It’s only two weeks into the NFL season and some national talking heads are already screaming from the mountain tops and into their mics proclaiming the Eagles as the best team in the NFC. While it may be extreme, the Eagles are only one of six—among three in the NFC—in the NFL still undefeated.
Jalen Hurts is building an MVP season and it doesn’t look like anyone will be able to stop the Eagles any time soon.
While that may be an exaggeration, the Eagles are second in the NFL in rushing (189.5 yards/game, behind Cleveland’s 200.5), first in the NFL in average yards-per-catch (9.1) and, more importantly, second in third-down efficiency (converting 17/30 for 56.7%, behind league-leading Buffalo’s 14/23 for 60.9%)—against two opposite defensive philosophies, one attacking in Detroit, the other Minnesota’s soft-zone coverage, which the Eagles had answers for both.
Right behind the Eagles in third-down efficiency is former Eagle and current Washington Commanders’ quarterback Carson Wentz (14/25, 56%). Wentz and the Commanders are also tied for the league lead in red zone efficiency, converting all five of their red zone opportunities.
What you’ll likely hear from Wentz this week is what he spouted when he first joined Washington, which hosts the undefeated Eagles at 1 p.m. this Sunday at FedEx Field, that facing his former team will be like “just another ballgame.”
It will be Wentz’s personal Super Bowl.
Even though he didn’t play in one, Wentz is as much responsible for the Eagles winning Super Bowl LII as his back-up Nick Foles, who finished what Wentz started in 2017 before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee in Week 14 in Los Angeles.
He has not been the same since.
Nevertheless, most Eagles’ fans revile Wentz for wanting out of Philadelphia in 2020 after going 3-8-1 as a starter, and feeling pressured by the presence of Hurts, a second-round insurance policy to Wentz at the time, qualified by the Eagles’ hefty four-year, $128-million contract extension to him.
Despite being under his third coaching regime, Wentz, who’s 30, still lacks pocket presence, still has a penchant for not checking down to his running backs swinging out of the backfield, still among the slowest in the league at getting the ball out under pressure (2.6 seconds), may still be resistant to hard coaching, lacks leadership skills, and will still average a blunder or two during a game.
Those are among the reasons why he’s with his third team in three years.
The league thinks he can’t handle pressure, since through two games he’s been blitzed more than any quarterback in the NFL (34 times; Patrick Mahomes is No. 2 at 32 times; Hurts has been blitzed 22 times). But Wentz has also thrown for the second-most yards in the league under pressure (650 yards), behind only Miami’s emerging star Tua Tagovailoa (739 yards).
Wentz’s best down this season has been the all-critical third down, where he’s completed 17 of 21, for 212 yards and a 148.3 quarterback rating.
Coming off their 24-7 victory over Minnesota in the home opener Monday night, the Eagles are big road favorites this Sunday in Washington. They’re also ripe to be ambushed by a vengeful quarterback who felt betrayed by the team that drafted him, and by a fanbase that once embraced him before behind-the-curtain characteristics surfaced that the majority of the fanbase did not want to originally accept.
The aw-shucks, overgrown-Opie-from-Mayberry routine has been exposed. It played well and converted many in the local and national media into Wentz fanboys. Beneath that, there’s some “Cut-throat Carson” to him. He has to be. He wouldn’t be a viable NFL quarterback if he wasn’t. That’s been his problem—a reluctance to show it, instead of cowering in adverse situations. So, when Wentz says, “it’s going to be just another ballgame,” don’t believe it.
The Eagles will see the best version of Carson Wentz this Sunday.
Like it or not, that version was pretty good five years ago.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.