on the ground by the time he batted down the ball.
* Just a reminder that the Bengals drove 93 yards for that touchdown just before halftime, 77 of them after the two-minute warning. A dozen plays overall, seven first downs. And a partridge in a pear tree.
* Doug Pederson said Monday that some of the Eagles' trouble with false starts might have to do with cadences, and hesitation on Carson Wentz's part. "We do use a lot of multiple snap counts. Even in the silent cadence world, we do a lot of things. We want to get indicators (of what the defense is doing). We're asking Carson to do some things in the run game and with protections, and you're getting a lot of different looks from teams on third down, so we need to utilize our snap count. The team, the offense is very aware of that, and sometimes if there's a little bit of a hesitation in Carson's cadence, our tackles are set to jump and to pass set, and it happened a little bit yesterday with Allen Barbre and Jason Peters and, of course, Zach Ertz had one and Isaac Seumalo had one as a tight end. We just can't put ourselves in that situation . . . We've got to continue to work on it. (Jason) Kelce and Carson are working every single day. They talk about it even after practice. They sit in meetings. They watch tape together. They understand it, and we actually go into games sort of detailing, as far as we want to use cadence on this play, this play and this play as we go."
* The Eagles have now given up as many sacks (26) as they've gotten.
* Pederson said Dorial Green-Beckham suffered an oblique contusion on that collision with Vontaze Burfict. Pederson said Green-Beckham won't practice Wednesday but should play against Washington. Jordan Matthews (ankle) and Ryan Mathews (knee) are scheduled to return to practice Wednesday. Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) is not as close.
Doug on Doug
Doug Pederson answered questions about his job security Monday, which was both premature and understandable.
For many people, Sunday's crushing defeat brought back memories of that 45-14 Thanksgiving loss last year in Detroit, which insiders later said was the day Jeffrey Lurie decided Chip Kelly would be leaving. Cincinnati, too, was a debacle that said bad things about the Eagles' mindset.
Changing coaches yet again would be a huge step, involving new offensive and defensive systems, another offseason of trying to fit personnel to a new coach and new coordinators' preferences. Management didn't choose Pederson and Frank Reich to develop Wentz on a whim. It was not a short-term move.
Plus, if you're going to write off Pederson, you also have to write off the people who brought him in. Most prominent in that group, obviously, is Howie Roseman, but Lurie was very involved in the process, as he was with the hiring of Kelly four years ago.
If Lurie is going to admit he and his brain trust got it wrong again, he pretty much has to fire himself at this point, divorce himself from football decisions and bring in someone to run the shop. I don't see that happening soon.
Pederson doesn't seem to see it, either.
"I meet with Jeffrey and Howie every week, and we discuss a lot of things and go over a lot of things, and every week it's very positive. I just don't think, personally, you can base a guy's career on one season," Pederson said. "I think you've got to give it time to develop. We have a rookie quarterback. We've got to have time to develop this quarterback. It just doesn't happen overnight. So by no means have they expressed anything (negative) to me, and it's been positive and very supportive."
Asked if he feels his job is secure, Pederson said: "For sure, yeah."
He's probably right about that. But if the final four games look like Sunday's first three quarters, well, anything can happen.
Doug Pederson was asked if he might compel defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to blitz more, given the Eagles' total of one sack during their three-game losing streak. Pederson noted that he hired Schwartz because of his reputation for getting pressure with just the front four.
"I think if you start - I don't want to say it's a panic move, but if you start trying to rescheme things and do things a little bit out of the norm of what you sort of have your game plans and your philosophy based around, you're going to give up something to get something. So if you're going to put pressure on the quarterback with five or six guys, then you're asking your back end to hold up. (Currently) you're seeing that even with rushing four, you're seeing plays down the field being made," Pederson said.
That Carson Wentz would finish Sunday with more receiving yards (7) than Brent Celek, Bryce Treggs or Wendell Smallwood (all zero)?
During their six-game road losing streak, the Eagles are being outscored 58-6 in the first quarter.