The Problem in Philly: Carson Wentz or Everyone Else?
Photo by Tim Tai/Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Eagles sure have been through a lot over the course of the last 9 months. From the warranted NFL Draft criticism to the loss of every healthy offensive football player, 2020 has been a less-than-ideal experience for Eagles fans. Two things were supposed to remain constant: Doug Pederson would get the most out of the offense and Carson Wentz would defy all odds and put the team on his back. Neither of those things have happened in 2020. I've been extremely critical of Carson Wentz. He's been awful when throwing downfield, he's throwing interceptions at the highest rate in his career, and he's ultimately been the reason for quite a few Eagles losses. Eagles fans are quick to excuse Carson Wentz, citing a poor set of weapons, a bad offensive line, and the aforementioned Doug Pederson. So what is true? Is Carson Wentz the main problem? Is it Pederson? I decided to dive in.
Despite the criticism I've had for Carson Wentz, I still believe that, somewhere inside him, there's a good quarterback. Wentz was my QB1 in the 2016 draft class. I loved his game. So when he took the league by storm in 2017 before his injury, I was not shocked. Signs that Carson Wentz still has that level of dominance inside him pop on tape, at times.
On this first quarter drive in Week 11 against the Browns, Carson Wentz had confidence. He threw this ball with anticipation, recognizing that Reagor had the corner pinned inside and, if he placed the ball correctly, would have no chance at an interception.
The ball is out well before Reagor breaks out of his route, and this went for a 15-yard gain. Throwing with anticipation is something that has always stood out with Wentz. It's also something that has been largely absent from his film this year. This play was good.
Here is another good throw from Wentz. While the stare down is concerning, the little pump fake holds the safety for just a half a second, allowing for the throw to Rodgers to stay single coverage. He puts the ball where only Rodgers can snag it, recognizing the size difference. While this won't be considered a great throw by most, it's one that is a rarity on film.
Something we'll talk about a little later is timing. This play in the Week 7 game against the New York Giants shows off how good Wentz can be when he's processing the defense quickly. There's no second-guessing. He sees that Desean Jackson is about to break open and he slings it. Simple. Quick. Good.
Here's another play where Carson Wentz shows no hesitation. Snap. Play action. Plant. Read. Throw. This is where Carson Wentz thrives. This is where he needs to live. And this is what Doug Pederson needs to be drawing up every pass play.
So while I've been quick to criticize Carson Wentz, I can definitely acknowledge that shades of his former self appear on the tape. The problem? Inconsistency.
There are a ton of things on Carson's tape that can be classified as 'bad.' The main ones that pop are:
Timing and Anticipation
Three pretty significant factors contributing to quarterback success. You'll notice a ton of these clips are from two games; I've watched every pass attempt of Wentz's this season and they're things that have been present since the first snap of Week 1.
Timing and Anticipation
This play highlights something that is ever-present on Carson's tape, and a stark contrast to the Desean Jackson play from above. Wentz is staring down the receiver who is about to create a yard or more of separation. This ball needs to be out, and it needs to lead Fulgham to the sideline. The opportunity for YAC is there, the route is simple, and the throw, if properly timed, would go for at least 5 yards. Instead, Wentz takes a sack.
Here's another one where Wentz just simply ignores a wide open receiver. All of his downfield options are covered up. He has Greg Ward on an in-route across the middle. He's staring him down. He just doesn't throw the ball. As this play progressed, Ward had probably 5-to-6 yards of separation. All Wentz has to do is loft the ball over the line and it's a ten- to twenty-yard gain. This is another play where Wentz takes a blindside sack - and it was his fault.
We'll look at his slow-moving progressions soon, but here, he simply fails to allow the play to develop. This designed tight end screen could have gone for 20+, but Wentz doesn't even recognize Olivier Vernon sitting, waiting for it. The timing of the play was blown up from the start, and it's a commonality in this offense.
Here's one where Travis Fulgham is put on an island, gets wide open, and Wentz misses him. This could also be filed under hesitancy, but the remainder of the play can be found below. The problem here is that he has two wide open receivers; this was awful coverage from the Browns.
Here, Wentz just simply doesn't move through his progressions well, throwing off the timing of this play and being the cause for incompletion. First read is covered up well. His second read is Alshon Jeffery across the middle, but instead of pumping to his checkdown and moving the linebacker off of his spot, he holds. If he gets this ball to Alshon and throws it with anticipation, this is a 15-yard gain. Instead, he waits until the corner can recover and it goes for an incompletion.
Something that happens a ton on Wentz's tape is his slow processing. Here, he absolutely has to recognize that he has nothing. What he does have is a wide open check down and a massive opportunity for yards after the catch. Instead, he holds the ball as he crawls his way through his first, second, and third reads. Missed opportunities because of slow progressions.
Here's the rest of the Fulgham-on-an-island play that I highlighted above. Wentz will get praise for this play, but it was simply a lucky break. Richard Rodgers got lost behind the defense and Wentz's hesitancy actually allowed for him to find him. That same hesitancy is the reason Wentz has been on his ass a ton this season. This time, it goes for a touchdown.
There are countless situations where Carson Wentz could create net-positive plays and instead ends up flat on his back. He lacks trust in what he is seeing; but he doesn't seem to be confused. He just doesn't trust that he can make the throw.
Some of the things above can be chalked up to good defense (though not against the Browns' awful secondary). Inaccuracy cannot. And Carson Wentz is terribly inaccurate.
At first glance, this is good footwork. He sets his feet, generates power with his hips, and drives through the ball. But watch the clip again and pay attention to his right foot. As he starts his motion, his plant foot slides back a few inches, generating less power than he anticipated, and thus, leaving the throw short.
Look at the difference in this overthrow:
Little quirks in his mechanics have always been present, but Carson's arm talent and athleticism always superseded those quirks. Now, he's unable to use his athleticism and keep accuracy, and the hitch is a problem. The side note here is that Doug Pederson should recognize it.
Clean pocket inaccuracy is bad, but Eagles fans have been clamoring for Pederson to get Carson Wentz on the run. Here's how he fares on most rollout plays:
Bottom line: Wentz has been terribly inaccurate this season. His adjusted completion% of 70.5% is better than only Sam Darnold and Drew Lock. Of those with a minimum of 11 deep pass attempts, Carson Wentz ranks 32nd (out of 37) in NFL passer rating on throws of 20 or more yards. His overall completion percentage ranks 37th out of 40 quarterbacks. It's been very bad.
I have been as harsh as anyone on Carson Wentz, but it's easy to see that there are other factors at play here. Doug Pederson certainly isn't doing him any favors with his playcalling, and it shows on tape.
Route combinations like this one below allow for compact coverage. Sending two wide receivers in the same direction makes sense when you have an accurate downfield thrower at the helm; especially against a secondary that struggles with communication and passing coverage off. The Eagles don't have that, though, and there's not a single quick read present in the current version of the Eagles offense. The short reads are always dump downs, and even the short out routes are ten yards downfield. A quick-read offense is something that Wentz needs desperately.
Running empty when you've had very minimal success isn't something that typically fares well, and that shows here. The Browns secondary is atrocious; they were still able to lock up the receivers on this play. One could argue that having Desean Jackson would help; another one could argue that they have a young stud named Jalen Reagor to fit that role, but they've tried to make him an underneath, possession type of receiver. The offense's inability to stretch the field allows for shallow zone coverage to feast, Carson to start getting nervous feet (hence the hitch I mentioned above), and the Philadelphia offense to be awful.
So who exactly is at fault? Is it the offensive line? Wentz has been sacked at a higher rate than any quarterback in the NFL this season. Count how many of these plays included imminent pressure for Wentz. 1? 2? Not many. Wentz averages 2.72 seconds per attempt, which is good for 51st in the league. He has the 8th-most time in the pocket to make throws. He averages 3.54 seconds to be sacked, which means his offensive line is giving him more time than over half the league. Sacks are a quarterback stat, and Wentz's offensive line has been good this season.
So it's not the offensive line. Could it be the weapons? I highlighted some separation issues, up there, after all. Well, the mistake I made on Twitter was utilizing the NFL Next Gen stat of Average Separation. Yes, Wentz has 3 guys in the top-100. Yes, I was incorrect for utilizing the actual numbers without context (which I happened to overlook). But Average Separation only charts the average separation on catches or incompletions. This means that the double-clutching, hesitancy, and lack of anticipation are causing his wide receivers' numbers to be lower. Obviously, you'd love to see a dominant, alpha wideout for every quarterback. But the weapons are not the issue here.
Well, shit. It could be Doug Pederson, right? Right. This is one that is incredibly perplexing to me. The route combinations are tailored for a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes or the 2020 version of Derek Carr. Furthering that point, the Eagles have had a great amount of success on the ground this year and have one of the best running backs in the league lining up behind Wentz. They fail to make things easier for Wentz but relying on Sanders. And when they do rely on him, their offense flows. Couple that with the lack of quick reads, routes with YAC opportunity, and an inability to coach the mechanics (despite being an NFL quarterback?), and you have what should certainly be considered joint blame.
And while you can point fingers at Doug Pederson, most of the blame should be on Carson Wentz.
He's been bad. He can't make simple throws. He can't make difficult throws. He's often missing very open wide receivers downfield. He isn't trusting his eyes. He's gun shy, despite playing behind one of the better offensive lines (though on paper, it looks like they are not). And above all else, his mechanics have regressed. These aren't things that should be easily forgiven, and the report that Jalen Hurts has been seeing more first team reps in practice is certainly understandable. Nothing that Wentz has done has screamed "I deserve to be out here again next week," and while I think it's a difficult reality for Eagles fans to face, I think the smart decision would be to see what you have in Jalen Hurts before attempting to move on from Wentz in 2021 (despite the incredibly large cap hit you will have to eat).
So what about Jalen Hurts? He can't be any better, right? I tend to believe that most NFL backups would be better than Carson Wentz at this point. Jalen Hurts should bring a spark to this offense and enlighten the issues that Wentz has experienced internally this season. A conversation I had discussed throwing with anticipation, ball placement, and moving through progressions as weaknesses of Hurts', and I don't disagree. But I'll take the bet that the growth we saw from Hurts from Alabama to Oklahoma will only continue with this next step in his career. And again, he can't be any worse.
Deep in Carson Wentz, there's a good quarterback; we've seen it. But once a quarterback's confidence is broken, it's difficult to get back. Do I think Wentz will be good in a different situation next year or the following year? Yeah, probably. But for now, it's time to bench Carson Wentz.