Carson Wentz had the look he wanted. Earl Thomas had vacated the deep middle and DeSean Jackson was streaking downfield against man coverage.
But Marlon Humphrey was keeping pace with the speedy receiver. The cornerback would later say it was the fastest he had been clocked all training camp. Wentz needed to be perfect if he was to hook up with Jackson.
Alas, he was not.
The pass sailed long, a harbinger of the Wentz-to-Jackson partnership during the Eagles’ scrimmages vs. the Ravens. The combo would have their connections Monday and Tuesday, but nothing deep that would confirm future long-ball chemistry this season.
Wentz and Jackson have hit several home runs this summer, but not against foreign competition. Coach Doug Pederson sat both players in the Eagles’ first two preseason games and is unlikely to suit up, at least, Wentz against Baltimore Thursday night.
If so, the pair will have to wait until the season opener Sept. 8. Jackson was acquired this offseason, in part, to improve Wentz’s deep-passing productivity. The Eagles didn’t have anyone nearly as dangerous in the quarterback’s first three seasons.
But the offense’s inconsistencies with passes thrown beyond 20 yards have also rested on the shoulders of Wentz. He has yet to make the deep ball a weapon. He’s made his share in camp, but he’s also missed some chances.
On Monday, Wentz went long on four of 20 attempts in team drills. He completed only one to receiver Alshon Jeffery. The other three were heaved too far, which is typically how he misses. Wentz can sometimes step on the gas too hard or throw with a trajectory too low.
But every deep pass isn’t the same and requires various touches.
“I wish I could say this is how it’s going to be every single time,” Wentz said Tuesday. “Sometimes it’s one high safety, and sometimes you got a guy back there that’s a ball hawk, and other times the guy is squatting and he’s low and so you can let it out there. … Every time it’s a different look.”
Wentz tossed long on only two of 15 attempts Tuesday. Tight end Josh Perkins and receiver Mack Hollins couldn’t pull in the passes, but they might have been his best throws of the week. The drops were a reminder of Wentz’s rookie season when he had few reliable deep threats.
In 2016, he completed only 21 of 64 passes for 654 yards and six touchdowns against six interceptions on 20-plus-yard passes. Even the best bombers hit at a rate well below 50 percent, but Wentz’s passer rating of 64.2 was 25th out of 30 NFL quarterbacks with more than 10 starts.
He was better in 2017. Wentz completed 25 of 65 passes for 912 yards and 10 touchdowns against four interceptions. His 100.2 rating was 10th. But he regressed last season and hit on only 17 of 45 throws for 608 yards and three touchdowns against four interceptions. His 70.8 rating was 24th.
Deep-passing achievement doesn’t necessarily correlate to overall quarterback greatness, but it’s a pretty good indicator. Some of the game’s best appeared on the top 10 list from last season: 1. Drew Brees (128.6), 2. Russell Wilson (128.1), 3. Aaron Rodgers (124.0), 5. Matt Ryan (113.9), 6. Ben Roethlisberger (122.9), 9. Patrick Mahomes (106.4), 10. Tom Brady (104.1).
In fairness to Wentz, he likely played most of last season with a fracture in his back, and after Mike Wallace broke his fibula, the Eagles struggled to find an outside receiver would could get separation down the field.
Jackson, who’s second to only Jerry Rice in 50-plus-yard touchdowns in NFL history, was brought in to correct that deficiency. He’s still quick and he can still track a ball as well as anyone. Wentz is still trying to find the right formula of velocity, trajectory and accuracy with the 32-year-old receiver.
They’ve drilled it after practice, watched film, and talked about it repeatedly. But there is no substitute for doing it in an actual game.
“It’s so reactionary,” Wentz said. “There [are] times to put air on it and let a guy run under it, there [are] times you got to drive it in there. But I think it’s also personnel-based. Obviously, with a guy like DeSean you want to give him a chance to run out there.”
Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh conceded that Wentz’s touch on deep throws remains a “work in progress.”
But there has been improvement, they said, in the rate at which he is processing through his reads and delivering the football. It could be one reason, Wentz surmised, why he hasn’t scrambled much in camp. He dismissed the idea that he’s consciously trying to stay in the pocket to further avoid the injuries that have previously come while scrambling.
“That part of my game is definitely not gone,” Wentz said. “It’s still going to be there. But if I don’t need to, why would I?”
Later Tuesday, Wentz took off after exhausting his passing options. It was almost as if he were reminding himself that he can be mobile, even though the controlled setting forbade contact on quarterbacks. The Ravens knew they weren’t getting the full Wentz.
“Some of the plays he tries to make are relying on his athletic abilities, escaping the pocket, and running,” Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “But you need a game to see that.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh last saw Wentz in person late in his rookie season. He was asked to assess his development since.
“He looks good to me,” Harbaugh said. “Whenever you play against somebody, maybe they look better to you [than] if you’re with [that] guy. I’m sure the Eagles are very happy with him and I can see why. He’s one of the top quarterbacks.”