Carson Wentz can’t play recklessly if he wants a long Eagles career | Paul Domowitch
Carson Wentz is a big, tough quarterback who doesn't mind holding on to the ball for the sake of a big play. But that approach is getting him hit. A lot.
Carson Wentz has taken a pretty good beating in his three starts since returning from his knee injury.
He's already been sacked 12 times and taken licks of varying severity on 31 of his 122 pass attempts. The 12 sacks are the most over a three-game period in his short career.
Many of the sacks and hits have been the result of protection breakdowns of one sort or another. But some also have been the result of Wentz's reluctance to give up on a play.
"It's always a fine line between hanging in the pocket and trying to make that big play [and getting rid of the ball],'' Wentz said Wednesday.
"That's both in and out of the pocket. That's just how I play. But I'm always watching that. Always watching and trying to learn when's the right time to pick and choose my battles.''
At 6-5 and right around 240 muscled pounds, Wentz isn't a big advocate of the live-to-fight-another-day approach. You'll never, ever see him do that shoulder dip Eli Manning uses to protect himself from a pass-rusher.
Even now, less than 10 months after a major knee injury, the guy is perfectly willing to absorb a big hit if it might mean giving his receivers an extra half-second to get open.
But while that may be a very admirable trait, it's also a short-sighted one if he still wants to be the Eagles' starting quarterback in 2028.
"You just don't see quarterbacks get hit the way Carson gets hit,'' NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. "He tries to extend every single play. His body just gets put in positions after some of these contact hits. . . he gets absolutely mangled.
"I've been watching for three years the way he gets hit. He just tries to keep every single play alive. Some of those times, when he's going down and still trying to stay up, it scares you if you're the Eagles coaches and are watching him take those hits. You don't see Brady or Brees take those kinds of hits.''
You don't see it because Brady and Brees are more willing to give up on a play for the sake of survival than bigger quarterbacks such as Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger, who bring a linebacker mentality to the quarterback position.
"I watched Andrew Luck for three straight years,'' Baldinger said. "I kept saying, 'Geez, his body must be made out of Kevlar.' And then one day, it wasn't made out of Kevlar.
"All of a sudden, it was his shoulder, it was his spleen, it was all these different things. It got to the point where they had to take him off the field and put him back together. And I don't know if he's ever going to be the same.
"That's the comparison you have to worry about with Carson. Coaches always say you've got to know when the play is over. But it's just not in him to go down. It's not who he is. And I don't know if he can ever acquire that.''
One of the few benefits of Wentz's ACL injury was it gave him extra time early in the rehab process, when he couldn't run, to strengthen his upper body in the weight room.
But has the added muscle mass given him an extra shield of protection or a greater willingness to play demolition derby with a blitzing linebacker?
"That's kind of the nature of the game that I bring,'' Wentz said. "You're always trying to weigh the pros and cons of doing that. Sometimes it gets you. Sometimes it ends up [resulting] in a big play.''
Coach Doug Pederson is constantly in Wentz's ear about protecting himself and focusing on the long game.
"Where we try to go each season as a football team, obviously the health of the quarterback is a big deal,'' Pederson said.
"Carson understands that the bigger picture is his longevity. That obviously benefits the entire team.''
Where’d the RPOs go?
Remember those run-pass option plays (RPOs) that were such a successful part of the Eagles' offense in the second half of last season and in the playoffs?
Well, Doug Pederson has used them sparingly so far this season. He called just three RPOs in Sunday's 23-21 loss to the Vikings.
He called one on the Eagles' first offensive play, a pass to Nelson Agholor that was nearly intercepted by Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Didn't call one again until the first play of the third quarter, which ended up being a run by Jay Ajayi that gained 7 yards. Then he called the third and final one early in the fourth quarter – another pass to Agholor that gained 7 yards.
There are a couple reasons why we've seen fewer RPOs. The biggest one is that defenses had an entire offseason to come up with an antidote for them and are defending them better. Another is that Wentz doesn't seem to like them quite as much as Nick Foles did.
"It's partially [what defenses are doing],'' Wentz said. "It's still something that we'll always have in [the game plan] every week. It's just whether or not we're calling them as much or not.
"It's [still] a big part of what we do. It's just that, throughout each game, sometimes we use them more if it's working well, and sometimes we get away from it.''
It appears one thing defenses are doing is holding up the Eagles' receivers at the line of scrimmage, which is making it difficult for them to run the slant routes that are a big part of the RPO game.
Pederson claimed Wednesday that the Eagles really aren't using RPOs any less than last year. It's just that they're running the ball off of them more than passing
"I'm still using them throughout the course of games,'' he said. "We are seeing defenses defend it a little bit better. So the ball's not coming out as a throw as much anymore.
"But we continue to work on them, and if it applies each week, we're going to keep having them in the game plan.''
Figuring the Eagles
Carson Wentz has lost three fumbles in his three starts this season. That's as many as he lost all of last season. As a rookie, he lost three in 16 starts.
Jim Schwartz has used seven- and eight-man blitzes nine times in the first five games. Last season, he used them 15 times the entire year. Opposing QBs were 4-for-15 for 79 yards, two TDs, one INT and no sacks against the Eagles' seven- and eight-man blitzes last year. This season, they are 6-for 8 for 116 yards, no TDs, one INT and no sacks. Vikings QB Kirk Cousins was 3-for-3 for 98 yards Sunday against seven-man blitzes.
The Eagles ran just 19 plays in the first half Sunday, and 55 the entire game. They had been averaging 73 plays per game going in. They haven't run fewer than 55 plays since Week 6 of the 2016 season when they ran just 48 plays in a 27-20 loss to the Redskins.
Before the Vikings' Danielle Hunter sacked Carson Wentz in the third quarter Sunday, the Eagles hadn't given up a sack in the red zone in 28 games, including the playoffs. The last time it happened: Dec. 11, 2016, against the Redskins in a 27-22 loss.
The Eagles have run 159 first-down plays this season. Ninety-four, or 59.1 percent of them, have been pass plays. Last year, 52.4 percent of their first-down plays were pass plays.
This and that
TV alert for Eagles fans: The premiere of Brian Dawkins: A Football Life is Friday at 8 p.m. on NFL Network.
The Eagles have run the ball just 39 times in 131 plays the last two games, and seven of those runs were by quarterback Carson Wentz. Through five games, the Eagles are 23rd in the league in run-play percentage (36.0). That's a dramatic drop from last year, when they were ninth (44.0). Pederson blamed the run-pass imbalance on the Eagles' slow starts. Last year, they outscored teams, 106-48, in the first quarter. So far this season, they've been outscored in the first quarter, 23-7. "If you can jump out to leads early in football games and sustain it, it definitely creates a better balance and a mix of plays throughout the rest of the game,'' Pederson said. Last season, the Eagles scored on their first possession in seven of 16 regular-season games, and scored on their second possession eight times. They failed to score on at least one of their first two possessions just four times. This season, they've scored on their first possession just once (a touchdown against the Colts) and have yet to put up points on their second possession.
Through five games, tight end Zach Ertz has 41 catches – including 20 in the last two games – for 437 yards and one TD. He's third in the league in receptions and ninth in receiving yards. But he hasn't been a particularly big factor in the two areas he cares about most – third down and the red zone. His eight red-zone touchdown catches last season were the third most in the NFL. He has just one so far this season, and that came in Sunday's loss to the Vikings. Only six of his 41 catches have come on third down. The Eagles, who finished eighth in third-down efficiency last season, currently are 23rd. "I've got to be better in the red zone,'' Ertz said. "I want to be that guy where, on third down or in the red zone, they know they can throw me the ball.''
The Eagles defense has just eight sacks in the last four games. The Titans' Marcus Mariota and the Vikings' Kirk Cousins had a combined 122.3 passer rating when the Eagles blitzed them. So defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz made it clear this week that he needs his defensive line to step up and make Eli Manning's life miserable Thursday night. "We need more production from our d-line in general, our entire defense in general,'' he said.