Film review: Carson Wentz learning to fly in preseason opener

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The Eagles started their preseason with a bang, beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-7. But by far the biggest storyline of the game, was the debut of second overall pick Carson Wentz. The quarterback had a fairly solid outing, throwing for 89 yards, completing 50% of his passes and throwing just one pick. If you were to read his stat line alone, you wouldn’t be overly amazed..but when you rewatch the game, it’s a very different story. A story of an offense that didn’t give much in the way of breathing room and of a lack of help surrounding the second overall pick.

By the end of the second quarter, Wentzamania was running wild in Philadelphia. The fans were screaming “We want Wentz” at the top of their lungs after Chase Daniel failed to build any kind of Offensive momentum..and with 1:19 left in the second quarter, it happened. The rookie quarterback got to experience a two-minute offense courtesy of Doug Pederson..and his debut began.

His drive started with something that became all too familiar during Training camp. The ball sailed a little too high for Nelson Agholor and the result was a drop. Sure, Agholor should have really made the catch, but it looked like Wentz dropped his elbow a little quick and let it go too soon. Maybe it can be put down to nerves, but it’s something that’s happened far too often so far and that’s followed him into preseason.

It only took one more play for Wentz to show the other side of his Training camp form. A slide out of a collapsing pocket and a bullet to Zach Ertz over the middle to pick up his first ever new set of downs. This set the tone for Wentz’s debut and the Linc erupted. The way Wentz throws when on the move is beautiful. It’s something that Bradford and Daniel will never be able to do consistently, but something that the rookie can do with grace and elegance.

A short pass and an overthrow later, Ertz dropped a Wentz bullet over the middle on a slant route. The quarterback read the Nickel blitz well and got the ball out quickly, but again just a little too much mustard..forcing it to go through the hands of Zach Ertz.

With the third quarter underway, Wentz threw his best pass of the day in my opinion. Not because of the distance or the fact it was a pass on the move, but because of the situation. A miscommunication of the Offensive line saw Wentz receive the ball early and as a result, the offensive line couldn’t get in position…to stop anybody. With pressure coming from the both sides and the middle crumbling, Wentz rolled out to his right and launched a perfect pass to Paul Turner. The instincts shown here are what Daniel NEEDED to show earlier in the game and just failed to on every single play. The mental toughness of Wentz stands out here.

After two more drops, and even more shoddy protection from the offensive line, Wentz rolled out after a missed block forced him to react. With nothing open downfield, the rookie cut inside, found a lane and then slid for the first down. It’s the kind of athleticism that makes him so dangerous but the key thing here is the slide. At NDSU, Wentz would take defenders on, put his head down and drive for the extra yards. The coaches want to see him protect his body, and that’s exactly what he did here. An impressive play.

Wentz found Pantale on his next passing play over the middle, but put the ball on his back shoulder, forcing the hybrid TE to adjust and limit the amount of extra yards he could pick up. Wentz acknowledged that it was on him, but if that ball was thrown into the receiver’s route instead of at his current position..it would have been a big play.

A dump pass over the middle to M.J Mcfarland gave the Eagles another first down before throwing another pass over the middle to Paul Turner. It’s a key part of Pederson’s Offense, but all quarterbacks consistently aimed for their slot guys over the middle on slant routes to pick up momentum..and as Wentz heated up, the drops decreased and the balls seemed far better placed.

A few plays later, a bad snap saw the ball bounce back nearly 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Daniel or Bradford would have likely fell on the ball and taken the 3rd and 17 or so, but Wentz scooped it up, got out of danger, read the field and threw it out of bounds to keep it 3rd and short. An intelligent play that only really Wentz could make.

The Eagles found themselves inside the redzone and ran a play where Wentz’s favorite target, Paul Turner would run across the middle. Turnwe was picked up by the linebacker and jerked the route to try and keep him off guard. Wentz had significant pressure coming his way and a familiar story unfolded. The ball sailed over Paul Turner and straight into the hands of Johnson.

M.J McFarland may have been the better option on the outside running into the far corner of the endzone,  but with so much pressure coming..the field of view was limited. It was a bad throw, the pocket collapsed and his tendency to hold onto the ball too long was met head on with his panicky high passes. It was his worst play of the night, but it’s not deeply concerning.

With 29 seconds to go in the third, Wentz showed a trait that for me was one of his only setbacks in NDSU. Because of their superior O-Line, he often had plenty of time to throw the ball..not the case with a very leaky O-line in Philly. Wentz held onto the ball way too long here, didn’t step up quick enough and forced the ball towards Pantale. The result was an incompletion after essentially side swiping across the middle, but could have easily bounced off of a Buccaneer linebacker or guard rushing the pocket. The decision making was slow and while it was great that he got the ball out, Wentz has to be smarter.

Wentz later had to scramble again and threw the pass out of bounds. He had plenty of time in the pocket and it looked like he held the ball for too long again, but when you look at the routes, it’s clear why he did. There was simply nobody open. The Bucs showed great coverage and with the running back route being stopped by a linebacker, Wentz was left with nothing. He took the ball outside to try and force a look, but did the right thing in throwing it away.

A couple of plays later, Wentz found some space in the pocket and searched out an open Cayleb Jones. Again, the ball was simply overthrown. He had an open look underneath, an open look to his left and a running back over the middle in a beautifully designed play..but Wentz overthrow.

The high passes continued a drive later, but Doug Pederson reportedly wanted his future franchise QB to rush for a third down conversion once per game. It very almost happened for Wentz here before he was stopped abruptly. It looked like the quarterback tried to leap over but took too long setting his feet and as a result, the ground was swiped from underneath him. A good play, but short of the first down.

The next play I highlighted wasn’t the most electric or impressive of the game, but for those who followed my Pederson play-call analysis articles, you’ll remember how inconsistent the screen passes were in Kansas City. No complaints here, Wentz knew where that ball was going the moment it was snapped and the movement was extremely fluent. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you watch Alex Smith throw the same pass, it can get pretty worrying.

The final play I’m highlighting is the big hit taken on the penultimate pass. Wentz took his fair share of hard knocks in this game but he was left completely open to being ran over here and still showed great toughness in getting the throw off. It would have been easy to roll out or just prepare for the hit..but he did well to get the ball out accurately.

 

Considering the amount of drops sustained, a leaky Offensive line and a route tree that was pretty much covered by Tampa Bay, Wentz didn’t fare too badly at all in his first game as an Eagle. 6 of his 12 completions were to Paul Turner, which just goes to show how a reliable pair of hands can help move the chains..but at the end of the day, the birds put up just 3 points with Wentz on the field, which in a regular season game would not fly.

It was an encouraging start for the rookie, but it very much cemented what we thought coming in. Mentally and athletically, he’s ready for the NFL. But mechanically and fundamentally, Wentz is floating in Philadelphia, but he’s learning to fly.

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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