Eagles news and notes for 9/21
1. Carson Wentz is the real deal. Last week, he ripped the woeful Browns apart, so if there was any caution about Wentz after one game, it was understandable. But the rookie quarterback followed that performance with another impressive showing, and it came against a Bears defense that was clearly more talented than Cleveland's. Wentz also did it on the road and under the glare of prime time. His numbers weren’t eye-popping – 21-for-34 passing for 190 yards and a touchdown -- but his throws and command of the offense more than passed the eye test. And he could have had better statistics. Jordan Matthews dropped a pass that could have netted a touchdown and Nelson Agholor couldn’t hang onto a few balls that could have gone either way. And two penalties negated first-down passes to Brent Celek.
Wentz, once again, made elite-level throws. There was an across-the-body completion to Trey Burton. There was a fourth-down toss to a slanting Dorial Green-Beckham. And there were two throws – perhaps his best of the night – that didn’t even pick up yards. The first came when Wentz stood in against a blitz up the middle and hit Celek for 18 yards, but a Jason Kelce holding penalty brought the play back. And the second was a perfectly tossed floater that Matthews couldn’t reel in. Wentz took a shot on the former pass. It was one of many. Most came when he held the ball too long or refused to run out of bounds or slide on scrambles. He has to do a better job of protecting himself. He admitted as much after the game. It was the lone knock against Wentz. He has thrown 71 passes and taken more than 140 snaps and has yet to turn the ball over. Wentz is going to be a good quarterback in the NFL. How good? That remains to be seen. He just has to keep himself from getting killed.
In March, the Eagles worked out Wentz privately in North Dakota, and then Roseman, Pederson, Reich and owner Jeffrey Lurie took him out to dinner. Then they hosted him for a predraft visit at their facility, where quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo also became involved.
"We walked out of the interviews saying he talks like an NFL quarterback, the way he understands coverages," Reich said. "The way he would talk about those concepts, it was like he was already in the NFL. When you have been around as many quarterbacks as Doug, John and I have, it was easy to tell this guy was advanced in his thinking, beyond his years."
That gave Wentz a head start, but he still had to learn the elements of the Eagles offense that were specific to their playbook. Reich said Wentz figured out how to speak the Eagles' language in about three days.
Wentz was the valedictorian of his high school class. In college, he had a perfect grade point average and took the most difficult courses he could to challenge himself, according to his agent, Ryan Tollner of Rep1 Sports.
"As far as learning, he's in the top one percent of quarterbacks," said Reich, a former quarterback himself who has been part of the NFL for 23 years. "He's really, really, really smart. But that's book smart. There is another kind of smart. There is processing-speed smart. Some people are book smart and they can't process real quickly when everything is on the line.
"It's like a computer. There is hard drive memory, which is information your computer stores, and there is RAM, random access memory. When I buy a computer, I want a lot of RAM, because now I can have a lot of programs open at the same time and it doesn't slow down the machine. Playing the position of quarterback, there are a lot of things happening at one time and you had better be able to process it quickly. You need RAM.
Jenkins, who delayed the protest a week so the message wouldn’t be misinterpreted on 9/11, talked to his friends in the Air Force to get their thoughts on his plan. After the game, he spoke to reporters at length to ensure his message was clear.
"It’s just simply to continue the conversation about social injustice and keep that relevant in the minds of America," Jenkins said. "I think you immediately understand what the issue is when you see a black man raise his fist, you kind of know what the topic is about. I wanted to make sure that was clear and it had nothing to do with necessarily disrespecting the flag or not representing the country, but the issue is about the treatment of African Americans and minorities in this country when you talk about social injustice."
Jenkins plans to continue his demonstration in future games, and he’s spoken to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross for weeks about how professional athletes can help bridge the divide between police and communities. He will also continue a dialogue with his teammates who are interested in doing so.
"The first part of changing anything or attacking a problem is to admit and address and come to terms that there is a problem. That’s what the main focus of this protest is to keep this issue in the minds of America. To force that agenda that this is an issue that needs to be addressed," Jenkins said. "I think a lot of the arguments you hear is do it on your own time or do it in a different way and the truth of the matter is, if you do it in a different way, that just allows (people) to ignore the issue."
"They just continue to work every day. Sometimes things like that happen. They know," Pederson said. "They’re professionals. They pride themselves, obviously, in catching the football. They were mad at themselves. … Those are big plays.
"I’m not going to stop calling plays to them, because I know they’re explosive guys for us. We’ve just got to continue to work."
Pederson said his feeling when he was a quarterback, and again now that he is calling plays, is "I actually want to call plays to go right back to those guys, and get them right back catching the football and focused in."
Matthews again led the Eagles -- this time with six catches for 71 yards, on nine targets. But a perfect rainbow of a 35-yard touchdown pass went through his hands just before halftime. Agholor caught four passes for 42 yards, on seven targets. He had a chance at a long bomb that was broken up, then later, an end zone fade bounced off his hands.
The Eagles really need quick healing from dynamic tight end Zach Ertz, who remains "week-to-week," Pederson said. Ertz is not expected to practice or play until after the bye, which follows this week’s Pittsburgh game -- perhaps well after.
Wentz is the headliner. He went 21-34-190 with a TD and no picks. Those numbers aren’t compelling, but watch the tape and you’ll come away incredibly impressed with how Wentz played. The Bears blitzed him and got some pressure. Wentz moved around in the pocket better than he did last week. He looked more comfortable. He took some big hits, but kept his eyes downfield to find open receivers. He made a great throw to Jordan Matthews that should have been a long TD. That went through Matthews hands. There was another play over the middle for 15 or so yards that got erased by an alignment penalty. Wentz could have had another 50 or so yards and another TD.
The Eagles came out throwing the ball. They went to an empty set and spread the field. Some people wondered about this, but Doug Pederson did it by design. He wanted to give Wentz some simple, easy throws that would move the chains and get him into a good rhythm. The Eagles marched down the field, but had to settle for a FG. Wentz had Brent Celek open for a score, but the DB made a great play to get a finger on the ball.
Wentz’s TD pass came on a quick screen to TE Trey Burton in the 2nd half. Simple play near the goal line, but it was blocked well and Burton didn’t hesitate. He made sure he got into the end zone. Burton was the #2 TE with Zach Ertz out injured. Burton caught 5 passes for 49 yards and played well.
The Eagles O-line had an up and down game. C Jason Kelce really struggled. He was a mess in the 1st half. Kelce seemed to play better in the 2nd half, but I’ll need to watch the tape to know for sure. The OTs did a good job in pass protection. The line struggled to generate holes for runners. Eagles finished 32-100 on the ground, but it wasn’t pretty. Ryan Mathews had a 30-yard run, but his real highlight was a TD where he started up the middle, got stuffed and then went wide to the right. Great effort. The Bears stoned him up the middle, but Mathews wasn’t wrapped up so he went outside and found space. Love that effort at the goal line.
The fans were ready for this moment. Quarterback Carson Went finished with his post-game interview with ESPN, turned and made his way to the locker room and the revved-up Eagles fans let him have it after a 29-14 road win over Chicago on Monday night.
"CAR-SON WENTZ! CAR-SON WENTZ! E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!!" they chanted with delight after the rookie's latest outstanding performance. He completed 21-of-34 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown and compiled an 86.6 passer rating in his prime-time debut. No question that Wentz's steady and sturdy performances in the two games, wins over Cleveland and Chicago, are major reasons the Eagles are unbeaten after two weeks.
And we will talk about Wentz more believe me because, well, we just can't get enough of The Kid here. He's been tremendous in every way, other than the fact that he's taken a few too many hits and that needs to improve. The bottom line is this: Wentz is the first quarterback in the NFL to start and win his first two games of the season without throwing an interception. Sensational.