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Carson Wentz & The Art of Getting Back Up (Part II)

The theme of the season is starting to come together

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

In part one of this series (I highly recommend you start there before continuing on) we looked back at the first nine games of the Carson Wentz’s rookie season. We disputed the notion that he was only a good quarterback through the first three weeks. The biggest thing that has stood out thus far, however, is that even when things didn’t go so well for Wentz, he almost always found a way to battle back and put his team back into contention.

Before we dissect the remainder of the season, it’s important to apply some context as to how the season has progressed to this point. (Warning: Carson Wentz haters, feel free to skip this section as it doesn’t fit your narrative and you will probably ignore it anyway). We are now nine games into his rookie season. After taking over as the starter a mere eight days before the first game, Wentz has experienced both highs and lows. The rest of the team is really starting to show its warts. Lane Johnson is in the midst of a 10-game suspension which forced the coaching staff to be significantly more conservative in their weekly gameplan. The receiving corps has provided Wentz next to nothing in terms of production aside from Jordan Matthews who, by the way, has been hampered with several injuries all season himself. Zach Ertz, arguably the team’s best offensive weapon, is just getting back to full health and starting to acquaint himself again with Wentz after missing a few games early on with broken ribs.

On top of all of this, the defense, the heart and soul of the 2016 Eagles team, is starting to show signs of weakness. The unit built to play with a lead has been playing from behind quite often and their biggest weakness, the secondary, has been exposed and opposing offenses are now taking the attack right to them. Things are starting to fall apart all around the rookie quarterback which will make the second half of the season much harder on him than the first. So, we have a rookie quarterback who is still trying to pick up on the intricacies of an NFL offense while trying to keep pace with opposing offenses who are abusing his team’s secondary. Not only that, but he is doing this with a damaged offensive line and no help from his playmakers. Now that we have established the context of the situation, let’s continue on through the season.

Weeks 11-13 - @ Seattle, Vs Green Bay & @ Cincinnati

It’s fair to say that this stretch is the low point of Wentz’s rookie season. Keep in mind, however, that the situation he was in, as described above, has a lot to do with it. It wasn’t all bad ether. From the game in Seattle, many only remember the two interceptions he threw but, overall, Wentz really didn’t play that poorly. He kept his composure early versus a very good defense and even gave the Eagles a lead before a big touchdown was called back on a bonehead play by Nelson Agholor. Things seem to spiral out of control from there, not just for Wentz, but for the entire team. Even Pete Carroll, though, after the game went out of his way to mention how impressed he was with Wentz’s play and his ability to manipulate defenders. Again, for purposes of trying to be conservative, we can chalk this up to another bad game. If we are being honest, though, how many quarterbacks, particularly rookies, are playing much better under those conditions?

Wentz didn’t play particularly bad against Green Bay. In fact, he actually played quite well in the first half trying to match wits with Aaron Rodgers, keeping his team within four points at the half seemingly all by himself. He later threw a pretty poor interception in the second half and just couldn’t get much else going as Rodgers sliced and diced the Eagles’ secondary. I wouldn’t put this game on Wentz though. In fact, while he made some poor throws, Wentz made quite a few very good plays in this game with his feet and ability to extend plays that many quarterbacks wouldn’t be capable of. The rookie was not the problem in this game, the secondary was.

The Bengals game was a disaster of epic proportions both for Wentz and the team. The rookie looked poor for most of the game but, again, was put in a pretty difficult situation. With his team down 26 points before he received the ball in the second half, Wentz was forced to throw the ball 60 times to uninterested receivers and tossed three interceptions in the process. This was a bad game for Wentz and everyone else in an Eagles uniform. Period.

Weeks 14 & 15 – Vs Washington & @ Baltimore

This is the point in the season where most players on non-playoff teams start to get ready for the offseason. It would have been very easy for Wentz to unofficially shut it down at this point. The season is basically over, the last few games have been pretty discouraging, his mechanics are a mess, he was completely embarrassed by his most recent performance and nobody else on offense seems interested in helping.

As humans, we all like to think that we would continue fighting in this scenario but that just simply isn’t the case. There are many people and many ultra-competitive athletes who would shut it down at this point. Back in 2014, Matt Waldman wrote an incredible article on the very real art of breaking another man’s will, I highly recommend you give it a read. Many men’s wills would have been broken at this stage of the season, but as he always seemed to do, Carson kept fighting.

The week 14 matchup with Washington was arguably Wentz’s best game of the season. Playing behind two backups at both guard spots and the third string right tackle, Wentz was under fire all day long and continued to make play after play. Wentz again showed an uncanny ability to avoid pressure and extend plays all day long. Then, down five points late in regulation, Wentz orchestrates a two-minute drill, driving the team from the Philadelphia 25 to the Washington 14-yard line. Fittingly, he was sacked from quick pressure off the right edge and fumbled to end the game. Looking at the stat sheet, this may not look like a great game, but anyone that watched it could tell it was definitely one of Wentz’s best games as a rookie.

The matchup with Baltimore was very similar to those versus New York and Minnesota earlier in the season. Wentz started off quite poorly and this time, continued that poor play throughout most of the game. Again though, when the game was on the line, he finds a way again. Down seven with 1:39 left in the game, Wentz drives the team downfield and throws his body over the pile for what could’ve been the game tying touchdown. Doug Pederson opted to go for two though and Wentz’s pass was batted down. Again, this was bad game for Wentz but he, yet again, overcame his own issues and found a way to give his team a chance.

Weeks 16 & 17 – Vs New York & Vs Dallas

Aside from making the Giants work a little harder to clinch their playoff spot, Wentz and the Eagles didn’t have much to play for in either of these games. In the game versus the Giants, Wentz was again having some problems with accuracy. He threw one bad interception and had a few other throws get away from him. He also made quite a few good plays to make up for it though including a beautiful 40-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor.

Agholor was technically Wentz’s third option on the play although he probably knew that Agholor would be open right away yet still let the play develop and manipulated the Giants deep safety. Then, of course, there was the “great escape.”

Overall, this was a balanced game for Wentz. Some good, some bad but he did enough to win the game against a Giant’s team that had much more to play for.

Dallas may have rested starters in week 17 but the Eagles still needed to play the game. In what was somewhat of a close game early on, Wentz orchestrated yet another two-minute drill at the end of the 1st half and capped it off with a touchdown to Ertz to tie the game going into the half. He then helped put the game away later on with a beautiful touchdown throw to Ertz on a corner route to the back of the end zone. The Eagles then slowly churned down the clock down, putting the game and season to bed. Chalk this up as another good game for the much-maligned rookie quarterback.

So, where does that leave us through all 16 games?

By my count, Wentz had four very good games (weeks 1-3, 14). I am also really tempted to add the Lions game to this list but, again, I am trying to be conservative where I can. That leaves four additional games (weeks 8, 10, 16,17) where the defense and running game put him in a good position to where he wasn’t asked to do more than manage the game. Three others (weeks 5, 6, 12) where he performed admirably and gave the team a chance to win despite being put in a poor situation by his teammates. That leaves only five games (weeks 7, 9, 11, 13, 15) where Wentz legitimately played poorly. Wentz still made plays in those games, though, and fought back and gave his team a chance to win in three of those five games.

The narrative that Wentz was only good through the first three weeks of the season is flat out wrong. And regardless of where the glory or blame should be placed for each win or loss, I think there is a pretty clear theme throughout the year. Carson Wentz is a fighter.

Not only did he pick himself up off the mat within individual games, that theme persists at a macro level on the season as a whole. After having time to study Wentz as a player and how the coaching staff tried to make things easier on the rookie, defensive coordinators began to get more aggressive and take those easier concepts away. They began to throw different looks, blitzes and coverages at the rookie to see how he would respond. All while the team around him fell apart. For a period of time, about midway through the season, things were looking a little gloomy for Wentz. But, just like he did on several occasions within various games, he came back swinging with three strong games to close the season and a successful two-minute drill in Baltimore that would test the mettle of any veteran. He took a punch, learned from it, and adapted.

Personally, I call this competitive toughness and I value it far more than many other traits when evaluating quarterbacks, including mechanics. Mechanics can be taught and drilled. Reading a defense can become more familiar over time. Competitive Toughness cannot be taught, it must come from within. Wentz detractors may laugh at this but it’s because they don’t understand how to measure it. It is not tangible or easy to assess like mechanics or player statistics so, naturally, many choose to ignore it. It is a qualitative trait that requires qualitative analysis to understand.

There is no debating that Wentz had his share of issues in his first season but what rookie doesn’t? Personally, I don’t need a quarterback with a perfect throwing motion, how many times does an NFL quarterback get to sit back and make picture perfect throws uninhibited anyway? I would love a quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes, make errant throws and occasional bad interceptions but that is not reality. Every player in the NFL makes mistakes. Give me the one who loves the game and has the work ethic to correct those mistakes. Give me the one who I know can overcome those mistakes and one who has the leadership and competitive toughness to find a way to get results when things aren’t going as planned.

In 2016, that quarterback was Carson Wentz.