Mike Groh may have said it best Tuesday when asked about Carson Wentz's performance in his 2018 debut: "He looked like the old Carson." The Eagles quarterback wasn't without fault. A little rust was to be expected following a 9-1/2-month hiatus. But Wentz mostly picked up where he left off in December and the film backed it up.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson: I thought, overall, he did some nice things. He moved around well [and] extended some drives for us, whether he was running or escaping the pocket, and making some plays down the field. I thought for the first time back, not too bad.
Here's a closer look at Wentz in the Eagles' 20-16 win over the Colts Sunday:
Pederson scripted a no-huddle opening drive.
Wentz: Doug talked about it early in the week and thought it would be something just to kind of get me started, get the offense started, get us all starting fast.
Wentz has had great success over his career going tempo. He likes to get to the line early, scan the defense and make pre-snap reads in case he must check to another play.
Pederson: The first play is scripted that we want to start with. After that, it's just me just calling plays into Carson based on what we want to do and how we want to attack. We did have a kill system built in, so he could manage the run game a little bit that way.
On the second play, Wentz (No. 11) hit tight end Zach Ertz (No. 86) for 17 yards vs. a Cover 2 shell.
The Eagles used a lot "12" and "13" personnel – two- and three-tight end sets – in the game. Overall, they had more than two tight ends on the field on 55 of 86 snaps.
Pederson: It gives us a little bit of a personnel advantage. Teams want to play a base defense. They eventually went to nickel defense. We still had some success doing that.
All seven of Wentz's pass attempts on the first drive went to tight ends. The Eagles stole a first down when linebacker Zaire Franklin (at top) left the field and the Colts had only 10 men. Wentz noticed and threw to tight end Joshua Perkins (No. 83) for an easy ten yards.
Groh: It was a heads-up play by both Carson and [Perkins] over there noticing that they were uncovered.
As Pederson said, Wentz had leeway to make pre-snap changes at the line. The Colts played two deep safeties a fair amount, which sometimes led to checks to the run. Wentz could also change the direction of a rush.
Groh: We spend a lot of time upstairs studying at night and trying to figure out tendencies of the defense so we can put our guys in advantageous positions to make the blocks. We don't want to be out-leveraged.
It's not exactly clear if Wentz changed the direction of this outside zone rush, but he sure gave that indication before Wendell Smallwood (No. 28) picked up 11 yards.
Colts coach and former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich knows Wentz's ability to get in out of play as well as anyone.
Reich: There were a couple times I knew that he was checking things and I knew what he was checking. But the thing is if you say something, he's going to check out of that.
It took only two drives until Wentz pulled a great escape out of his hat. The pocket collapsed and he danced around, eluding two defensive linemen, before finding tight end Dallas Goedert (No. 88) for six yards.
A roughing the passer penalty tacked an additional 15 yards onto the play, but Wentz took a hit.
Pederson: I don't want to put restraints on him at all and put him in bubble wrap. That's not how we play the game. That's not how he plays the game.
Just before the half, Wentz had a scramble that ranked up there with anything he did in 2017. A stunt freed a rusher up the middle, but the quarterback dodged the defender, anticipated further harm, spun, took off outside and dived for the marker on third down.
Wentz: I thought it was just a normal scramble to me. I obviously made the guy miss in the pocket, saw the first down marker and dove for it. Pretty standard for me.
Pederson: It was definitely … a safe dive. There was no contact other than him hitting the ground really. That's just him. That's the aggressive nature that he plays with. … It's just instinct. It's something you don't coach.
And that aggressiveness applies to the aerial attack, as well. The Eagles don't want to take that assertiveness away from Wentz. They need him to push the ball downfield. But there are times when a check-down or a throwaway will do. Wentz took a sack on this long third down when a dump to the running back over the middle would have at least given Jake Elliott a shorter field goal try. The Eagles kicker ended up hooking a 55-yard attempt.
Wentz was sacked five times. It could have been worse had he not gotten away with his legs, but he was as culpable as others on a few.
Pederson: Couple situations maybe just throw the ball away and skip it and not put yourself in that situation.
On this third and two, Wentz was pressured and left the pocket. He threw downfield to running back Corey Clement (No. 30), but the pass was off. He might have been expecting his running back to release. A short flip to an open Kamar Aiken (No. 81) would have sufficed.
Wentz: I like to think I'm mature enough as a player to just take what they give me. Obviously they had some that might've fooled me, coverage wise, and kind of tricked me a little bit, but that's football.
Wentz had a few shaky throws early, but he was mostly accurate, completing 25 of 37 passes (67.6 percent). On this play, the Eagles used jet sweep action to draw in a linebacker and create space for the releasing Smallwood. Wentz had the right touch on his 34-yard pass.
Pederson: It really just buys their eyes, defensively, on the jet-sweep action just a little bit and allowed Wendell to slip past the defender down the seam.
There's been a lot of discussion about the velocity of Wentz's throws. He won't admit that his arm is stronger, but Pederson and others have said the ball is moving at a faster rate. Wentz put extra mustard on this toss to Ertz. He wanted pass interference, but the throw was a touch off.
Ertz: I would not be surprised if after the game today they looked at the data and the ball was coming out faster. He's had a strong arm from the get-to, but I think this process of really focusing on using his entire body to throw the ball has helped out.
Wentz's interception rate dropped from 2.3 to 1.6 last season. Every quarterback is going to turn the ball over, but they must be kept to a minimum, especially in the red zone. Wentz wanted this third quarter throw to Ertz back.
Wentz: The interception – the guy made a great play. It's a route we throw to Ertz all the time and he just read it well and I just have to be smarter with that one.
It may take a few games before his eye discipline returns to its 2017 level.
Pederson: Just stared him down. Can't do that. Brought the defender right there. Just a poor decision.
Nick Foles completed just 2 of 9 passes that traveled more than 20 yards through the air in the first two games. Not one could be labeled a deep completion. Wentz aired it out only once when he went to Agholor here.
The Colts did their best to take away the long ball, but the Eagles currently don't have a deep threat with Mike Wallace and Alshon Jeffery out.
Groh: I think we're always trying to find ways to push the ball down the field. But … we haven't had as many explosive passes as we would like.
Agholor has speed, but he's better suited to play in the slot. He spent most of his time inside Sunday, running 31 of 44 routes from the slot. Three of his four catches came after he lined up there.
Jeffery hadn't been cleared for contact as a Monday, but he could return this week.
Ertz: Alshon is a dominate player. Defenses have to respect him. Defenses play more two high because they want to help the corners against him because he's so big and strong on the offense.
The Eagles' game-winning drive won't likely be remembered for its precision. It took 17 plays – 21 if you count penalties. But Wentz was in command despite multiple setbacks. He kept the offense composed and when the Eagles needed Carson to be Carson, he delivered.
The Colts blitzed off the edges on third down, but Wentz shook the cornerback and hit Agholor, who did the rest.