Doug Pederson is an unsubtle man. We’ll find out soon if he’s impatient, too.
Asked last week if he considered benching Carson Wentz during another turnover-poisoned performance, Pederson, clearly more exasperated than ever with Wentz’s mistakes and bad decisions, replied:
“The first thing we know that any turnover is unacceptable, both by himself and us as a team. It just puts our defense in a position obviously on a short field, and we just can’t do that. We can’t do that consistently, and that’s been kind of the theme the first half of the season.”
So, would Wentz have as long a leash when the team returns from its bye week?
“What we can do this week is really look at all the turnovers," Pederson conceded. “See if there were opportunities to complete the throw, were there opportunities to run, was it protection break down, whatever it might be … We all know that it’s unacceptable, something that we definitely have to correct and fix in the second half of the season.”
He knows they’re lucky to be relevant for the second half of the season.
“We’re leaving points on the field, right?" Pederson acknowledged. "And a couple of these have come in the ‘high’ red zone, or the red zone, where we have opportunities to put points on the board. And that’s where we have to really focus in and not turn the ball over.”
So, what if they can’t correct it?
The Eagles have 17 turnovers as a team. Wentz has 16 of them. He leads the NFL. His mistakes — bad sacks, four fumbles, 12 interceptions, forcing passes, refusing to throw the ball away when under duress — are the single biggest reason why the Eagles are 3-4-1 instead of 5-3. He’s a five-year starter playing like a five-game rookie. What if, say, Wentz gives the ball to the Giants twice in the first half Sunday and the Eagles trail by a touchdown at the break?
Should Pederson insert rookie Jalen Hurts?
Would he dare?
The idea that Wentz is irreplaceable because of his fragile ego or his $128 million contract ignores the reality of the NFL, and all of team sports, really. No one is irreplaceable.
Even Pederson, in his most vigorous defense of Wentz, didn’t dismiss the concept that he might play Hurts if Wentz struggles too much:
“We understand that our backup quarterbacks here, Jalen and Nate (Sudfeld) have got to be prepared, whether it’s a situation like that, or an injury situation where they have to go in and play.”
“A situation like that.”
Specifically: A situation like his Carson Wentz turning the ball over four times in the first 33 minutes, as he did against Dallas.
A situation like that.
Maybe it’s for a series, maybe it’s for a half, or maybe it’s for the final eight games, but here’s the reality in which Pederson exists:
Lane Johnson, Brandon Graham, Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Fletcher Cox, and Malik Jackson have a finite number of snaps left in their bodies. They count for about $80 million in salary-cap dollars. Those snaps and that money cannot be wasted to save Carson Wentz wittle feelings. The Eagles are in first place, but consider what comes after New York:
Cleveland, Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans, Arizona, a combined 28-12, and all 5-3 or 6-2. The Eagles are getting healthier, but they’re also staring at five straight losses if Wentz plays as badly as he’s played so far.
Pederson was adamant last week that he wasn’t quitting on Wentz, sort of. He recalled the 2015 season when, as the Chiefs' offensive coordinator, he and Andy Reid considered benching Alex Smith after a 1-5 start. They didn’t, and the Chiefs won 11 straight, but the comparison is ridiculous. Smith was an 11-year veteran, and he wasn’t the problem. Smith had committed just three turnovers in those six games and had an 88.8 passer rating. Wentz has 16 turnovers and a 73.2 rating, 32nd among the 33 quarterbacks with at least 140 attempts. Eat your heart out, Sam Darnold.
So the question then becomes: Is Jalen Hurts ready to run an NFL team? It seems like a silly question, maybe even insulting, considering Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa on Sunday gave us the best show in the NFL this season despite having started a combined 26 games.
Besides, Pederson clearly thinks Hurts can win now.
The notion that Hurts is unprepared to take over for Wentz defies the logic of roster presentation. On game day the most important person on any football team is the quarterback. The second most important person is the backup quarterback. Jalen Hurts is the backup quarterback.
This means that he would be responsible for winning the game if Wentz gets injured. This has happened to Wentz in each of the last three seasons. If Pederson didn’t believe that Hurts could win football games then Sudfeld would dress as a backup every game. They would either activate three quarterbacks or make Hurts inactive. Hurts isn’t dressing instead of Sudfeld to run a handful of gadget plays. He won the backup job. It’s just that simple.
Winning or losing might’ve come down to Hurts being ready to execute the game plan. His preparedness is not debatable.
Hurts was a second-round pick because he was considered to be a “project,” despite his magnificent success at both Alabama and Oklahoma. He accounted for 53 touchdowns and 5,174 passing, rushing, and receiving yards last season at Oklahoma, where he led the Sooners to the playoffs and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting. He might not be polished, but he’s potent, and brimming with potential. Equipping Hurts with even a limited package of plays accomplishes a few different things.
First, it gives defenses a completely different look. Hurts is the sort of athlete Wentz wishes he was.
Second, Hurts' presence in the backfield occupies both a linebacker and safety who would be tasked with keeping him in check. This creates more space for receivers and backs and paralyzes aggressive defensive coordinators.
Third, it might inspire greater proficiency from offensive players grown accustomed for Wentz to make a big play.
In fact, if Pederson and his extensive staff of offers of assistance did not spend a portion of the past week creating a significant package of plays specifically for Jalen Hurts, then they were derelict in their duty.
Pressed last week, Pederson endorsed Wentz — well, he endorsed him as much as anyone could endorse a quarterback who had just committed four turnovers in the first 33 minutes of a game.
“Listen, Carson is our starter, and we’ve got a lot of trust and faith in him that he can get the job done, and by no means was I in a position to make a decision or make a move yesterday. … My mind wasn’t there. I wasn’t going there. I was going to give Carson every opportunity to win that game for us, and he’s capable of doing that, and I wasn’t in that frame of mind."
Really? Dallas, playing without Dak Prescott and arguably the worst team in the NFL, led, 9-7, in Philadelphia, as late as 2 minutes left in the third quarter. What would Pederson’s “frame of mind” have been if Wentz’s TD pass with 1:58 to play in the third had been intercepted?
As it turned out, Pederson’s mind didn’t have to reframe itself. Good thing. He might have lost it.
“We are going to work through our issues," he promised. "We are going to work through our problems.”
They have lots of problems: Injury, ineptness, incredulous decisions by Pederson himself. But, consistently, the Eagles' biggest problem has been Carson Wentz.
And it’s Pederson’s job to consider every solution.
That includes removing the biggest problem.