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November 26, 2019

What they're saying: In defense of Eagles QB Carson Wentz ... sort of

Eagles NFL
3_11032019_EaglesvsBears_Carson_Wentz_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Carson Wentz.

Carson Wentz has not been at his best lately — statistically, it's been the worst two-game stretch of his career since his rookie season — and it's been easy to see for anyone watching. It's also true that Wentz has been getting absolutely no help from the rest of the offense, whether that's been the play of his wide receivers or the struggles along the offensive line as both units deal with major injuries. 

This week, more than any, the Eagles fanbase seems legitimately split over whether or not to be worried about their team's franchise quarterback moving forward, or if this game was simply just a blip on the radar of his career that will soon be forgotten. 

While debates like those can be infuriating, weeks like this can also bring about some of the best player analysis. And the Eagles quarterback is no exception, as fans and analysts alike scramble to prove their side of the "Is it Wentz or is it the rest of the team?" debate is the correct one. 

Perhaps one of the best pieces of analysis comes from former NFL quarterback and known Wentz supporter Dan Orlovsky, who took to twitter to share his breakdown of just how bad Wentz' receivers were in Sunday's 17-9 loss to the Seahawks. And if you're averse to watching film breakdowns, one of the best things about Orlovsky's post is that it's easily digestible. 

A good way to get eyes to immediately glaze over is to mention film study or the amount of time you, an analyst, has spent eating game tape. At least that's what I, a self-described normal sports fan, think. I could be wrong. Perhaps others are more locked into the All-22 without the distraction of raking leaves or helping a buddy move or running back to the store because you got 2 Percent milk instead of skim.

So with that in mind, it's a real skill for a talking head to be able to break things down so even the idiots like me can understand it. And Dan Orlovsky, as it's been said before, is very good at doing so.

Here he is making quick work of the Philadelphia Eagles receiving corps, which did Carson Wentz no favors in a loss to Seattle yesterday and, really, hasn't done him any favors for a long time.  


That's the good stuff right there, and it makes it fairly easy to see that Wentz wasn't getting any help from his wideouts. Orlovsky wasn't the only one pointing out the fact that Wentz was made to look worse by the players around him, as former Eagles wideout Bryce Treggs was also stumping for Wentz on Twitter. 

So, what about the rest of the Internet? Well, not everyone was ready to deflect the majority of the blame from Wentz. And after watching the game a second time (why did I put myself through that?) it's pretty obvious that there's plenty of blame to go around on offense. Those who only want to blame Wentz are clearly ignoring the limitations of his wideouts, and those who think the loss falls squarely on his less-than-stellar skill players are turning a blind eye to a promising young quarterback who is obviously struggling at the moment. 

The truth, as usual, is likely somewhere in between. Of course, that ignores the head coach's culpability in all this, but that's another story for another day. Today, we focus on the quarterback.

Here's a look at what some members of the local and national media have to say about Wentz following two-straight home losses for the Eagles... 

Nowhere to go but up?

Robert Mays | The Ringer

Over at The Ringer, NFL writer Robert Mays included Wentz and the Eagles offense in his weekly observations, and correctly pointed out that there is blame on both sides as the Eagles offense "reached the low point" of their season against Seattle. But he actually pointed something out that many Eagles fans won't probably believe: Wentz is actually 7th in the NFL in expected points added for a quarterback. Maybe that will be some consolation for Eagles fans... 

...but probably not. Still, as is usually the case, things are never as bad as they appear.

Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ passing game reached the low point of their 2019 season on Sunday. Wentz averaged just 5.7 yards per attempt and threw a pair of interceptions in Philly’s 17-9 loss to the Seahawks. He also lost two fumbles, which brings his count up to five in the Eagles’ past five games. Wentz has had a tough year as Philadelphia has dealt with injuries to its offense, and those issues continued on Sunday. Both of Wentz’s fumbles were caused by pressure off the right side, where Halapoulivaati Vaitai was replacing an injured Lane Johnson. And with DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery still out of action, Wentz saw several throws glanced off his young receivers’ hands as he and his pass catchers struggled to get on the same page.

But Wentz also had some truly baffling moments in this game. On a third-and-9 from the Seahawks’ 10-yard line midway through the first quarter, Wentz airmailed a wide-open Miles Sanders in the flat, ruining a possible touchdown. He sailed another pass over Sanders’s head later in the quarter, too, when he had plenty of room to work in the flat. And both of Wentz’s picks came on woefully underthrown balls. Philly’s QB has averaged only 6.5 yards per attempt this season, but for the most part, his play has been better than his numbers indicate. He actually ranks seventh in expected points added among quarterbacks. Sunday was a rough day for Wentz, though, even when accounting for the deficiencies in his supporting cast. Philly is now 5-6 and could still make the playoffs in the watered-down NFC East. But this is not the Eagles offense many expected to see before the season.  []

Wentz destined to fail?

Eliot Shorr-Parks | 94 WIP

Despite what I wrote in the intro, not all former NFL quarterbacks and Eagles players are going to bat for Carson Wentz.

Michael Vick was on Speak For Yourself on FS1 on Monday and said that once Nick Foles won Philly's first Super Bowl, Wentz was essentially destined to fail because expectations had been set so high. And he isn't wrong, at least about the expectations part of it. What Foles did in Philly will never be replicated, so if fans are trying to hold Wentz up to that standard, good luck. Take a listen for yourself... 

If you're somewhere where you can't watch that, here's a transcript of Vick's comments and some analysis, courtesy of WIP Eagles writer Eliot Shorr-Parks:

“He will fail in Philadelphia. I think, just the bar has been set so high by Nick Foles,” Vick said. “Regardless of when he came in, he did what he did. They won the Super Bowl. Now, it is a ceiling that has been set. Along with Carson Wentz’s character, which has been questioned at time by his teammates and the public, it just makes it difficult for him. He is just fighting an uphill battle continuously week-in-and-week-out. To win, be a good teammate — it is a lot. That takes a lot on you and from you to handle that responsibility. On top of that, you got a guy who probably go down as one of the greats of all time in Nick Foles and you have to chase that? That’s difficult.”

There is a lot of truth to Vick’s assessment of the situation. Wentz is being held to the standard that Foles set. The Foles statue outside of Lincoln Financial Field makes that clear. As the Eagles have found out since the start of last season, winning the second Super Bowl is in someways harder than winning the first. Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman and other key players on the team are viewed as fighting for the second one. Wentz, fair or not, is viewed as fighting for his first. If winning the Super Bowl is the bar Wentz has to get to, and has to win two to pass Foles, that is going to be an extremely tough task.  []

MORE: Is Wentz the problem? He was in Eagles' ugly loss to Seahawks

The view from the top

Mike Sando | The Athletic

We've looked at what former players and media analysts have had to say, now let's take a look at what those working in the NFL have to say about Wentz' play, and the Eagles at large, for that matter. In his weekly observations column, The Athletic's Mike Sando covered the Eagles' loss to Seattle and actually spoke to an NFL evaluator and a front office executive about the team and what's been going wrong this season, one that started with Super Bowl expectations and has slowly devolved into simply hoping to sneak into the playoffs. 

“He didn’t really have a chance,” said an evaluator who watched the Seattle game. “Those guys were all over him. Their receiver corps is not what it used to be. Their line is not that great and they were shuffling guys all over. It is hard when that is going on to say it is all Carson Wentz’s fault, but the fumbles stood out. Those fumbles were bad. He is not protecting the ball. I think Wentz can play. I just think that they had good talent that first year and now I think it’s just hard.”

The schedule eases up with the Dolphins, Giants and Redskins next for Philadelphia, just as Dallas hits a tougher stretch. The NFC East race is not over, but even if the Eagles rally against their soft schedule, then what? It’s easy to pile on after a string of difficult games, but it’s tough to spin this Eagles season as merely bad luck. Keeping open a championship window is hard.

“They have traded away draft picks, traded up, signed old players, extended old players and I’m not sure it makes sense,” an exec said. “They traded for Golden Tate last year. He’s not a speed guy. They did a weird deal with Alshon Jeffery. They extended Brandon Brooks. We’ll see how it works out.”  []

So, what can be done?

Martin Frank | Delaware News Journal

Over at the News Journal, Martin Frank came up with a handful of ways the Eagles can improve from within, and No. 1 on that list is getting Wentz into better positions. Getting Wentz out of the pocket and on the move is something I've long been a proponent of the team doing. That's not to say Wentz should be running up and down the field like Lamar Jackson, but rather he should be trying to move the pocket, make life easier on his lineman and perhaps allowing some of his receivers to get open or causing a defensive back or linebacker to make the choice to come up and cover Wentz or stay with the receiver. 

But when Pederson was asked on Monday about things the Birds can do to help play to Wentz' strengths, moving him out of the pocket was not one of the things the Eagles coach mentioned. That would be a real shame, as Wentz seems more than capable of doing that more. 

So why not roll Wentz out more, where he can buy himself more time to find someone open? If no one is open, Wentz can take off and run. 

Pederson said the Eagles can play to Wentz's strengths more. This would be a good way to do it.

"Obviously, the quick passing game, being able to throw slants, being able to throw the ball to the flat, the (run-pass option) game, he's very successful at that," Pederson said. "Those are the things that as we construct these game plans that we think about."

Keep thinking, then.  []

Looking to the future

Tim McManus | ESPN

In the short term, things should get better for Wentz, as the Eagles' schedule is much easier moving forward and he should be getting some players back from injury. 

But what about in the long term? Have opposing teams figured out how to stop Wentz and the Eagles offense? If so, that's on Pederson and the coaches. Sure, there's some work to do on Wentz' part, but as we said at the top, this isn't just about one player.

How does Wentz project moving forward?

Expect his play to pick up starting Sunday in Miami (1 p.m. ET, Fox). He'll likely have Johnson and Brooks back, and one or more of his starting receivers as well, which will stabilize things.

Still, it's probably going to be a slog on offense for the remainder of the season with a lack of speed on the outside and nagging injuries affecting expected production out of key contributors such as Jeffery. As safety Malcolm Jenkins noted after Sunday's game, playing complementary football down the stretch will be key. With the defense operating at a high level, Wentz and the offense need to be strong on ball security and timely in their attack.

Big picture, Wentz is still capable of being the high-end quarterback who flashed so brightly in 2017. But defenses have worked to limit some of his strengths at the same time the Eagles have pulled back on the amount the QB uses his legs in the name of career longevity. It's on the coaching staff to come up with a counterpunch and find ways to use his greatest strengths while not overexposing him to harm.

And it's on Wentz to correct some of these bad tendencies, such as fumbles and holding onto the ball too long, which should no longer be an issue in Year 4.  []

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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