September 22, 2020
It's been a dark week in Philadelphia so far after the Eagles got off to an 0-2 start to the 2020 season, a season they entered with playoff expectations as one of the few teams in the NFL to make the postseason each of the last three seasons.
So far, they've looked like anything but a playoff team.
This week, they'll face another winless team in the Bengals, and while that might be the cure to all the losing, it's a bit of a double-edged sword. A loss to Cincinnati and this fanbase can officially panic. But what if they only beat the Bengals by a couple points, fewer than the 5.5 points the oddsmakers have them favored by this week (according to TheLines.com)? Would that really calm fans nerves? Probably not.
In other words, nothing short of a blowout win will stop fans from lining up on the Ben Franklin Bridge.
And that's a tough spot to be in for a team that doesn't look capable of blowing out anyone — save for a 25 minute stretch to start the season.
There's plenty of blame to go around in Philly, with much of it landing at the feet of quarterback Carson Wentz, who has statistically been one of the worst passers in the NFL this season, and head coach Doug Pederson, who offered up a weak excuse for his team's slow start on Monday. On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz pointed the finger at himself for a poor gameplan against the Rams in Week 2. But it certainly doesn't stop there.
Before officially turning the page and focusing on Joe Burrow and Cincinnati, let's take a look at what they're saying about the 0-2 Birds, and specifically who is to blame....
We couldn't not mention this take from ESPN's Get Up! on Tuesday. Former Cowboy Marcus Spears compared Wentz to Jameis Winston. And while there are certainly a ton of differences, the numbers might not be as far off as one might expect — with the exception of Winston's monstrous interception number, but Wentz's higher fumble rate makes that difference less meaningful.
Since Winston's in his sixth season and has started 14 more games than Wentz, let's take a look at their per game numbers so far in their careers.
Of course, the stats don't tell the whole story — and the winning percentage is the most important number there. But there is something to be said about the Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde nature we've seen from both quarterbacks over the years, where they can look like All-Pros one minute and then completely lost the next.
If Wentz doesn't turn this season around, however, he could find his numbers a lot closer to Winston's by the time the season is over.
Anyway, that's enough from me. Here's what Marcus Spears had to say...
"I'm to the point where, Carson Wentz is a flash player. That's who he is. Outside of the MVP season, before he got injured, he's an up and down player. Highs are very high, lows are bad as you can possibly get.
"Now, bear with me when I say this: this reminds me, personally, of Jameis Winston. How many times have we said, 'Jameis Winston looks like a Top 5 quarterback' when he's playing at a high level? And then when he's playing terrible, and starts throwing interceptions, which Carson Wentz is doing this year - the fumbles have been an issue, but he hadn't really gave the ball away through the air - we start talking about, 'Nah, this ain't gonna get it done.'
"This is gonna have you bouncing around, trying to figure out what kind of guy you are.' The worst thing you can be [...] in the NFL is a guy that your coach doesn't know what he's going to get on Sundays. And that's what Carson Wentz is becoming." [h/t NBCSports.com]
Oh, and before you kill me, I definitely think Wentz is the better quarterback.
That wasn't the only comparison Wentz received this week. Over at Bleeding Green, Brandon Gowton compared the Eagles QB to Chip Kelly. Yup.
And the scary part is, I'm struggling to see any lies here...
• They’ve both never won a playoff game.
• They’ve both lacked emotional intelligence. Chip couldn’t relate to his players. Wentz was anonymously criticized by teammates on numerous occasions.
• They’ve both had control issues. Chip overstepped his coaching bounds and misguidedly waded into player personnel decisions. Wentz seemingly insists on having a lot of influence over the offense instead of just running what he’s told to do.
• They both indirectly helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII. Some the players acquired during Kelly’s tenure made big contributions: Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Trey Burton, Malcolm Jenkins. Wentz had the Eagles set up well to win the No. 1 seed before getting hurt.
• They both had a major role in the Eagles (wrongfully?) moving on from Nick Foles.
• They both had one excellent year that we were convinced was the norm and not the exception. [bleedinggreennation.com]
One of the things that may be responsible for Wentz's struggles is his lack of improvisation on scrambles. Perhaps teams are less worried about him running for a first down or extending the play with his legs and are dropping more guys into coverage. Over at WIP, Eliot Shorr-Parks broke down some of his declining rushing numbers and the extent to which he's stopped running is pretty startling.
Since the start of the 2018 season, Wentz has just eight runs of 10 yards or more in his last 28 games on 96 attempts. That is less than half of what he had in his first 29 games on roughly the same amount of attempts.
To put that in perspective, Matt Ryan has seven runs of 10-yards or more and Kirk Cousins has six during the same stretch that Wentz has eight. Nobody would say they are a threat with their legs as a runner, but they have basically the same chance of making a big run as Wentz does. ...
Going into a game, over the last two years, it is almost as likely Wentz will fumble the ball (25 times) as it is he will run for a first down (29). He is the only quarterback in the top 10 with double-digit lost fumbles. He has fumbled the ball away 13 times, which is as many as Jackson, Allen and Newton combined. Wentz's nearly 1-to-1 first-down-to-fumble ratio is considerably worse than any of the other top rushing quarterbacks in the league.
Not only is Wentz simply is not a threat on the ground anymore, but he recklessness with the ball is hurting the team. That is a problem for the Eagles. As owner Jeffrey Lurie and the front office try to change their offense into one of the explosive, dangerous units you see around the league, they are trying to do it with a quarterback that isn't a threat on the the ground -- something almost all of the young, elite quarterbacks are. [radio.com]
Our last one on Wentz before moving on to some other issues is a look at just how low he's ranked by some of the analytics sites out there. Yesterday, we showed you some of Wentz's terrible numbers on the season, and this is just further proof of how poorly the Eagles QB has played this season...
It’s obvious Carson Wentz hasn’t played up to the standard he’d set over the last few years, throwing four interceptions to just two touchdowns.
But just how bad is it? Honestly, maybe even worse than you might expect.
Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, and Next Gen Stats all use different metrics to measure quarterback play, and Wentz is at the bottom of each of them. PFF and FootballOutsiders both have him ranked dead last. Literally the worst starting quarterback in the league. Next Gen has him behind only Dwayne Haskins in completion percentage above (or in Wentz’s case, below) expectation. Next Gen has Wentz completing 8.8% fewer passes than he should be. The league leader is Russell Wilson, who is completing 13.9% better than expected. Wentz was at minus-1.4% last season and was completing a little less than 1% better than expected in the 2017 season.
Football Outsiders' metrics have Wentz last by a wide margin. The site’s numbers claim Wentz is throwing for roughly 259 fewer yards than a replacement-level quarterback would be able to in the Eagles' last two games. He trails Ryan Fitzpatrick, the second-worst QB in the rankings, by 172 yards. [inquirer.com]
Let's shift our focus to another Eagles quarterback for a second. On Sunday, Jalen Hurts made his NFL debut — sort of, as he was used as a decoy on a few plays for the Birds, and it actually didn't look to bad.
So, what's next for the first-round pick?
The natural next step is to get the ball in his hands. Hurts, the Eagles' second-round pick in April's draft, threw for 32 touchdowns last season for Oklahoma and rushed for another 20 TDs, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He showed some of that dual-threat ability at training camp. His effectiveness was most felt in goal-line situations, particularly on zone read looks.
One sequence in particular stands out from camp, when he met the running back at the mesh point and then sprinted to the right, drawing the defense's attention. But he had already handed the ball off to the back, who darted up the middle untouched. His legs can loosen a defense up, which could be useful in short-yardage situations.
Pederson has referenced Taysom Hill of the New Orleans Saints and Lamar Jackson when he was No. 2 to Joe Flacco as a rookie in Baltimore when talking about two-QB usage that the Eagles were "going to explore" heading into the season. Jackson averaged 9.5 snaps over the Ravens' first nine games while in a backup role, throwing the ball 11 times total in nine games while rushing three times per game on average. [espn.com]
Another member of the Eagles getting a lot of heat for their slow start is GM Howie Roseman, and that Hurts pick is part of the reason why. It was a lot of draft capital to spend on a guy who is only going to be used a couple of times per game. Perhaps that pick could've been better used elsewhere, but given Roseman's track record in the draft the last couple of years, maybe not.
Many of the good players on the Eagles’ roster are older, over 30. Their drafts since the Super Bowl have produced two quality starters, defensive end Josh Sweat and Sanders. Just because a draft pick starts does not make him a quality pick, and the fact that the Eagles used a second-round pick on a backup quarterback is somewhat baffling considering their team needs in other positions. There is no way they drafted Jalen Hurts to compete with Wentz, but why spend a high pick on a luxury player when there are needs at other places? If you watch their linebacking play in the first two games, it could qualify as the worst in the NFL. Now, understand, the Eagles’ analytical department does not value linebackers. Still, if those analytics people studied the game against the Rams, they’d learn that Sean McVay valued attacking them in both run and pass.
Ahead of this season, the Eagles’ front office did not see the needs or apparent weaknesses on their roster. They felt comfortable with their team and believed the new coaches and Pederson could make the offense return to 2017 form. So far, we have not seen that. Now many are questioning the talent of Wentz. I am not one of those people. Can he get better? Yes, he needs to improve, he needs to take more to coaching, but he also needs to get some help. Wentz needs talent that is ready to play, not learning on the job.
People in Philadelphia have a right to be worried. Their team looks inadequate, and the hard part of the schedule is about to begin with trips to San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the next four weeks. Sure they can beat the Bengals this weekend, but the Eagles don’t look like a playoff team right now. They look like a mediocre team, which is what they’ve been the past two-plus years.
It’s easy to blame Wentz, but that might not be the whole issue. [theathletic.com]
Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia also believes Howie Roseman needs to shoulder the blame. The Eagles tried to get younger this offseason, but it still seems like the majority of their talent is in older veterans, leaving the future very much in doubt.
The worst thing about the Eagles’ 0-2 start is that you can’t dismiss it by saying, “Oh, at least the future is bright.”
Because who exactly is their future? ...
Sometimes bad teams are bad teams because they don’t have enough good players.
And if the first two weeks of this season have reaffirmed anything, it’s that the Eagles’ roster is made up of a handful of solid older veterans, a bunch of kids with uncertain futures and exactly three young players to get excited about.
This is Carson Wentz's mess and it’s Doug Pederson's mess, but in a greater sense it’s Howie Roseman's mess because this roster is his handiwork and after two games it looks perilously thin on talent.
Roseman built a Super Bowl champion out of a strange collection of journeymen, free agents, mid-round draft picks and aging veterans cranking it up for one last run at greatness, and he deserves all the accolades he got for that unforgettable run.
But that team is long gone. Most of those players are long gone. And Roseman's Midas touch seems to be long gone as well. At least, it sure looks that way two weeks in. [nbcsports.com]
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