There are a lot of narratives that have divided the NFL community when it comes to the opinion of Carson Wentz. This will be a weekly installment that focuses solely on the Eagles’ young signal caller, with analysis, evidence and statistics along with context to provide a deep dive on Wentz’s play.
Welcome back to the Wentz report. You can find all previous Wentz reports here. A week after having arguably his best game, Carson Wentz stepped up and produced his best statistical output of his young career, throwing four touchdowns!
Interceptable Throws (ITs)
As always, this applies to throws that defenders did intercept and or realistically could have. This week Wentz cut down on dangerous throws, with only two that may have been deemed ITs. This statistic is subjective, so I try to present every IT or throw that some may see as an IT and explain my standpoint on it.
This first one I didn't deem an IT because Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson made a good play on the ball, but based on body position, it didn't appear that there was anyway he was going to be able to get two feet in bounds. I also believe that this may have partially been on receiver error. It appears as though Carson Wentz is anticipating Smith breaking into a comeback route, but he never does. I can see an argument for this being and IT, but based on position, this one doesn't go down as a strike.
This one was egregious. It came directly after the last play and Wentz was fearless in attacking downfield, but there are two problems. The first is that the Eagles were in position to kick a manageable field goal and get points before the half, and the second is that Wentz telegraphed this play the whole way. It would've taken an otherworldly throw to hit Ertz, but Wentz’s eyes led the safety to the spot overtop where he wanted to go with the ball. Situational awareness has to kick in here and Wentz has to take better care of the football. Hopefully, for his sake he’ll learn from this and cut down on this sort of mistake.
Mistakes actually lead me to my next point. Matt Waldman shared this article that he wrote a few years ago on Twitter. I found an interesting quote on it from none other than Tom Brady, that I believe is relevant to Wentz and the interceptable throws he makes.
“A lot of times you learn from your mistakes. You know, you gotta make the mistakes to learn from them,” he said. “And you never know how tight a window is until you throw it, and it was too tight. You try to force a ball into certain areas and then you learn from it, you say, ‘I can’t do that.’ You install new plays and you try to run them over and over and you try to identify all the problems where they come up and then really make good decisions.
“We’re out here running a ton of plays every day, 75, 80 plays a day,” he continued. “Believe me, they’re not all perfect, there’s a lot of learning every day in a lot of the situational stuff that we do. All of it is a good learning experience, whether Ryan or Brian are in there taking the snap, I’m paying attention to see what I would do if I was in there and vice versa. And that’s the only way to play football, you can’t sit here and only concentrate when you’re in. You gotta learn from every day on the field, every rep in practice, mentally and then physically when you get a chance to go out and do it, you gotta try to execute it as best you can.”
That’s an interesting quote and good perspective from the greatest quarterback of all time. Every throw that Wentz is making, hopefully he’s learning from it and applying it to his game. His ITs seem to be trending downward over the last few weeks, but ample protection and skill players that are performing better than those in 2016 are also helping that case. Every quarterback needs help, so its not right to fault somebody for what’s around them. We hear this argument for Dak Prescott, that he was a product of what was around him. While I believe that certainly helped, I don't believe that to be completely true. Good quarterbacks can elevate the players around them, whether that’s the offensive line or skill position players. We’ve seen Prescott elevate those around him, just as we’ve seen Wentz do this year. If you need evidence of that, just look at Zach Ertz’s early season production.
The last point I want to make about Wentz’s interceptable throws is that, I feel as though it’s nitpicked because a lot of analysts have an opinion they’re not willing to come off of. While that’s fine and they’re entitled to those opinions, they’re quick to point to those flaws and only those flaws. While they do need cleaned up and Wentz must be smarter with the football, let’s look at Carson Palmer’s game Sunday as an example. Palmer had four ITs dropped by the Eagles, but I haven't heard anything about that. When I watched Sam Bradford on Monday night, it appeared that he threw two ITs on the same drive that weren't corralled by the Bears’ defense. Albeit Bradford was hurt, but either way, if you're playing that strike goes against you. During the Eagles bye week I intend to study quarterbacks around the league and see how often they throw ITs as compared to what I have for Wentz.
Managing the Pocket
I thought Wentz was terrific at managing the pocket on Sunday, but that becomes easier when a stud offensive line is mauling pass rushers, but you take what they give you to work with.
When the Cardinals did bring pressure, I thought Wentz typically did a good job of stepping up in the pocket and avoiding it. Here the Cardinals get pressure off the edge and up the middle. Wentz steps up and avoids both rushers all while keeping his eyes down the field and setting up to pass. Nobody is open and Wentz makes the split second decision to pull it down and run for the green in front of him. Wise decision and good management of taking what is given.
Same thing here. Wentz doesn't get panicked. He tucks the ball into his body, sidesteps the blitzer and takes off for the field in front of him. Unfortunately the defender grabs him by the ankle before Wentz is able to get in the open field and pick up some serious yards.
This was a fun play, but i have to chalk it up to dumb luck more than Wentz knowing what he was doing. There’s no way he saw the edge defender that close to him and knew he was going to avoid the sack. What I do like from Wentz here, as I did on the last few plays, is that he seems to be holding on tighter and keeping the football closer to his body when pressure situations are arising. This helps avoid the possibility of fumbles, showing increased ball security.
This play was beautiful in every facet. First off, I’m not sure why the Cardinals are blitzing here in a 3rd and 19 situation, but they do. Wentz manages the rush beautifully by stepping up in the pocket and effortlessly leading Nelson Agholor deep across the field, and that low snap that he handled well is nothing to scoff at either. I’ll mention this in a moment, but Wentz’s deep ball has looked better overall the last two weeks. I’m not going to say that’s here to stay, as he needs to maintain the consistency and accuracy with it over several weeks and even a full season, but it was encouraging how good he looked.
Throwing with anticipation, accuracy and deep ball accuracy
As this series is an effort the point out the consistencies in Wentz’s game whether those are good consistencies or bad consistencies, the improvements or regressions will be noted. As I mentioned earlier the deep ball has improved for Wentz over the last few weeks.
The play above was Wentz’s third touchdown of the game. I’ve been mentioning for the last few weeks that the Eagles’ offense has been limited by the inability to hit that deep ball with any consistency. Two of the Eagles’ four touchdowns came on long passing plays, reminiscent of the days when Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin were running wild through secondaries. With a weapon and facet like that, the Eagles offense becomes lethal and takes the next step. This gives the Eagles the ability to score at any given point with consistency as long as Wentz can deliver the deep ball accurately and his receivers can hang on to it. Whether it be drops or inaccuracy, the Eagles haven't been nearly as successful as what they would like with opportunities clearly there. Sunday was the perfect display of what they can do when they're clicking and based on what we saw, it can elevate the Eagles to the next level. Looking deeper into this play, it’s just another testament to what Doug Pederson has done from a schematics standpoint. The Eagles run mesh concepts underneath, which occupy the safeties in what looks like Cover 4. The cornerback on Torrey Smith plays with leverage to the outside, indicating he believes he has inside help. It isn't there. From here Wentz delivers from a beautiful pocket and the Eagles take a 21-0 lead. This play could've easily fallen under pre-snap reads as well because Wentz notices something — likely safety depth — that will give the Eagles an advantage. Based on Jeffery’s movement on the line I’m assuming Wentz changed the play entirely. The next thing is that this play could've likely fallen under progressions as well. I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like the underneath mesh concept receivers were among the first reads, making Smith the final read, but those reads were open. What he may have ultimately been reading was the safeties and how they attacked those underneath routes or whether they dropped into coverage. If they drop, he goes underneath, if not you hit your receiver deep with no help inside for the cornerback.
This is a throw that may end up being blamed on Wentz, but I believe it’s actually on Alshon Jeffery, as he never gets his head around to track the ball. He can't throw it to the inside because the safety can drop back and has an opportunity to make a play on the ball. As you can see in the still below, the ball has left Wentz hands and Jeffery has still not looked back for it. I’m not sure if he’s not expecting it to come to him, but if he looks back and tracks the ball, this is likely another touchdown on a deep strike.
Jeffery wins deep, but never gets his head around to see that Wentz has thrown it to the outside where there is nothing but open field. I mentioned this on one of the interceptable throws that Wentz had last week where Jeffery didn't get his head around quickly to make a play on the ball. This is what I was just referring to on the Eagles capitalizing on these opportunities. Doug Pederson’s offense typically trades explosive plays for consistency with high percentage throws, but that has changed some this year. Hitting on these lethalizes and elevates an offense to a new level, now everyone just needs to get on the same page.
Outside of the deep throws, there were few throws that asked Wentz to make anticipation throws hit receivers in stride, but when asked to, he did it well. Above the Cardinals are in man-coverage and the running back and wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) combine for a slant-flat combo. Wentz gets this ball into a tight window and puts it in spot where Jeffery can keep moving, keeping the opportunity for YAC alive.
Pre-snap reads and post snap progression
Last week I detailed how Wentz’s pre-snap recognition was stellar as he audibled into plays and directed the offense to win against the Chargers’ man-coverage looks. That continued again on Sunday, but this time he took it a step further and was getting the Cardinals to tip their blitzes and adjusting his receivers based on those pre-snap reads.
The play above was the first instance of that. The Cardinals tip the blitz and Wentz communicates an audible. He’s talking with Ertz to so he may have been instructing him on his route or how he planned to hit Ertz within it. This play actually looks familia...
Same exact route combinations out of a 3x1 personnel package. Carson Wentz is absolutely tearing man coverage apart this year. This also goes back to throwing with anticipation and accuracy. Ertz bullies his way into winning inside and because of the blitz there’s nobody in the middle of the field. This was great recognition and adjustment pre-snap combined with good post snap execution.
Again, Wentz recognizes the man-coverage pre-snap which allows him to process where he wants to go. On these looks, Patrick Peterson is going to press, and knowing this Alshon does an excellent job of dipping his shoulder so that Peterson can’t get a good jab to disrupt the route. Alshon comes up with one of the best releases I’ve seen and secures the third down. The only thing i would like for Alshon to have done is possibly break in a little more to create more of an opportunity for YAC. Wentz did a good job of getting the ball over Peterson, but the chemistry between Wentz and Alshon may not be at a point where either would be willing to slightly adjust. The YAC wouldn't have been much, but I do think Jeffery could've done a better job at shortening the stem of his route and breaking in toward the open field.
This is another RPO that the Eagles use a rub-motion to open Torrey Smith underneath. Pre-snap the Cardinals are again showing man (through all of these plays you can diagnose man-coverage by looking at cornerback’s eyes/head) and with it being an RPO, Wentz is scanning to decide what would be his best matchup if he elects to go pass. This ends up being a good play design to free up Torrey Smith against man, but the pass goes inside, which ended up being the best case. The opportunity for YAC may have been nipped, but so was the opportunity for the defensive back to make a play on a ball out in front. This was a good throw to gain yards and a safer pass to make sure Smith was the only players to come away with it.
I didn’t notice a lot of plays where Wentz was forced to go through multiple progressions, as his first read was typically open within the Cardinals coverage, but this one stood out to me. The offensive line protection is fantastic, but Wentz keeps his feet moving and uses his eyes to move a linebacker to the sideline. This opens up a hole and throwing lane in the zone for Nelson Agholor, who uncovers as well. Good offensive line play means nothing if the quarterback isn't utilizing it to make plays and throws. If Wentz can do this against Carolina’s heavy zone defense looks, the Eagles will find success and sustain drives.
The not so good
Still getting dangerous with the ball here. While under pressure, I still believe Wentz had an opportunity to get the ball to Ertz. Obviously you don’t practice these sorts of things — at least I would imagine not — but this pass was high and over Ertz’s head. Passes like these are what led to interceptions for Wentz last years. Again, it’s a hard throw to make when you have a man right in your face before you hit the top of your drop, but you have to be always be smart with the ball.
It seems like Wentz has at least one of these a game and I’m still not exactly sure how they happen. Maybe the ball slipped? It doesn't make much sense, but considering this was a third down, Wentz’s conversion success rate could be even higher had he made this simple throw to an open Ertz.
Back-to-back weeks we see Wentz trending through the roof from a progression standpoint. He’s proving to be even more cerebral than ever, making more pre-snap adjustments to counter what defenses are doing. Diagnosing coverages and knowing exactly where to go with the ball is key, but Wentz will need to continue to show he can work effectively even when he misreads pre-snap.
As I pointed out, the deep ball is improving and we got a small taste of what can happen when Wentz and the Eagles offense can capitalize on the opportunities that are there in the deep passing game.
If you’ve been reading all along, you'll notice that this week I eliminated the footwork portion of this report. The consistency has been there to the point where, much like wild overthrows, it’s starting to become an anomaly. The truest test of this is when a quarterback faces pressure, and that test may come Thursday night when the Eagles play the Panthers. The Eagles will likely be without Lane Johnson and with a good defensive front, the Panthers will be able to collapse pockets on Wentz and force him to pick apart their zone coverages. This will be one of Wentz’s biggest tests of the season and his career and if he can make quick, smart decisive decisions, he should continue to trend upwards.