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. Another week, another Eagles win. The Eagles’ are currently on a six-game winning streak that has been largely led by MVP candidate Carson Wentz. I say largely because on Sunday against the 49ers, Wentz had arguably his worst game of the year, but the team was able to still blow out San Francisco in a game that left little doubt. As usual, I’ll take a look at Wentz’s overall performance including where he succeeded and where he could have been better.
As usual, this is a subjective statistic. Even if I don’t consider a throw interceptable, if it’s close enough I’ll add it to this section to allow the reader to come to their own conclusion.
Wentz’s only interceptable pass of the afternoon turned into an interception, but may not have entirely been Wentz’s fault. It looks like the Eagles are running a dagger concept and the cornerback, Ahkello Witherspoon is daring Mack Hollins to take his route upfield and go deep. Hollins’ route is designed to break in, but Witherspoon plays this perfectly by flipping around, beating Hollins to the spot where the ball is going. I talk about Wentz making anticipation throws and throwing receivers open, and that was the plan here. The ball was going a spot where Hollins was supposed to be, but he stops on the route, while Witherspoon doesn't. While Hollins does merit more blame than Wentz, I believe that even if Hollins had kept running, the ball still would've been intercepted. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the defender for making a good read and a good play and that’s exactly what happened here.
Since it’s midseason, I want to present the number of interceptable passes I’ve charted for Wentz, week-by-week.
Week 1: 3
Week 2: 2
Week 3: 0
Week 4: 2
Week 5: 1
Week 6: 0
Week 7: 1
Week 8: 1
Season Total: 10
By my charting, Wentz is averaging an interceptable throw once every 26.4 passes. That’s good enough for one interceptable pass a game based on the fact he’s averaging 33 pass attempts per game. Again, every interceptable throw, or potentially interceptable throw can be found in all of the Wentz reports which are archived here.
Managing the pocket
I thought that I had read somewhere that Wentz was charted going 3-of-9 against the blitz or pressure. I’ve said all season in this series that stats are nice, but stats and game tape need to be presented in unison to paint a whole picture. As you’ll see, there were numerous times that Wentz had somebody in his face or hanging off his arm before he hit the top of his drop.
The first example. As Wentz hist the top of his drop, Lane Johnson is beat off the edge forcing Wentz to step up in the pocket. The edge rusher gets a piece of Wentz and before he can reset or get an off-platform throw off, he’s facing another defender to his right. If Johnson is able to make even a respectable block, Wentz likely gets to at least a check down.
Again, this resulted in a sack. As soon as Wentz executes the play fake and turns around, there are two defenders right in his face. Jason Kelce just gets mauled by Earl Mitchell, the nose tackle and concedes pressure before Wentz can even take a look at the defense or think about getting the ball off.
The blitz comes and before Wentz can move to the left side of the field during his reads, the blitz up the middle arrives and brings him down.
I think now we can see the trend between pressure and performance. Up to this week, Wentz, who has been the league’s most blitzed quarterback, has excelled in those situations, making teams pay for their aggressiveness. In the play above, the blitz comes off the right side, but the play clock gets down to one second, leaving no time for adjustment. The rushers come free and Wentz has to fight just to chuck this ball deep downfield for a completion. While we judge quarterbacks by how they react to pressure, even Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady would be incapable of making something if anything happen in these situations.
Sometimes there aren't plays to be made under pressure or with a defender barreling toward you, and other times there are. Above is an example of there being a play and Wentz just missing on it. I realize that Solomon Thomas was right in Wentz’s face as he let go, but there was ample opportunity to hit Jeffery for a touchdown. The way the season has progressed for Wentz, we’ve come to expect him to play on the level of the best quarterbacks in the league. We’ve seen Wentz make this throw to Ertz consistently without the pressure, he’s going to have to make it with pressure as well. The best way to think of it is either way, Wentz is going to take the hit here. Do you want it to count for something? The bright side of this play is Wentz actually opened the throwing lane by reading his progressions to the left. That pulled the high safety over that way, giving Alshon the open window in the end zone. Wentz did a good job of flipping back and resetting his feet on the play, but getting back to the pressure, he’s going to have to expect to see more of this.
Wentz will have to adjust as he’s not going to be afforded those extra moments he received with Jason Peters. While Big V wasn't bad in this game, he received help from chips and the sack he did give up was mainly on Wentz for holding onto the ball too long, similar to the strip sack in the Carolina game. With Jason Peters out, teams are going to attack the offensive line and it will be up to Wentz to still make the plays he’s been making with a smaller margin for error under pressure.
Accuracy, anticipation, reads and progressions
I don't know if it was the pressure Wentz saw all game, the weather or just an abnormality, but accuracy wise this wasn't Wentz’s sharpest game. He missed throws he’s been making consistently all year, and even on some of the positive plays for the offense, there was some left to be desired.
I’m going to start with the Alshon Jeffery touchdown. This was Jeffery winning on a 50/50 ball, that never should have been a 50/50 ball. Jeffery won and had separation but Wentz severely under-threw this, forcing Jeffery to make an incredible adjustment and keep his balance all the way to to the end zone. Because the play resulted in a touchdown, it’s viewed favorably, and to the naked eye Wentz gave Jeffery a chance to win, but he actually put him in a tougher spot. The flip side to this is if Wentz had laid it out, Jeffery probably doesn't make it to the end zone, or gets tackled short.
While Wentz’s deep ball has looked much better over the last month, there’s still work to be done with it. The positive, aside from the touchdown and Jeffery’s adjustment is that Wentz continues to read defenses and has sped up his processing in the pocket. When the ball is snapped he reads the safety who is keying on Ertz running up the seam. This tells him to go to Jeffery who is singled up on the outside. Earn that WR1 money.
It just wasn't Wentz’s day on Sunday. This is a another throw where the trajectory was off for Wentz. I’m not concerned with this for the fact we’ve seen him consistently make these throws to Zach Ertz this year. It appears that the underneath defender might influence the trajectory slightly, but that’s not really been an issue for Wentz this year. Something else that way have caused this to be a little off is that Wentz was targeting Brent Celek, who rarely runs routes anymore. Athletically, there’s a huge drop-off between Ertz and Celek so that may have influenced this some as well, but overall I think it just summarizes the story of this day for Wentz.
Again, another bad miss for Wentz. Ertz should've came up with this, it hit him in the hands, but that’s a hard adjustment for a receiver to make, to reach back and try and haul the pass in. Not only does the pass fall incomplete, but even if he catches it on the bootleg, the opportunity for YAC is completely eliminated unless Ertz bulldozes through. It’s a harder through rolling to your left, but you can't scheme it any better than Doug Pederson did here. You can see all of the green in front of Ertz if he’s hit in stride.
While Wentz was off his usual game on Sunday, he still flashed the improvements he’s made this year. Above the Eagles send Mack Hollins on a stick nod, which is a route the team likes to run with Zach Ertz. Before Hollins breaks back into the center of the field, Wentz is already winding up, throwing with anticipation to where Hollins will be and how he’ll separate. Wentz nails it and gets the Eagles down field into scoring position. This is a good job of being patient and not leading the deep safety over to that side of the field to compromise the route.
While conceding pressure can mess with a younger quarterback’s pocket presence and awareness, Wentz has the ability to put plays behind him and not falter. Despite seeing pressure all game, Wentz maneuvers in the pocket, patiently works through his reads before finding an open receiver. Wentz isn't abandoning pockets but better manipulating them to keep the structure of a play alive for as long as possible. Having the skillset Wentz does, you’ll see quarterbacks tend to rely on that too much and the compromises their growth. They’ll abandon structure before necessary and use it as a crutch. What we’re seeing more of from Wentz is that he’s using that athleticism more so when forced to and there’s been maturity with it even from the beginning of this season.
Not every game is going to be perfect, but even on what was one of Wentz’s worse days, he still threw two touchdowns with only one interceptable throw in 32 attempts. This game snapped Wentz’s streaks of three straight games with a passer rating over 100. The traits we’ve seen from him all year still showed up, but it’s now up to Wentz to prove that this isn't just a hot streak, but what he’ll be going forward.
The unfortunate part is the Denver Broncos don't serve as a team that statistically Wentz is going to put up three or four touchdowns and a 100+ passer rating against. What I’ll be watching for on Sunday is how Wentz responds to pressure, whether he’s more conscious of the limitations of his offensive line, and whether or not he continues to take care of the ball. Much like the Giants game, the gameplan may call for Wentz to merely keep the offense on schedule and play a more conservative game. That may be enough to win based on the fact Brock Osweiler will be under center for the Broncos.
While it’s not the most glorious gameplan, being a franchise quarterback often means making the sacrifices necessary for the team to win the game. A ball control offense ran by Carson Wentz should be enough to get it done against one of the league’s best defenses. If Wentz throws 4 TDs though, put all of your money on him to win MVP.