As the New Orleans Saints coaching staff was assembling a game plan for beating the Eagles — an exercise that proved successful, one must admit — there was one semi-surprising trend that emerged.
When Carson Wentz has a really big day through the air, the Eagles lose. There is some logic to that, of course. When quarterbacks are forced to throw the ball a lot and finish with a significant number of passing yards, that can mean their teams were behind for much of the game, or were perhaps playing against a prevent defense that exchanged yardage for time elapsed. (That wasn't the case with Drew Brees and his 363 yards for the Saints on Sunday afternoon in the Superdome, but nevertheless.)
The trend usually requires applying that context for the failure, but, in the case of Carson Wentz and the Eagles, it has been remarkably predictable. When Wentz throws for 308 or more yards – which he has done nine times in his career – the Eagles are 0-9.
Similarly, when the game requires a big scoring output by the Eagles, there is also a troubling trend with Wentz. If the other team scores more than 26 points, the Eagles are 1-11 when Wentz is the starter. Even that lone win comes with an asterisk. It was the 43-35 win over the Rams last season, the game that was finished by Nick Foles after Wentz injured his knee.
Again, there is a chicken-and-egg quality to that stat as well. Most starting quarterbacks are in trouble when their defense yields more than 26 points, just as they are in trouble when forced to hoist the ball a great deal. Still, neither of those statistical trends is in keeping with the way Wentz is perceived locally, as a young, strong-armed hotshot who is the perfect weapon to employ in an NFL shootout.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton, having studied all the data, told Peter King of NBC Sports last week, "We want to put the game on Wentz." Maybe that wasn't subtle, but it was analytically sound.
As it turned out, the Saints did just that. They did it by selling out on defense to plug the Eagles' running game … and by signing Brees as a free agent in 2006. The New Orleans defense made it imperative that Wentz throw the ball, and Brees made it necessary for Wentz to answer on the scoreboard. Neither turned out so well.
Well, what of it? It was just one game, even if it did mark a low tide for Wentz in terms of quarterback rating, a 31.9 mark reflective of his three interceptions, zero touchdowns, and just 156 yards gained.
The quarterback promised after the game that the season isn't over – and considering the poor quality of the NFC East, he's right – and that the Eagles will in the coming weeks "see what we're made of."
To win anything of note, however, they're going to have to be made of more than Carson Wentz. The coming opponents use analytics, too.
Surveying where the Eagles are relative to a year ago, their biggest problem on offense is that they are without a dependable running game. You can point to a receiving corps that has under-produced, perhaps because the line doesn't afford Wentz enough time, and there is some truth there. But the wideout combination of Alshon Jeffery and Golden Tate is good enough for any team, and the middle-of-the-field combination of Nelson Agholor and tight end Zach Ertz is fine, too. But a year ago, the Eagles had LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi to keep defenses honest. That's not the case now.
Sunday's game in New Orleans isn't a fair measuring stick because that snowball went downhill very quickly, but the loss to Dallas the previous week can be blamed on the Eagles' inability to control the ball, or Doug Pederson's lack of confidence that they could. Either way, the mere presence of Wentz, franchise quarterback or not, couldn't sway the outcome. And, yeah, it was one of those trend games. The Eagles gave up more than 26 points and Wentz threw for 360 yards against the Cowboys.
The bottom line is that, hype to the contrary, the Eagles won't be dangerous if they can make the playoffs merely because they have Wentz at quarterback. It's a nice thought, but it's not true.
Until Wentz wins a shootout, or overcomes the team's deficiencies by himself, opponents are going to make sure the game is "on him." That's not his fault. He is in this position because the Eagles aren't as deep as they were last season, and are more susceptible to being rendered one-dimensional.
No one has to be reminded, of course, that when the Eagles did beat the toughest of odds, survive the biggest of tests, and leave other teams floundering in their own game plans, Carson Wentz wasn't the quarterback.