All-22: Understanding the regression of Carson Wentz

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After starting his NFL career in a way nobody could have predicted, Carson Wentz has seemingly had a tough time as of late. Without much help from a struggling receiving corps, a wounded Offensive Line and an inconsistent backfield, many have questioned whether Wentz has actually been simply a victim of a stagnating Offense and some poor coaching. I decided to take a look back at all 60 pass attempts from Sunday’s loss to the Bengals to decipher what’s going on with the Eagles rookie quarterback.

In his first five games, Carson Wentz had 7 touchdowns and 2 turnovers. In his last five? 3 touchdowns and 9 turnovers. The problems that we’re seeing now haven’t been prominent in all five of those games, (a record of 1-4)..but certain things have and interestingly, they all seem to intertwine.

Adaptation:

The Bengals started the game in a dominant fashion, looking to set the tone early on. If there has one thing that the Eagles Offense has become renowned for, it’s short passes. Wentz has averaged under 6.5 yards per pass in six games this season and now Defenses are starting to figure out how to thwart a limited air attack. It was obvious from the first play that the Bengals front four had been instructed to get their arms up and knock down any passes heading in their direction, as opposed to focusing on hitting the quarterback. Wentz keeps his eyes locked on Zach Ertz here, giving Dunlap all the reasoning he needs to get an arm up and bat the opening pass of the day down.

“Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” is how the traditional saying goes, but what about five times? Because that’s how many passes were batted down by the Bengals in the Offensive collapse on Sunday. It certainly didn’t help that Kenjon Barner fell down on the second batted pass of the day, but the same pattern can be seen..even on a screen. The idea of a screen is obviously to focus in on the running back anyway, making this a kind of exception, but the point is that once again, Wentz had his play dissected with ease, allowing the Bengals to bat down another pass.

Even on plays where the passes weren’t batted down, the Bengals edge rushers often came close. Wentz snaps to his outside read and targets Agholor for a quick gain but the play very almost comes undone. Notice how Dunlap actually pushes back from his assignment in order to jump up and try and thwart the passing attempt. This was a theme that ran deep into the game, but Wentz never seemed to account for it.

It is naturally very difficult to loft passes higher without accounting for the consequences, or change the Offense so that these short routes are few and far between. But as a quarterback with an ability to audible (in a stadium that’s very quiet) that’s just as impressive as his athletic tendencies, Wentz could have absolutely made some really subtle changes to take advantage of a front four expecting short passes. This makes the decision to rarely run the ball even more confusing if the Defense simply wasn’t prepared for it.

 

College tendencies:
Because Wentz played behind such a stellar Offensive line at NDSU, he’s used to having plenty of time in the pocket. Holding onto the ball for too long was a concern coming into the season and it’s more prominent than ever now we’re approaching the backend of it. It’s becoming relatively well known that the rookie has a tendency to stare down receivers longer than he should. The Seahawks and Packers thrived on his inability to consistently manipulate a Defense with his eyes..and this feeds directly into this problem.

On the play below, Wentz solely looks at both Dorial Green-Beckham and Zach Ertz, who are both running down the left hand side of the field. Notice how the coverage linebackers keep their eyes on the quarterback as opposed to the dangerous tight end coming right at them. Failing to acknowledge a contrasting scenario on the right hand side of the field, where Nelson Agholor has room to breathe and the running back is wide open underneath, Wentz instead forces the ball to Dorial Green-Beckham, resulting in what SHOULD have been another interception.

Wentz normally has fantastic pocket presence (as we’ll detail later), but if he locks into a read too early, it can often cost him. With his eyes waiting for Wendell Smallwood, Wentz was oblivious to the pressure coming off the edge, allowing just the slightest bit of contact to interfere with the throw and force it wayward, into the hands of Burfict.

As the pressure began to build and the ball was forced into Wentz’s hands 60 times, it’s fair to say that the rookie was almost playing with an instinct to make something big happen as opposed to taking what was given to him. Wentz looked oddly unaware of the collapsing pocket here, rolling out and throwing a great pass to Paul Turner instead. Although the pass was complete, Wentz held onto the ball for too long in a big situation as he appeared to put the Offense on his back and do all the work himself.

This is kind of reminiscent of a lot of things. The lack of talent around him, a poor run game and some bad coaching all play into that. But when you have a Quarterback losing consistently for the first time in his career, with a Defense that couldn’t get a stop, on a team held scoreless until this point and in a mechanical funk, he’s going to try and do all he can to break out of it. That aspect of his game, I believe, is on the team..not a young guy with the weight of an entire team on his shoulders.

 

Decision making:
Wentz may still be stunningly accurate at times and show off great arm strength in others, but that’s not to say his decision making hasn’t faltered in recent games. Inside the redzone, Wentz had two receivers in one-on-one matchups outside, with Dorial Green-Beckham being one of them. Instead of looking to throw it to the back of the endzone or even to Paul Turner who slid underneath and would have easily caught a first down, Wentz forced it to Zach Ertz on his first read, despite the fact he was completely blanketed.

The next play is one of the more interesting ones in this All-22. Wentz scans the field before snapping his body to the opposite side in an attempt to find his running back. Wentz then opted against that, keeping his eyes downfield and slinging it over the middle. The only problem was, the moment that Wentz snapped to the middle of the field, George Illoka came storming down from the top to join an already crowded blanket, forcing yet another incompletion. Wentz gave his game away by making it all too obvious where he was going to throw the football, opting out of to short routes that would have likely been completions.

The poor decision making of Wentz came back to haunt him late on, with an overthrown pass that was easily picked off. Again, Wentz made his intent clear early on in the down and a pack of Bengals reaped the rewards..but notice again how there was another bat attempt from the pass rush.

At the end of the game, the Eagles were simply trying to go for a home run and leave Cincy with dignity. Which makes it even more baffling why Nelson Agholor was completely ignored on this route. For me, Agholor in this game was playing in the exact same fashion as he did against the Jets in week four of last season. Consistently finding holes to break into and never receiving the attention to make a big play. Wentz instead threw into double coverage on the edge of the endzone, never once looking Agholor’s way.

The exact same thing happened earlier in the game two. Agholor had beaten zone coverage on the outside and even Paul Turner had a chance to break into space. But Wentz stayed focused on Zach Ertz and once again, the Bengals made him pay for it.

 

Dispelling the misconceptions:
The argument of Wentz having a complete lack of weaponry around him is a double edged sword..but one that the media and fans refused to swing in Sam Bradford’s defense last season. But as much as the Eagles crave outside help as well as reenforcement at just about every position on Offense besides quarterback and tight end, it wouldn’t solve everything.

Wentz overthrows Dorial Green-Beckham on the play below, after the 6’5 receiver broke into space. It’s not the first time it’s happened and it won’t likely be the last..but you simply cannot afford to throw a receiver in that situation, especially one who is 6’5. Even if the Eagles had a dominant receiving threat on the outside, there’s no guarantee Wentz as of right now would be able to get the most out of him.

 

The bright side:
Even in darkness, there’s often a sign of light. Wentz still showed signs of becoming a franchise quarterback and demonstrated some incredible accuracy and ball placement. On this play-action route to preseason hero Paul Turner, Wentz was near perfect, slotting the ball between two defenders as opposed to going over the top or attempting a back-shoulder pass. This allowed Turner to burst down the sideline for a big play.

Talking of tight windows, Wentz did a great job of finding Trey Burton over the middle for a 15-yard gain here. A tough pass to make by anyone’s standard, Wentz drilled it into a narrow window, straight into the arms of Burton.

 

The truth:
It’s important to remove the rose tinted glasses here. Carson Wentz is struggling and that much is clear. Overthrows and high passes are creeping their way back into his game, poor decision making and a tendency to hold onto the ball for too long have all held him and the Offense back, but people are mixing up the reasons with why these issues are happening with the issues themselves.

1)  With no help around him and a strange decision to force Wentz to throw 60 times, the Eagles quarterback is naturally going to come undone. The reason why Wentz was originally drafted to sit his rookie season was to iron out these problems, the issues that plagued him in Training camp.

2) It’s the first real time we’ve seen Wentz lose consistently. The frustration is beginning to grow and as Wentz places more emphasis on putting the team on his back to make something happen, the more he isolates himself and opens himself up to errors and out of character tendencies.

3) The Eagles have such limited receiving options that Wentz is naturally going to focus in on the most dangerous men available. Hence why Ertz is often his primary target. But as those options become fewer and fewer, Wentz is expected to do more. Routes that were easy are no longer viable, passes that were simple are now difficult and the overall gameplan becomes skewed against Wentz.

You can’t sugarcoat the recent performances of Carson Wentz, but if you take them for what they are..you begin to see that Carson Wentz is facing the same issues Sam Bradford had one year ago..but only this time he has the entire city on his side. His rookie mistakes are being forgiven and his flaws overlooked. But if Sam Bradford played like this last season, there would have been riots.

 

Defending the reasons behind the regression of Carson Wentz is easy, defending the regression itself is difficult. It’s clear Wentz has the ability to make things happen, regardless of what weapons he has..(just look at Andrew Luck), but the demons are crawling back out of their holes and clinging on for dear life as Carson Wentz faces adversity for the first time in his career.

There’s no doubt that the Eagles quarterback looks like a completely different player to the one we saw in the opening weeks of the season and while giving him a pass for this is viable, it wouldn’t be right. Understanding why his flaws are being exploited more and more however is something that is far more important for anyone within the Eagles organization and the media.

 

Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

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