Before Carson Wentz flew back from London and readied for a bye week of relaxation and hunting, he vowed that he would "look in the mirror and say, 'How can I protect the ball a little bit better?' "
For as well as Wentz has played since returning from his torn ACL – statistically, he's superior to his MVP-caliber 2017 campaign – his fumbling has been a noticeable blemish. Wentz has seven fumbles in six games, including five lost fumbles. He's fumbled in every game this season and has the third-most fumbles in the NFL despite missing the first two games and having a bye week. Wentz has carried the Eagles offense this season except when he hasn't been able to carry the ball.
"It's part of the game," Wentz said this week. "Every one is kind of its own thing. I never want to say, 'It's part of the game, it happens' – I want to clean it up. But at the same time, each is such an individualized play and case. Overall, just have to be better with that and get the ball out quicker in some of those situations."
Wentz is correct in that they've happened for different reasons, so it's not as if there's one common thread. There's been blindside hits. He's been hit while in the throwing motion. He's had the pocket collapse on him. He's been hit while moving up the pocket. There's been a faulty exchange with a running back. He's even had the ball slip out of his hands while throwing — an innocent and uncommon error. The fumbles have happened often enough that they've become a trend, but it's not to the point where there's one coaching message will fix it.
Part of what makes Wentz special is his playmaking ability. He's not a one-read passer. He's unafraid to stay in the pocket and let a play develop, and some of his best plays come when he can be creative and improvise. The coaching staff does not want Wentz to keep his eyes down and worry about where the rush is, but they also don't want to lose possessions, either.
"We don't want to take his stinger away," quarterbacks coach Press Taylor said. "We want him to continue to be aggressive, push the ball down the field at the right times. That's another thing – understanding maybe a first- and second-down call is not a time to hold the ball and extend. Third down, he kind of does what he does sometimes, and makes a play. But just going through all those situations, being conscious of it, being aware of it. We're not going to get him hit in practice, so it's not something we can continue to work on.
"But just being aware where he is in the pocket, what the situation of the game is, and then ultimately, ball security is the No. 1 thing so we're going to continue to harp on that."
Wentz has been fumble-prone in past seasons, too. His 30 fumbles since 2016 are tied with Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins for the most in the NFL, although Wentz's fumbles have come in fewer games. (Wilson is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and Cousins has been a Pro Bowler, so Wentz shares good company.) During the offseason, when Wentz discussed what he can improve in 2018, he mentioned completion percentage and fumbles as areas to improve. His completion improvement has taken a noticeable jump, but the fumbles have become more of an issue.
Wentz knows the value of ball security, and he's outstanding at avoiding interceptions. He had only seven interceptions on 440 pass attempts last season and has only two on 225 pass attempts last season, so he's throwing interception on fewer than one percent of his attempts.
Coach Doug Pederson said that the Eagles don't want to take away Wentz's aggressiveness, but that Wentz "knows he's got to protect the football." Sunday would be a good time to start. The Cowboys have six takeaways off fumbles this season. If Wentz can have his first fumble-free game, it will be another way to help an offense that needs to score points in the second half of the season.
"He's a fearless competitor," Taylor said. "He'll stand in there with the best of them and wait until the last second to make a throw – which can be good, can be bad – we've seen him make some plays that not a lot of guys in the league can make. There's a time and a place to extend a play, there's a time and a place to move on from a play."