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Carson Wentz is playing brilliantly, and Eagles’ trade makes him better | Marcus Hayes

The arrival of Golden Tate means the franchise quarterback, ever ascending, gets another weapon for the stretch run.

Carson Wentz looks for an open receiver against the Panthers.
Carson Wentz looks for an open receiver against the Panthers.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

The Eagles traded for Golden Tate on Tuesday, and just in time to save Carson Wentz's season. Right? 

Look, Wentz has been good, but there's something missing. Right?


Landing Tate will strengthen the offense, and Wentz is happy about that.

But the Eagles — who are deficient at cornerback and safety, thin on the defensive line and at running back, and strung out along the offensive line — chose to strengthen a known strength rather than hope to Band-Aid a weakness.


Because Wentz is, by almost every measure, playing significantly better through his first six games of 2018 than he was through the first six games of 2017, and that's why the Eagles beat the Jaguars on Sunday. He's completing more than 70 percent of his passes and has a 109.6 passer rating, 10 percent and 10 points better than in last season's first six games. He has 13 touchdown passes vs. two interceptions; it was 13 and three last season.

In fact, statistically, Wentz is playing better in his first six games of this year than in his last six games of last season. It could be argued that he has outperformed himself compared with any six-game stretch of 2017.

Remember: Wentz was the MVP favorite through 13 games in 2017 before he blew out a knee.

We do this in sports, perhaps in Philadelphia more than anywhere else. We create expectations of perfection and then we judge accordingly. Just ask Donovan McNabb. 

It's not just the numbers. To witness Wentz perform this season is to witness maturation in every aspect: footwork and throwing mechanics, decision-making, pocket presence, read progressions, understanding which throws he can make and which he cannot. Spoiler: He can make all of them.

You factor in context, and you realize that Wentz has been simply breathtaking.

He joined the team in Game 3, his mobility still limited by a knee injury suffered in Game 13 of last season. He was limited in training camp, played in no preseason games, and had to forfeit practice time with the starters to backup Nick Foles.

By the time Wentz returned this season, starting wide receiver Mike Wallace had broken a leg, starting running back Darren Sproles had torn a hamstring, and center Jason Kelce and left tackle Jason Peters were nursing leg injuries. Since Wentz returned, he has lost lead back Jay Ajayi, Peters has torn his biceps, and right tackle Lane Johnson sprained an ankle and now faces a month on the sideline with a knee injury. And left guard Stefen Wisniewski was benched for Isaac Seumalo after Game 3.

The instability on the line and the absence of weaponry help explain why Wentz has taken 21 sacks and fumbled seven times. But then, he'd been sacked 16 times and lost five fumbles after six games last season, so, apples to apples, it's not so bad.

And he's getting better. It was Wentz, more than anyone else, who beat Jacksonville in London on Sunday in a game that, if lost, would have left the Eagles at 3-5 and almost assuredly nixed any trade for Tate, a 30-year-old, eight-game rental who cost the Birds a precious third-round pick.

Yes, Wentz committed turnovers on the first two drives of the game, and that taints the performance, but he rebounded and threw three touchdown passes, ran judiciously, and looked technically sharp — as sharp as he's ever looked since the Eagles mortgaged their future to draft him second overall in 2016. Maybe sharper.

Is he flawless? No. He occasionally locks onto a receiver, which both telegraphs his intentions to defensive backs and allows defensive linemen to try to deflect passes, which is what happened on the second and third plays against Jacksonville.

He sometimes is reluctant to climb the pocket, but he did that on third-and-14 against the Jaguars, which bought him time to find Jordan Matthews for 31 yards, a play that enhanced his profile as a strong-armed thrower who can deliver passes while in the defense's grasp. It's the sort of play Ben Roethlisberger will ride to the Hall of Fame. It's the sort of play that makes Cam Newton the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL. 

Of course, that reluctance to climb the pocket contributed to the sack and fumble on the very next play. (He then executed the best open-field tackle of the season to stop the interception return.)

Wentz ended the next series with a jump-throw that traveled 35, slow-motion yards into the end zone. Jalen Ramsey easily intercepted it … but then, it was Jalen Ramsey, the best defensive back in the NFL. Ramsey diagnosed the play brilliantly: he initially had Alshon Jeffery on the right side, but when Jeffery ran into the middle and into coverage, Ramsey streaked toward the end zone, where tight end Josh Perkins would have been completely uncovered. The play might have still worked if Wentz had thrown the ball earlier, or harder, but the late decision and weak delivery gave Ramsey an easy pick.

Wentz cleaned things up from there. His 10-yard throw to Nelson Agholor, his 15-yarder to Zach Ertz and his 13-yarder to Jeffery on the next drive, which ended in a field goal, were perfectly executed; crisp, precise. Wentz still hates to throw the ball away, as he should have done on second-and-goal from the 6 midway through the second quarter when he took a sack, but he did throw the ball away on the next play and avoided a blitz. 

Near the end of the second quarter, Wentz made the play of the day: He rolled right, planted and threw a pass about 40 yards in the air, across his body, that hit Dallas Goedert in stride for a touchdown and a 10-3 lead. Only a handful of quarterbacks have ever even had this play in the playbook. That's because only a handful of quarterbacks — Namath? Favre? Elway? Rodgers? — have had the athleticism and arm strength to pull it off.

The play changed everything. It would resurface Sunday, in different variations.

He improvised the same play for 13 yards to Matthews on the touchdown drive that started the third quarter. He later hit Matthews with a similar 13-yard throw that essentially clinched the win. 

Notably, Matthews was his third read on the 36-yard pass that began their fourth-quarter touchdown drive, another indicator of Wentz's maturity. The drive ended with a 5-yard bullet to a well-covered Ertz, another vindicator of Wentz's improved arm strength. 

And now, Wentz has another weapon.