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5 reasons I still believe in Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson

They’ve been really bad this year, but they’ve been really good before.

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson have been downright awful this year.

I’ve called on the team to bench Wentz. I think riding the pine would not hurt his confidence, but would help him recover his sanity and give him a much needed mental break. Certainly a good game from his back-up Jalen Hurts would only feed the raging QB controversy, but the odds of that happening are low and Wentz is doing himself no favors staying in there.

He’s been hesitant. He hasn’t seen the field. He doesn’t trust anything around him. He’s just flat-out been bad, and it’s distressing to see a formerly very good QB, in his fifth season, play this way. It’s unprecedented.

Doug Pederson has made questionable fourth down decisions, his gameplans have been bland and disjointed, his personnel decisions (benching younger players in favor of rotting veterans) have been perplexing, and he seemingly has no answers regarding what to do with Hurts when he does utilize him. He hasn’t been able to incorporate new ideas into his scheme and it’s clear something is broken in the coach’s room.

Make no mistake, two of the biggest problems this season have been Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson. It’s been “fun” trying to decide who deserves more blame and a large number of Eagles fans, perhaps you, believe one is more deserving of criticism than the other.

Honestly, I don’t know who is more to blame. I don’t know who is more at fault.

(OK, it’s pretty obvious Howie Roseman is most at fault but we’re not talking about him just now.)

Earlier this year, ESPN polled a number of NFL executives and asked them to rank players at different positions. Wentz came in at No. 8. Prior to the start of the season, I ranked head coach-QB combos in the league and had the Wentz-Pederson duo No. 5.

This is more a reflection of Pederson than Wentz, although Wentz has certainly proven he can play at an elite level when healthy. His final month last year, with no wide receivers to throw to, was stunning, and Pederson’s ability to massage his gameplans to meet whatever deficiencies the team has had at the skill positions has been remarkable. Hopefully some additional speed at wide receiver will allow these two to take things to the next level.

Twelve weeks and 11 games later, the “additional speed” hasn’t materialized and while the two have taken “things to the next level,” it’s a level in the wrong direction. Many fans want one or both run out of town.

That would be misguided. There are many reasons to believe Pederson and Wentz aren’t irreparably broken and that the Eagles can be a good team again with this duo together.

But to be clear, even though I have five reasons why I still believe Wentz and Pederson will be good once again in the long-term, please do not read this as a list of excuses for why they’ve been bad this year. It is, however, an attempt to put into context why both have been so bad and to remind you that it wasn’t so long ago that both were at the top of their professions.

The Final Month of 2019

Maybe I’m putting too much stock in Wentz’ performance over the final four weeks of last season but I also believe people forget just how good he was at the end of last year. He made throws that only a scant number of QBs could have made down the stretch.

Did he finish the ‘19 season against weaker opponents? Certainly. Winning four straight against New York, Dallas and Washington may not have been much to write home about but, if you compare his performance last year against those same inferior opponents to this year, you clearly saw a different quarterback in ‘19, one who took advantage of his weak schedule and willed a collection of practice squad teammates to the postseason.

Hear that again: he elevated the play of those around him and overcame an up-and-down first 12 weeks to earn an NFC East title. He put up a 27-to-7 TD/INT ratio and had the 13th-best passer rating in the NFL without a single wide receiver who accumulated more than 500 yards receiving.

So when we talk about Carson Wentz, you don’t have to go back three years to remember the last time he was really good. You just have to flip the calendar back to a year ago.

As for Pederson, despite being saddled with an ineffective offensive coordinator in Mike Groh and enough injuries and bad draft picks to choke a horse, Pederson schemed up the Birds’ offense as well as he could with no deep threats or wide receivers of any kind. For the third straight season, he managed to rally his players together when the season seemed lost and made his third straight trip to the postseason.

Pederson didn’t suddenly forget how to coach in one year, although it is certainly fair to note that he has made a number of hard-to-understand decisions this season.

The Heights of 2017

So, let’s talk about 2017. To put it simply, he was the best QB in the NFL. He was the MVP until his knee was blown up in Los Angeles. We watched our very own Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and, to a slightly lesser degree, Patrick Mahomes that season and it was breathtaking.

Pederson did some amazing work, too (yes, along with Frank Reich, we KNOW), both while Wentz was his QB and once he lost Carson and had to finish the season with Nick Foles.

Obviously, this was three years ago and a lot has changed. Pederson and Wentz can’t live off the 2017 season forever and both need to continue to be productive to stay employed, but one also shouldn’t ignore the ceilings of either man.

2018 Wasn’t Statistically Bad, Either

Wentz didn’t start until Week 3 as he recovered from his ACL tear and suffered a mysterious back injury at some point during the ‘18 season, too. His season culminated in a loss to the Cowboys in Dallas (an OT heartbreaker) in which he went 22-for-32 for 228 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs in Week 14.

With a 6-7 record and their season seemingly over, Wentz was put on the shelf for the second straight year, but in the 11 games he played, he finished 7th in passer rating (102.2) with a sterling 21-to-7 TD/INT ratio. Once again, the entire team was crushed by injuries, Wentz’ the most prominent, and yet Carson still managed to put up big numbers despite playing on a just-repaired left knee and with some significant amount of back pain. He did this all with the heroic Foles still on the roster and with much of the locker room pining for Nick to be put in control of the offense again.

They got their wish of course and Pederson once more rallied the troops and returned to the postseason for a second straight year thanks to the late-season heroics of Foles and a great bit of coaching by Pederson, cementing him as no one-hit wonder.

The Offensive Line

The lack of a cohesive offensive line has destroyed the Eagles’ offense this year and is the biggest reason why the Birds have had such trouble moving the football.

Coming into the season, this was their projected offensive line:

  • LT - Former 1st round pick Andre Dillard
  • LG - Isaac Seumalo
  • C - All-Pro Jason Kelce
  • RG - All-Pro Brandon Brooks
  • RT - All-Pro Lane Johnson

With the exception of the unproven Dillard, Wentz would have had solid confidence with that group. Unfortunately, Brooks was lost for the season when he ruptured his Achilles over the summer, Johnson battled ankle injuries all year and was placed on Injured Reserve this week, Kelce has essentially played with one healthy arm all season and will likely retire once 2020 is in the books, Dillard was shelved for the season with a bicep injury, and Jason Peters was signed to play right guard then moved to left tackle to replace Dillard and is now back at right guard all while playing none of them effectively. Pleasant surprises like Nate Herbig and Jordan Mailata have been injured and/or benched for reasons passing understanding, and rookie fourth-rounder Jack Driscoll has performed adequately at right guard/tackle when he hasn’t been hurt or benched.

Wentz has had 10 different offensive line combinations in 11 games. That’s insane. He’s had formerly dependable veterans crumble around him and seen them replaced with the likes of Matt Pryor and Sua Opeta, who simply aren’t effective.

Wentz doesn’t have confidence in the guys protecting him, which has likely resulted in a cascading barrage of indecision, turnovers and sacks. Carson has been dropped for sacks 46 times so far this year, 11 more than the next closest QB, Russell Wilson. Sure, many of those are the result of holding onto the ball too long (more on that in a minute), while others are simply because he’s been under duress. He’s been pressured on 28.6% of all drop backs, 7th-highest in the NFL, and been hit a league-leading 49 times.

Outside of the quarterback, cohesion along the offensive line is the most important part of any offense. Wentz and Pederson have had none in 2020. Given the upheaval week-in and week-out of the line, it’s not crazy to think much of Wentz’ jitters and inconsistencies are the result of never knowing what he’s going to get from the five guys charged with protecting him. It’s also not crazy to think Pederson’s gameplans have been negatively affected, too.

No Playmakers

Despite using a second round pick last year as well as a first round, fifth round and sixth round pick this season, and despite trading for and signing DeSean Jackson to a three-year contract two off-seasons ago, the Eagles still have almost no playmakers at the wide receiver position.

The utter failure of JJ Arcega-Whiteside makes Mike Bellamy look like Mike Quick. Jalen Reagor is still just a rookie and has been hurt for portions of the season, but his inability to create separation against NFL defensive backs is worrisome. We haven’t seen anything like this since the first game of the season.

Where has that been? Why, despite his supposed incredible speed, can’t he get open? Reagor was supposed to a field-stretcher but instead has been stretching fans’ patience as we wait for him to establish himself the way a multitude of other rookie wide receivers have this season.

I’ll take a minute if you’d like to silently weep to yourself.

Reagor has proven to be unreliable thanks to uneven route-running and a lack of understanding of his on-field assignments. On Monday night, he was supposed to run a bubble screen on the left side of the formation, but instead ran a go-route.

If you’re Wentz, how do you trust Reagor right now?

Travis Fulgham was the NFL’s leading receiver for a five-week stretch but defenses have largely taken him away because they know Wentz has no one else to throw to (also, for reasons passing understanding, Fulgham saw his snap count drop dramatically on Monday night in favor of Jeffery, who simply shouldn’t be on the field). Fulgham is great at 50-50 balls but doesn’t create separation and, unfortunately, Wentz is waiting too long for receivers to create separation. John Hightower was a nice training camp story but has been invisible since the first few weeks and if anyone can locate Quez Watkins on their GPS, please let his family know, they’re worried about him.

Now, to be fair to the receiving corps, there have been instances where receivers were open and Wentz inexplicably didn’t get them the ball.

I can’t explain that. I really can’t, and it’s troubling. But it’s been noted elsewhere that many receivers are out there improvising, which has thrown Wentz off, too. Greg Ward has, at times, not run the route he’s supposed to run and in the case of Wentz’ fourth quarter interception against Seattle, Dallas Goedert broke off his route and ran inside instead of to the corner of the end zone, which is where the ball went. This happened repeatedly last year, too, and it’s one of the reasons Wentz doesn’t trust his receivers. Even when they go where they’re supposed to, he’s not sure what they’re going to do when they get there.

Again, this is not an excuse for Wentz, but it hopefully provides some context. It’s difficult to not be hesitant when you feel like you need to wait an extra second for your receivers to get separation and when you’re not sure if they’re going to run a route the way the play was designed. And it’s difficult for Pederson to get too creative with his play calling if his receivers can’t be trusted to run a simple bubble screen correctly.

Given true talent at receiver, and I mean real talent, Wentz would almost certainly be a more confident quarterback, and likely, a better one. Pederson would almost certainly be a more creative play designer, and likely, a better one.

Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson have done a lot of things wrong this season and both should be held to account. But I still believe these guys are good. It’s going to take hard work and a new team architect (translation: new general manager) who actually knows how to draft and develop young talent to make that happen. But in the end, I believe Wentz and Pederson are talented and, given the proper infrastructure and personnel around them, can be successful in Philadelphia once again.

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