Carson Wentz has emerged as the face of the Eagles franchise, but has the hype train in Philadelphia travelled a bit too far?
It’s not hard to see why he exists. In the team’s first 3 games, the Eagles surprised many by running out to a 3-0 start, with Wentz, the 2nd pick in the draft, completing 64.7% of his passes for 769 yards, 5 touchdowns, and no interceptions for a passer rating of 103.8. This suggests he’s off to a promising start.
That hasn’t stopped media from showering him as the new golden boy of the league, however. Fans and analysts have already appointed Wentz as the best rookie quarterback in a long long time, as well as “the next great young quarterback.” Pro Football Focus has Carson Wentz as their highest graded quarterback as of week 3. NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger went as far to say that “Carson Wentz is Peyton Manning pre-snap, Aaron Rodgers post snap.”
This is the kind of analysis that only encourages the skeptics.
When I first watched Wentz in the preseason opener, I noted a few impressive traits, but was underwhelmed by his accuracy. I focused on that because much of the blame during that game was on his receivers, when in actuality his throws weren’t on target. Still, I wanted to use that game as a frame of reference, then visit that some other place and time. What better place then here, what better time than now?
My verdict? Wentz’s rookie season hype is a bit overwhelming, but he is indeed off to a good start.
In this article, I will highlight both the pros and cons from Wentz’s first three games so far. To start off, I’ll twist things and get the cons out of the way first, then start with the pros.
Running out of pockets
This is a factor that hasn’t quite shown up as much because of the quality of the Eagles’ pass protection, but it is an issue I see for the time being. Running out of pockets isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes it can be beneficiary. But depending on the protection and where the receiver is inside the pocket, it can harm the team on a few plays.
In the first GIF, the Browns use a 4 man rush, which is easily outmatched by the Eagles’ 5-man protection scheme. The protection is great, but no one is immediately open. Wentz should stay in the pocket and continue to survey the field.
Instead, Wentz rushes left and runs out of a clean pocket, where he then runs into pressure and is forced to throw the ball away. This is a failed play on the quarterback. While no one was open immediately, Wentz panicked despite a clean pocket. That’s not something you want your quarterback to do, especially early on, and a lot of analysts miss out on this detail.
On this play, the pocket isn’t so clean, because the left edge rusher breaks free of the protection. The Bears defense only rushes 3 defenders in. Wentz should have stepped back and moved to his right, which would have bought him much more time. This is a trait that only a few quarterbacks in the league, the elites so to speak, so to not expect this from a rookie is understandable, but it’s a trait I wish so many more quarterbacks would have.
Wentz scrambles to his left instead, and gains very little on his run. This isn’t as big of an issue as the previous GIF, but I would like to have seen better pocket presence (perhaps I’m being a bit picky).
The worst part about this play is that I had to include the Soldier Field All-22 angle in an article, but that’s a different story. Here, Wentz is forced out of the pocket due to pressure, but does not notice an open target on the left side of the field. The quarterback ended up getting a few yards on the scramble, but better awareness would’ve gotten more, as the defense did not have a great angle on the receiver on the left side.
Touch accuracy is a strength Wentz has shown off, but also one where he’ll need to find improvement in.
All 5 of these throws are examples where Wentz struggled in accuracy and placement. Wentz’s arm talent has been celebrated, but on some throws like the aforementioned ones have too much juice on them. It’s something he’ll hopefully show with more consistency, but for the time being he has to work on it.
People Lack An Understanding of the Situation Around Him
This isn’t exactly a con against Wentz as much as it is a con with many analysts. When showering the quarterback with praise for being the next Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, or Aaron Rodgers, these people don’t understand the situation he is in, which is a very good one for the time being.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson runs a conservative dink and dunk offense in Philly. Under him, the pass protection and run game have appeared to improve dramatically. Wentz has been sacked just 4 times in 3 games; 25 quarterbacks have gotten sacked more than him. The receivers still have consistency issues with catching the ball, but under Pederson the play calling is fresher, the line formations are much improved, and the run game is rejuvenated.
In addition, Pederson has not asked Wentz to stretch the field as much or as far as past rookie quarterbacks have.
Via sportingcharts.com, the chart above places starting rookie quarterbacks since 2011. Dak Prescott and Wentz are both included because they began the season as starters for their respective teams. While Prescott’s 4.37 air yards per attempt ranks 4th among the QBs, Wentz’s 3.39 ranks 13th. In 2016 alone he is 2nd last in air yards per attempt, with only Philip Rivers below him. No one is trying to say that he’s comparable to the quarterbacks below him in this chart, but this is to show what the play calling has been like around the quarterback thus far in the season.
And finally, the defenses he’s faced aren’t exactly the cream of the crop. The Browns and Steelers have two of the worst defenses this season, giving up easy plays and having guys blow by them with zero difficulty. Likewise, the Bears defense, while not as bad, is still flawed enough. This wouldn’t really matter if the scheme wasn’t so good and receivers weren’t getting open easily, but it’s happened here.
I would like to see Wentz face a tougher defense so as to test him under pressure. The first real test is the Vikings defense, which has been excellent this year, in week 7 at home. The Seahawks will also welcome the rookie to Centurylink Field, as they’ve had one of the league’s top defenses for a long time.
This is why I have an issue with the hype centered on the rookie passer. It isn’t to say he does not deserve credit, or that Eagles fans don’t deserve to be excited about him, but maybe we should temper our expectations for him and just watch him develop.
Now, since I’ve gotten the Cons out of the way, let’s take a look at the Pros, because there is plenty to like regarding Wentz.
The main reason I was so skeptical about Wentz coming out college was because of his footwork. I had watched some of his film dating back then, and was not impressed by (what I saw to be) sloppy footwork under pressure, resulting in a lot of inaccurate throws.
To my pleasant surprise, however, it appears that is no longer a serious issue. In fact, Wentz’s footwork has often been really good this season.
The three plays above are great examples of how Wentz has striven with his footwork this season. It’s played a part in keeping his turnovers at zero.
The first GIF shows off Wentz’s clean mechanics. He’s given great protection and plenty of space to throw the ball. He’s able to stay cool and wait for a receiver to get open, then darts an accurate pass.
The second GIF is a great play not just because of Wentz’s feet, but also because of his quick release. Pay attention to how quick his throwing motion is on the play; the quick release really helps the dime arrive on time for the touchdown.
The third GIF is a great play overall. Despite the pocket crumbling just a shade, Wentz does not shake or step back awkwardly like certain quarterbacks do. Instead, he pump fakes and fires an excellent tight pass to his receiver for a big gain.
It’s the fact that he stood tall on the play in the third GIF that really sold it. Speaking of which…
The Ability To Stand Tall And Take Hits
This is my favorite part about Wentz’s play thus far; his ability to stand tall and take hits. Thankfully, the offensive line has played very well so Wentz hasn’t had to get hit too many times. But in situations where he has, he’s made some great plays.
In the first GIF, One defender comes in unblocked, so the quarterback has to get rid of the ball immediately, and he does for an accurate and impressive pass. The play was called back due to an offensive holding penalty, but Wentz did a nice job handling pressure. The 2nd GIF is similar, except now it counts.
The 3rd GIF is the best of the bunch. Wentz could have moved up a little in the pocket, btu credit him nevertheless for keeping cool. The placement just before he’s hit on this pass is beautiful, and it’s a big gain.
Wentz has good athleticism and can buy time in the pocket and scramble. These two plays are the best examples of it.
In the first GIF, Wentz does a great job of escaping pressure, then wisely takes his time with the new amount of space being provided for him, as he waits for Darren Sproles to get open. There, he fires the pass and connects for a touchdown.
The 2nd GIF is much more impressive, however. When I highlighted Wentz running out of clean pockets earlier, it wasn’t to suggest he can’t do it. He just needs more consistent moments like the one above. Here he wisely moves to his left, manipulates the defense with his eyes, then fires a terrific pass for a long play. This is the kind of play that separates the top quarterbacks from the rest, and if Wentz can do this consistently he’ll be there soon enough.
One benefit of having great arm talent for most quarterbacks of this criteria is also having a quick release. Wentz fires a nice smooth release, which helps significantly with the accuracy of his throws.
The first GIF offers such, and is caught for a nice gain. The last 2 GIF show dropped passes, but the release and placement on the throws are sublime. It has yet to be determined if Philadelphia’s receivers will screw Wentz over with their inconsistency, but if he can continue to give them placement like this, it may not be as big of an issue as we’d think.
Carson Wentz is off to an impressive start, but we need to wait before anointing him as the next great quarterback. I would like to see him against tougher defenses in addition to more consistency with his accuracy and play under clean pockets.
Still, Wentz has exceeded expectations I had for him entering the season. He has played smart, does a good job surveying the field before and after the snap, and has significantly improved his accuracy, footwork, and playmaking abilities through the first 3 weeks of the season.
Time will tell if he can keep this up, but if it’s of any indication, Wentz is off to a very promising start. So let’s wait to crown him and just enjoy watching his development.
(Featured image via sports.yahoo.com)