As someone who has been referred to multiple times as a “Carson Wentz hater” who has “no clue what he’s talking about” when it comes to the second-year QB out of North Dakota State, his performance Monday night against the Washington Redskins truly impressed me. Outside of the interception early in the game, Wentz finally looked like the top-tier QB that many were proclaiming him to be entering this season.
I’ve said multiple times that I’m rooting for Wentz to succeed. He’s a class act off the field, and when you hear about stories like the Dutch Destroyer one that ran prior to the game on Monday, you want nothing but the best for him. He’s the guy I want lifting the Lombardi Trophy when the Eagles finally manage to win a Super Bowl.
Having said that, most people know I wasn’t completely sold on Wentz entering his sophomore campaign. Much to the dismay of many Philadelphia fans, I tried to explain that his rookie season was bad and that he was closer to Blake Bortles than a franchise-level QB. I made it clear that there was a lot that the signal-caller needed to work on before I fully bought in. His decision making was a major issue, his mechanics were a question mark, and his accuracy (or rather, lack thereof) was alarming.
Throughout the first month of the season, Wentz had definitely improved upon his rough rookie season, but in all fairness it would have been difficult to get much worse. Accuracy was still an issue and Wentz was still being a little careless with the ball. Per Cian Fahey, Wentz was throwing an interceptable ball one out of every 17 attempts entering the Panthers game. That was one of the worst marks in the league. Still, he showed some flashes against the Cardinals four days prior, and led the Eagles on an eye-opening drive against a 4-1 Carolina team that piqued my interest.
With more than a week to prepare for a divisional battle against the ‘Skins, Wentz didn’t disappoint. He shined under the lights of Lincoln Financial Field, lifting the Eagles to an NFL best 6-1 record thanks to the best performance of his still young career. MVP chants could be heard loud and clear, and next-day articles from outlets such as CBS, the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, and The Ringer all touted Wentz as the next big thing.
Do I think he should be an MVP candidate at this point in time? No. Have I fully bought into the QB of my favorite football franchise? Also no. Has Wentz captured my attention enough to make me reconsider my feelings about him? Absolutely. Consistency is key for me. If he can play like he did against the Redskins on Monday more often than not, I’ll be sold. I was always hoping that Wentz would prove me wrong eventually, and after Monday’s performance he might be doing just that. Below are some of my favorite plays from the game.
Context: 1st and 10 from the Eagles 36, 1:45 to go in the 2nd, 10-10
The Redskins sent five on this play, including safety D.J. Swearinger. Alshon Jeffery runs a route across the middle of the field, taking the other safety with him. This leaves this near side of the field wide open, something Wentz immediately recognizes. Carson put some nice touch on the ball and put it in a spot that not only allowed Zach Ertz to catch it but also to gain some additional yardage after the play. This was a big play on a drive that eventually led to a short Ertz TD reception that gave the Eagles a lead they never relinquished.
Context: 2nd and 16 from Eagles 36, 3:29 to go in the 2nd, 3-10
The Redskins gave Wentz and the Eagles a Cover 4 look on this play, with both outside cornerbacks and safeties playing deep zone coverage in an attempt to prevent a long ball. Clearly, it didn’t work.
This was one of the best passes I’ve seen Wentz throw during his still short career. People love to cite Air Yards when discussing quarterbacks; this pass traveled 62.8 yards in the air, which is the longest in the league over the past two seasons. I’ve expounded upon Wentz’s inability to throw a consistent deep ball in the past, but this time he was right on the money. Hollins didn’t have to slow down or adjust his body to make the grab. Wentz hit the rookie from North Carolina in stride, allowing Hollins to snag his first career TD reception. As I mentioned earlier, consistency will be the deciding factor of whether or not I buy into Wentz. I’m not expecting him to throw the ball 60-plus yards in the air every week, but if he can be as accurate on most of his deep balls as he was on this one, the Eagles will have a special talent on their hands.
Context: 3rd and 8 from Eagles 27, 14:55 to go in 4th, 24-17
Coming out of North Dakota State, Wentz’s athleticism was never a question. There aren’t many 6’5, 240-pound men that are as agile as Wentz is. Still, when he manages to pull escape acts out of his ass seemingly at will, you do have to stop and appreciate it. For all intents and purposes, Wentz should have been taken down in the backfield for a loss of close to ten, leading to a punt early in the fourth quarter of a close game. That’s what should have happened, but obviously a different set of events transpired.
The Redskins sent six on this crucial third-and-long, and at one point four of those six were surrounding Carson. For reasons still unbeknownst to me, though, Wentz not only managed to escape but pick up a huge first down that totally shifted the momentum. For many fans, seeing a QB pull off what Wentz did on this play was incredibly surprising. According to a USA Today story, even some of his teammates were in awe of what Wentz had accomplished:
No chance Wentz gets out of this jam, right? Safety Malcolm Jenkins figured as much…so he reached for his helmet and prepared to head back onto the field…Then Jenkins glanced at the huge video board…
“He was still running,” Jenkins marveled… “That’s the magic of Carson Wentz.”
“Amazing,” Nelson Agholor said. “We didn’t know how he did that. Three, four plays later we are still on the sideline trying to figure out how he did that.”
And yet, per a Sports Illustrated piece, some teammates have come to accept that it’s not magic, bur rather just what Carson does regularly:
“He’s been doing that all season,” echoed veteran center Jason Kelce. “It’s very fun to watch, but it’s not surprising anymore.”
“That’s just Carson,” rookie running back Corey Clement said with a shrug. “If you see him practice, he does stuff like that all the time. I wasn’t surprised. I’m sure nobody else was surprised.”
The truly great QB’s in the NFL make things look easier than they should. At least from an athletic standpoint, Wentz has met that criteria. If he becomes more consistent from a passing aspect, Wentz has the chance to become a very dangerous weapon at the quarterback position.
Context: 3rd and Goal from Redskins 9, 9:49 to go in the 3rd, 17-10
I personally thought this pass from Wentz was more impressive than his deep ball to Hollins earlier in the game. This isn’t the type of throw that a second-year QB should be making. Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that Clement wasn’t even supposed to end up in the endzone.
You can see in the All-22 footage that the undrafted rookie initially runs a flat route as a supposed checkdown option for Wentz. However, as soon as Clement saw Zach Brown shoot past the line of scrimmage, he became a “hot read” for Carson:
“As he shot right past me, I have to commit to getting my head around faster. Once Carson got into the scramble drill, I just turned it upfield. If he had gone towards the sideline, I would have had to go back up and come back down. As I got to the top of it, we connected at the top of it.”
Carson’s initial read on this play was covered, and after eluding four defenders he managed to place the ball in a spot to where only Clement could get it. According to Jon Gruden, this was a play that Wentz ran numerous times at NDSU when the Bison found themselves inside the 15. This play wasn’t just another example of Wentz utilizing his athleticism to elude the rush and find an open receiver; rather, it showcased how much Carson has improved his accuracy in his second season.
I honestly don’t think Carson connects on this pass last year; I believe the ball would have either found its way out of the endzone or into the hands of Brown. That Wentz was able to fit the ball in such a tight window (with Mason Foster in his face, no less) says a lot about his improvements in 2017. If he can make that type of throw consistently, there’s no reason to think he won’t be a special talent in this league.
Context: 1st and Goal from Eagles 10, 11:43 to go in 4th, 24-17
On what would be his final touchdown pass of the night, Wentz actually changed the play at the line, noticing a potential advantage the Eagles had against Washington’s Cover 3 look. This is another example of a play that I think Wentz fails on in 2016. I’d worry that rookie-Wentz doesn’t wait long enough for the play to develop, throwing the ball into the waiting hands of the underneath defender (Swearinger, in this scenario).
Instead, Wentz patiently waits for Agholor to gain just enough separation before placing a nice ball between Kendall Fuller and Montae Nicholson. Wentz’s fourth TD of the night (and 17th of the season) essentially iced the game. Had the Redskins held the Birds to just three points, there was more than enough time to mount a 10 point comeback. As it was, though, a 14 point lead was too much to overcome, and the Eagles improved to 3-0 in the division and 6-1 overall with a convincing 34-24 win over Washington. After losing five straight to their divisional rivals, the Eagles have now won two in a row for the first time since the start of Chip Kelly’s tenure.
So, where does Wentz go from here? I mentioned earlier that consistency will be the biggest selling point for me in regards to Wentz. He’s made improvements in his game, and he’s clearly part of the reason why the Eagles currently have the best record in the NFL. He doesn’t need to go out and throw for 4 TD’s and/or 300 yards each game for me to buy in. If he can continue to hit the passes he did on Monday night with some consistency, though, the Eagles will have one of the best QB’s in football. As someone who wasn’t completely sold on Carson Wentz entering 2017, I didn’t think I’d be saying that statement this year.