October 09, 2017
While basking in the glow of the Eagles’ 34-7 dismantling of the Arizona Cardinals, it’s easy to forget that a year ago this time, they were also off to a hot start. At 3-1, the Birds were coming off their first loss of the season, a loss that turned out to be the first of many as they went on to drop eight of their final 11 games.
I bring that up not to serve a cautionary tale, but to highlight how different this start feels to the one from a year ago. It does, doesn't it?
All those questions that followed a rough end of the 2016 season – and then some – were answered in the Eagles’ Week 5 win over the Cardinals. Carson Wentz is improving. Doug Pederson is improving. Jim Schwartz’s defense is still playing well despite all the injuries. Howie Roseman’s offseason additions are contributing.
They’re playing so well that even former Cowboys are buying in.
But among all the positives so far this season, none has been more impressive than the play of their second-year quarterback, who had a career day on Sunday, throwing for 304 yards (on 21-of-30 passing) and four touchdowns, including this 72-yarder to Nelson Agholor.
“He could have had five of them out there,” said Torrey Smith, who was on the receiving end of one of Wentz’s other touchdowns and won the award for best celebration.
“It was a big game," Smith continued. "Again, Carson is a beast and shows that he can make plays. Even on the touchdown to Nelly [Nelson Agholor], which was crazy, he was sliding off guys, staying calm in the pocket, made a big time throw and Nelly obviously took care of business with the rest. That is what our team is capable of.”
It wasn’t a perfect day for Wentz – after all, his passer rating was only 128.3 – as he forced an ill-advised throw to Zach Ertz that was intercepted in the end zone near the end of the first half. That, however, was likely one of just a handful of throws he’d like to have back on Sunday.
“He played amazing today,” said Ertz, who is having a career year of his own. “Obviously there are plays everyone wants to have back. I’m sure he feels the same way. But four touchdowns to four different guys is a huge stepping stone. I don’t think he’s thrown that many in a game yet.
“He is the face of the franchise; as he goes, we go. And the most impressive part is that he is so even-keeled through the highs and the lows. So we love playing for him. So we are excited with where we’re at.”
With just 20 games of experience under his belt, Wentz went out and did something no Eagles quarterback has ever done on his way to improving to 8-2 in his career at the Linc.
Carson Wentz is the first Eagles quarterback with 3 Pass TD in the first quarter of a game, according to research from @EliasSports.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 8, 2017
And he did so in front of the most productive QB franchise history, Donovan McNabb, who was in attendance on Sunday, and even sent his son over to grab an autograph after the game.
McNabb also offered his assessment of the fellow No. 2 overall pick.
"He's an intelligent guy. He understands his capabilities. He knows the prize and what's in front of him. He works extremely hard. He's prepared for it," McNabb said, according to PhiladelphiaEagles.com.
Donovan McNabb on Eagles QB Carson Wentz:— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) October 8, 2017
"He has a great career ahead of him" pic.twitter.com/ErSHirKRqo
And the main reason for that confidence, the same confidence the current Eagles spoke of Sunday in the locker room, is Carson Wentz.
With 10 touchdowns and three interceptions through five games, Wentz’s numbers, while very good, aren’t necessarily eye-popping. But his numbers on third down this season? They’re among the best in the NFL, and they only got better on Sunday as the Birds went nine for 14 on third down and Wentz finished 11-for-12 (91.7 percent) for 225 yards, three touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating – all NFL single-game bests on third down this season.
In fact, that was Wentz's second game this season in which he had a perfect passer rating on third down (Week 1 vs. WAS).
“The biggest thing with Carson is that when he makes good decisions, he really controls the game,” said veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins. “Especially with us running the ball the way we are. I think his ability to extend plays, escape the pocket and make big plays down the field in tandem with our running game is really hard to stop.
“As long as he continues to protect the ball and make the throws he’s making, the sky’s the limit for him.”
When players see that coming from the quarterback, it shows us that he is dedicated and that means a lot to us.
Wentz put it all on display Sunday – the deep ball, the touch pass, the ability to extend a play with his legs and drives with his arms. And the leadership on the field.
“He is our captain, he knows what he is doing and everybody follows in after him,” said running back Corey Clement. “When you think about it, he is one of those exceptional guys who will help you out on the back end as well [making sure we know our assignments]. When we’re out there, we’re all bonding as one unit and making sure that Carson doesn’t get hit at all because that’s our guy, our quarterback; we hate to see him get hit.”
And that kinds of leadership is magnetic and almost contagious, as even the guys who only share the practice field with Wentz are taking note of how “the face of the franchise” goes about his daily business.
“You see Carson day in and day out. His car is always in the first parking spot,” said cornerback Jalen Mills. “That is how you know he is the first guy in the building. Way past guys getting in the ice tub, getting recovery and getting in the parking lot; the lot is empty and you still see his car there. He is the first guy in and always the last guy out.
“When players see that coming from the quarterback, it shows us that he is dedicated and that means a lot to us.”
But will that be enough to propel the team toward its next big step forward in Year 2 of the Pederson Era – a postseason run?
"Absolutely," McNabb added. "I think they have everything they need to make it to the playoffs. It's going to be a great year."
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