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. For all previous Wentz Reports, make sure to check back here. It’s funny that I open each one of these with the above statement about the NFL community being split on Carson Wentz, but after the slew of games he has put together the last few weeks, that gap is starting to narrow. After back-to-back performances of three or more passing touchdowns, Wentz is moving the needle as it relates to those that didn't believe in him as a franchise quarterback, or even an average quarterback. On a short week, on the road, without his phenomenal right tackle Lane Johnson, Carson Wentz was able to bounce back from early pressure and deliver a performance that capitalized on mistakes.
Interceptable Throws (ITs)
For the second time this year, Carson Wentz played a game in which he had no interceptable throws. The other game was Week 3 against the Giants.
Managing the Pocket and playing against pressure
If you've read the Wentz report the last few weeks, you know that while I’ve liked Wentz’s work in the pocket, I wanted to see how he’d do under more pressure situations, a true test to his progress. After a skittish start in which Wentz was taking hits or facing pressure, he stepped up to the challenge and played the hand he was dealt. When the opportunity to avoid pressure or escape it with subtle movements arose, he took advantage of it.
In the play above, the end result was an incompletion — it would've been a tough throw to make — but the process of how Wentz slide to his left, keeps his feet moving after pressure flashes up the gut is progress in the right direction. This was always going to be a tough play to make work against man coverage. This is the three-level stretch plays, the sail concept that Pederson runs a lot to stress zone coverages. It’s not nearly as effective against man, because the point is to make two defenders pick between three receivers. If there are three defenders in coverage, the play design faces an uphill battle from the start. The act that Went had open area to the right may be pointed out, but this play works to the left side of the field and keeps multiple reads in front of the quarterback. moving to the right would effectively eliminate any opportunity to make a play through the air, and there was no reason to take off and abandon a relatively clean pocket so early. That’s how quarterbacks create unnecessary sacks and it appears Wentz is taking the right steps in eliminating those plays.
Wentz is forced off his spot here after pressure arrives quickly and his reads to the left side of the field don’t open up. While this movement isn't subtle, it really can’t be based on how quickly the pressure is arriving. If he slides, he likely gets sacked. He shuffles to his right, keeps his eyes downfield, resets his feet and throws to hit Alshon Jeffery for a third down conversion right on the money. These are the plays Wentz wasn't making last year.
For comparison, above is Wentz’s interception against Baltimore late last season. Pressure is arriving but his feet sink into quick sand; they don’t move and Wentz throws a bad pass that leads to an early turnover. These improvements are going a long way and they’re manifesting themselves in the way of positive results. Managing the pocket better and eluding pressure allows Wentz to extend plays and drives all while taking better care of the football, and that’s shown with the Eagles’ ability to convert third downs like the one above.
Just another example how managing the pocket completely turns the play around. Wentz sees the edge rusher coming from his right, quickly steps up to his right, keeping his eyes downfield on third and long and hits Mack Hollins for a key conversion on 3rd and 16, all while knowing he’s going to take a hit as soon as he releases the ball. Last year, Wentz likely takes a sack here or just takes off and doesn't secure a first down. In the flow of the game, this was arguably the biggest play on offense, and Wentz’s advancement from year one to year two is what extended this drive that ended in the Eagles final touchdown of the night.
While this is somewhat similar to the Ravens play, it’s different because again, Wentz’s feet don’t stop moving here and he’s not throwing off his back foot with a defender lurking underneath. The way the pocket closed, it would've been hard to maneuver without walking into a sack. If Wentz slides left, the defensive end likely cuts upfield on him. If he steps up in the hole, he gets inside of Jason Peters.
It wasn't all fun under pressure. Wentz took the sack on the fumble of the opening drive, which I’ll talk about in a moment and he whiffed on this pass with a blitzer coming up the middle. Unlike the last few plays which came later in the game, this play occurred early when the Panthers were hitting Wentz and sacking by bringing blitzes and pressure that the offense, without Lane Johnson, couldn't or didn't pick up. Wentz had Jeffrey here on the curl route, but he sailed it high with pressure blistering up the middle.
Here is the fumble. While Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s protection was bad — he failed to get leverage on Julius Peppers by going up high — Wentz does him no favors by double pumping the ball. Coming in, Wentz had to know that the right side of the line was the weak spot, meaning when it’s your blind side on a play, you have a time limit on how a play can or will develop. Double pumping is not an option. If anything Wentz had two options: throw it in the middle on the second pump to Ertz on an anticipation throw or throw it away towards the sideline. It looked like on the second and third — where he was tripped — that he wanted to go to Ertz, but wanted him to flash open and break before throwing it. Wentz’s internal clock has to be more aware in that situation, and again, Vaitai has to do better, as that was pitiful.
Working through progressions and manipulating defenses
Pre-snap, it looks like Carson Wentz is expecting blitz and relays a call to the offensive line and LeGarrette Blount. The Panthers never show blitz, and Wentz doesn't feel comfortable going to his read, Jeffery, on the curl route, so he flips back round to the other side of the field where Nelson Agholor has gained a little depth and uncovered from linebacker Shaq Thompson’s zone. Although Thompson was considered a safety at some point, Nelson Agholor is a ridiculous matchup for any linebacker. Wentz puts it right over Thompson’s head and the Eagles pick up a long first down.
Bunching receivers up is a good way to help your quarterback get through his reads quicker, as they're all in the same general vicinity, but Wentz uses his eyes to open this play just as much as his arm. Alshon Jeffery camps down underneath and Wentz’s head glances over that way, this draws the linebacker up more on Jeffery, forcing the defender to vacate the middle of the field, opening a throwing lane for Carson Wentz to hit Mack Hollins. My only complaint here is I would've like to have seen Wentz lead Hollins into the open area for more YAC instead of forcing him to reach back for a tougher catch.
Diagnosing the coverage is one thing that can make your reads and progressions easier to flip though. Above, the Eagles motions Legarrette Blount out wide and a linebacker follows him. This tips the Eagles that the Panthers are going man-coverage. What it also does is take another body out of the condensed field. Wentz’s first read appears to be Jeffery to his right, running what appears to be a whip route, which is something you see from smaller, quicker wide receivers like Julian Edelman and Cole Beasley. Wentz’s eyes moving that way will naturally move defenders and the underneath player will pull defenders towards the goal line. This allows Ertz to sneak in the back of the endzone one-on-one. After Ertz wins inside, it’s game over and Wentz knows it as he snaps back effortlessly to the middle and finds Ertz to capitalize on a turnover.
This is the second touchdown to Ertz and it’s another beautiful play design. Three receivers to the left and the safety comes up on the two that are running inside crossing routes. This allows an open receiver to slide up the seam but Wentz may not have felt as comfortable throwing that one open. Instead he snaps back and elects to hit Ertz with a bullet. This may have been because Ertz was in a better position to shield the ball with his body, but regardless Wentz puts it up high for him and he hauls it in. Right now the chemistry between Zach Ertz and Carson Wentz couldn't be any higher. Throughout the season, you can tell theres nobody Wentz trusts more than Ertz when it comes to one-on-one situations, or when the offense needs to move the chains. The chemistry between these two has brought out the best in both and that doesn't look to slow down anytime soon.
As well as I thought Wentz played, the defense ultimately saved the day by forcing one last stop after Wentz had an opportunity to end the game. I mentioned above how Wentz is showing the utmost trust in Ertz, but he has to be smart and not force the ball to him. Pre-snap there was nobody on Nelson Agholor in the slot and even Alshon Jeffery had secured enough of a cushion to likely get the first down that would have ended the game. Post-snap Wentz never looks Agholor’s way to see if he’s uncovered — he was — and Wentz forces a pass to Ertz that falls incomplete. The end result of the game doesn't absolve this of being a bad process. Hitting plays like this are what championship teams do, but if Wentz has shown improvement everywhere else, there’s reason to believe he can certainly show it here going forward.
Deep ball accuracy
Wentz’s overall accuracy looked fine in this play. I’ve pointed out some of the incompletions and how pressure forced incomplete passes, but overall I thought Wentz’s accuracy was fine.
The encouraging trend we’ve seen with Wentz the last three games is a rise in the deep ball accuracy. He hit on a couple of those in this game when those plays were given time to develop. I want to start with this one that wasn't called as pass interference, but should have been. Wentz looks the single-high safety off to his left, getting him off balance and Wentz drops a beautiful ball downfield to Alshon. The cornerback gets Alshon’s arm and the pass falls incomplete, but it was perfectly placed, with Wentz doing an awesome job of manipulating the deep help to give Alshon that one-on-one opportunity. Again, this should've been flagged, but we’ve gone over the officiating enough as it is.
Wentz tests his luck with Jeffery again deep and Jeffery runs a beautiful studded step, giving his cornerback that hesi-pull up jimbo. This time the safety doesn't get over in time and Wentz puts the deep ball right on the money to Jeffery. I want to see Wentz continue this deep ball consistency, but hitting two to three of these plays a game opens up the offensive and makes it explosive as I mentioned in last week’s Wentz report. If Wentz continues to hit these consistently, sky’s the limit for what this team can accomplish on offense.
This is one, where I thought the cornerback just did an outstanding job defending the throw. I would've liked to have seen Wentz lead Jeffery a little further downfield, but too far, and the safety may have had an opportunity to make a play on the ball. This throw was similar to some of the ones Wentz made against Los Angeles when he was gunning for Ertz and Torrey Smith up the seam. He was accurate on both, but only one was a completion. On this play, you just have to tip your hat to the corner.
This makes three straight stellar games for Wentz. The completion percentage numbers won’t be there from this game, but the variables and context need to be included.
On a short week, it’s often the team with the better quarterback that wins because it’s hard to prepare and make that turnaround. Not only did Wentz settle in despite being under pressure constantly early, he took advantage of the Panthers mistakes and led the offense to five drives that ended in points. Two of those drives started in the red zone, but they capitalized and came away with touchdowns on both.
In addition to all of that, this is a really good Panthers defense that missed Lane Johnson. The Panthers were able to eliminate the Eagles play-action drops from under center which has been a key component to stretching defenses out, and Wentz still efficiently ran the offense.
We’re really seeing the matuartion of Carson Wentz in just a year and it’s exciting as Eagles fans to watch. This was the game where we were going to see Wentz tested in every way early on and he held his composure, making plays when the team needed him the most.
We’re at a point where it feel like Wentz has the offense operating at such a high level, that they’re going to come off the field with points every drive. That’s how high my confidence level is in Wentz right now based on what he’s put on tape and the maturation he’s shown since the Eagles drafted him.
I don’t have the exact quote, but on the set of Thursday Night Football with NFL Network, Deion Sanders and Steve Smith asked Wentz what the biggest difference in his play was and his response was along the lines of “the game has really slowed down for me and I’m seeing thing much better that I wasn't necessarily seeing last year.”
That statement, thus far, is holding true.