Greatness is often polarizing. From great Actors to great musicians, it’s rare to find a true greatness without a public disagreement in the modern day. Sports are no exception. LeBron James, Conor McGregor, Sidney Crosby are all exceptional in their crafts and future legends of their respected sports..but public opinion is split down the middle.
Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has had a phenomenal start to his NFL career. Not only is he yet to throw an interception, but he’s found the endzone 5 times and threw for 769 yards, completing 64.7% of his passes, shattering records and making history along the way. The fact that the second overall pick was drafted out of NDSU after a short season and was expected to be a “project quarterback” makes his sensational start even more impressive.
However, like with all great success stories..there has been a fair share of criticism thrown in the direction of Carson Wentz..mainly because of how often the former Bison will “dink and dunk” his way down the field and rely on screen passes, somewhat discrediting his overall performance, according to some.
Even though Jimmy Kempski of Philly Voice wrote a brilliant article that shut the argument down completely, if you take the initial criticism at face value..it’s even harder to understand..which draws a nice comparison to another player, overlooked by many, with a strong work ethic, who relies on a particular part of his game to simply dominate. That man is Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.
The rise of Steph Curry in the NBA has been one of the most fascinating in years. From being a draft prospect that was overlooked by just about everyone throughout most of his career and blossoming into arguably the most prolific shooter the league has ever seen, Curry’s emergence has been nothing short of historic..but how does this in any way relate to Carson Wentz and his screen passes?!
The NBA is in a three-point bubble. Last year, Golden State shot over 2,200 3-pointers and shocked the world. People were losing their minds and were quick to call Steph Curry a human video game as his team averaged 27 three-pointers per game. But fast forward 12 months and 8 NBA teams shot MORE than 2,200 three pointers during the regular season. Without mentioning how insanely deadly Curry’s three-point shot is or the numerous accolades accumulated as a result, the point is simple. The rest of the league are playing catch up to a team that is dominating the current “bubble” because it’s the success of the 3-pointer that makes Curry the most dangerous man on the court.
Similarly, the NFL is in a “Screen bubble”. One of the main criticism’s Wentz faces is that he throws a lot of screen passes. Without justifying this with actual reasoning (like the Steelers giving up 100 screen yards to Gio Bernard the week before they faced the Eagles), I’m going to compare it with a league trend.
According to Scott Kacsmar, Wentz has “the third-shortest throws, the third-most YAC, the second-lowest pressure rate.” That’s all well and good, but Wentz isn’t the only quarterback to utilize screen passes in recent years..and if they’re successful, (larger yards after catch numbers) then surely that’s a good sign? It would be slightly worrying if the Eagles kept slinging screens for no gain…*cough, Chip Kelly*.
Carson Wentz averages 7.54 yards per pass completion. 14 quarterbacks average below 7 yards..which after three games is still a small sample size.
In 2015, that number was 10.
In 2014, that number was 9.
In 2013, that number was 18.
In 2012, that number was 17.
In 2011, that number was 17.
In 2010, that number was 14.
In 2009, that number was 16.
The short passing game has become critical to Offenses in the NFL..and a large part of the West-Coast style offense is using the screen. In fact, 9,845 yards of Offense in 2014 came from screen plays. That accounts for around 7% of total quarterback passing yardage during that season, so if the screen pass really is as “cheap and easy” as people make out, shouldn’t it be accounting for a much higher percentile?
Carson Wentz ranks 17th in accuracy this year so far, but is yet to turn the ball over..and his team have 682 receiving yards on the year..leading the league. So either the “screen bubble” is completely false and Wentz airs it out as consistently as anyone in the league..or there is a “bubble” and it just so happens that the Eagles versatility combined with the pro style Offense ran by Wentz in college mean’s he’s better suited to take full advantage of it and make those “YAC” plays count.
If the birds really are gaining the third most yards after a catch on such short throws..that’s a testament to structured schematic success and playing within your strengths in a tailored Offense..I wonder where we have seen that before……
The underdog background:
Like Steph Curry, Carson Wentz is emerging into a superstar that nobody saw coming. In Curry’s freshman year at high school, he stood at just 5’4. Wentz stood just four inches taller entering his freshman season leaving him an uphill battle to win over his high school coaches if he was to play quarterback instead of DB.
Both players rose through college under the radar until some big moments during the latter stages of their careers. Talent evaluators have been called out for completely sleeping on both Wentz and Curry, with both players receiving the same level of negative scouting. We all know about the Browns who opted to pass on Carson Wentz and the reports stating Wentz “wasn’t pro-ready”..and Stephen Curry was in a similar situation coming into the draft back in 2008.
Both players started their rookie season with a chip on their shoulder..and both players have an inspirational work ethic. Like his players, Doug Pederson has had nothing but praise for the way that Carson Wentz has approached such a chaotic entrance to the NFL. Reports of Wentz watching game-tape on dates were only backed up by those saying he’s at he facility everyday at 5AM..which sounds eerily similar..
Many of the same mental strengths that make Wentz so different and dangerous can be seen in Steph Curry..and that’s not a coincidence. It’s also worth noting that both are devote christians and place heavy emphasis in their faith.
One of the criticisms Steph Curry faces is that many view him as one dimensional. If you take away Curry’s shooting, what value does he bring to the team? Is he a lockdown defender? Can he score points inside and get boards? When debating “MVP” voting this is something that often came up..but why would you need to take away his shooting from range if it’s that pivotal to the team’s success?
Curry broke his own record for most three pointers hit in a single season last year..a record he set just a year before. The rest of the NBA is now playing catchup to Curry and the Warriors, trying to find a way to shoot the three-ball. The Cavs did it in the finals, the Thunder almost toppled the Dubs by beating them at their own game and the Sixers surprisingly shot the sixth most threes in the league..only the five teams to shoot more averaged more than 101 points per game. The Sixers averaged 93.
It’s still early days for Carson Wentz but many are of the assumption that taking deep shots down the field is where he tends to struggle. The fact that the Eagles have completed just five passes over 25 yards backs that up to a degree, whereas the drops and called back touchdowns beg to differ..and this is where watching tape becomes so important to this argument.
But again, this isn’t an article justifying the numbers Wentz has seemingly posted. For the sake of this argument (I think we all know it’s not a common belief) if the Eagles Offense is so rampant and Wentz is believed to ONLY be successful in the short-passing game, why would he take risky shots down the field? Especially when the entire point of the Offense is to manage the game..something Wentz has done incredibly well with his Offense leading the league in time of possession. Julio Jones caught the 3rd most screens of any receiver in 2014 but nobody seems to complain or paint him a shade of grey.
If such a point is being made of the Eagles racking up so much YAC through screen passes..then find a way to stop it. Because just like in the NBA, the league is in a bubble..and the Eagles Offense looks to be the best team at making the most of such a unique opportunity given their versatile backfield, athletic QB and mismatch WR’s.
But be it on the field, off the field, history, criticism endured in the presence of greatness, faith, work ethic or simply an ability to turn heads like not many are able to do in their respective fields, Stephen Curry and Carson Wentz have a lot in common. It’s still early days, but if the main criticism of Carson Wentz is going to be that he doesn’t throw the ball deep down the field very often, it’s almost identical to “Curry hurts his team on Defense”..and a criticism most will be willing to accept in exchange for sustained success.