EAGLES BIG PICTURE HURTS
By: Joe Staszak
Carson Wentz is in his 5th year as the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Only once in his career has his team not made it to the postseason. Unfortunately only once has he suited up for one of those post-season games. His playoff career has accounted for 9 snaps of the teams 345 playoff quarterback snaps over 6 playoff games If you’re keeping score at home that means that the franchise quarterback here in Philly has played 2.6% percent of the offensive plays in the postseason since he was drafted number two overall in 2016. Since his recent four year contract extension that could possibly be worth up to $153 million, Wentz is averaging about $25,700,00 per year. That means he got paid $2,855,555.56 per play in last year’s playoff game with Seattle after leaving the game with a concussion. He went 1/4 for three yards and was sacked once for a whopping qb rating of 39.6. His replacement Josh McKown finished the game 18/24 for 174 yards and a QB rating of 94.8. But despite a gutty performance, as it turned out he was playing on one hamstring, he threw no touchdown passes and went 0-3 in the red zone as the Birds came up short to the Seahawks 17-9 in what appeared to be a very winnable game. On a day when the Eagles defense held the best quarterback in football, Russell Wison, to just one TD pass, the Birds, thus squandered an opportunity to advance to the 2nd round of the playoffs for the 3rd consecutive season.
His 5th straight season with an injury, dating back to college, left Wentz unavailable to play in the biggest game of the season. I’ve never been concerned about his ability or his talent. He has one of the best skill sets in the league. As long as he stays on the field I’ve never been concerned about his play and or his leadership as the team”s franchise quarterback Until now.
Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong.
His poor play in the first two weeks have cost his team possibly two victories. He’s turned the ball over five times in two weeks and opponents have scored 24 points off of those five miscues. The Eagles also turned the ball over on downs once to the Rams on Sunday, which is almost as bad as a turnover, and it cost them another seven points. They turned the ball over on downs twice against the Washington Football Team in week one and it cost them another six points to go along with the 14 points Washington scored off of Wentz’ two interceptions earlier in the game.
Coming into the season Wentz had thrown 97 touchdowns and only 37 interceptions in his career. That’s a fantastic TD/INT ratio. In fact Wentz is the only quarterback in the history of the NFL to throw for 20 touchdowns or more and seven interceptions or less in three consecutive sessions. He also had a 13 game stretch in 2017 where he went 11-2 and threw 33 touchdowns versus only 7 interceptions and most thought he was headed for an MVP award prior to tearing up his knee in week 14 versus the Rams.
But right now that Carson Wentz is just an aberration of what used to be a franchise-looking quarterback. Other than his rookie season the most picks that Wentz has thrown in a season is seven. He’s already thrown four. And they have been costly ones as turnovers always are. But more than that, his accuracy is off. Way off. And a lot of it has to do with his mechanics. HIs foot work has been horrible and he looks extremely uncomfortable even in a clean pocket. In the opener the offensive line had massive problems with Washington’s front seven. But four of the sacks could be attributed to Wentz’ inability to throw the ball away instead of trying to be Superman. Now a constant furious pass rush could cause the most experienced quarterbacks to get a little skittish, develop happy feet, perceive pressure that’s not there and to rush throws.
But on Sunday there was virtually no pressure. The Rams all-pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald recorded just one tackle and one hit. The Eagles offensive line gave up zero sacks. There was no excuse for Sunday’s poor performance from #11. With all the time in the world he still managed to throw two interceptions and one of them was a complete game changer. Down five early in the 3rd quarter and the ball at the Rams 21 yard line Wentz tried to squeeze a ball in a very tight window to his worst receiver, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, in the end zone and the ball ended up in the hands of the Rams Darrious Williams, who made an unbelievable interception. The untimely turnover completely thwarted any momentum left from a late 2nd quarter touchdown that resulted from a Cooper Kupp fumbled punt at the Rams 11 with :45 seconds left in the half. The NFL is a very unforgiving league and Wentz got what he deserved. The Rams led 21-16 at that point in the game. The Eagles would get no closer.
So the Birds are off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 2015 and if you are what your record says you are then that’s about right. But should we be surprised at how out of sync the team looks this year? If you’ve been watching closely then the answer is a resounding no!. The evidence has been clear and convincing but I think most of us got fooled by the fact that the team earned themselves three straight playoff berths. We all know winning tends to be a cure all but it can also mask inherent problems within the anatomy of an organization from the top on down. And this team has problems from the top on down.
In the simplest terms and the most convenient definition this team lacks talent. And virtually none is on the way either. General Manager, Howie Roseman continues to bungle draft after draft after draft and that continues to set this team back year after year after year. Since 2016 Roseman has drafted three impact players. That’s right a whopping three! Carson Wentz (and right now that’s debatable), tight end Dallas Goedert and running back Miles Sanders. That’s it. The only player left from the 2017 draft other than 5th round linebacker Nate Gerry is defensive end Derek Barnett and he has arguably been a bust. And right now it looks like he’s lost his starting job to a 4th round pick in Josh Sweat.
And what about that “vaunted” defensive line? Could they be more overrated? I got blasted on the air for saying that last year but I stand by my assertion. The Birds have committed $212 million to their top four defensive lineman: Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Malik Jackson and Javon Hargrave. The four have combined for one sack in the first two games. Cox, a defensive tackle, will make $12 million this year and hasn’t had a sack in the last seven games. He also has just one sack in seven playoff games. Defensive end Brandon Graham has two sacks in his last eight games. He will take home $11 million this year. Hargave, who played in his first game Sunday will make $13 million this season and he failed to record a tackle in 25 snaps on Sunday. Sweat, who I mentioned above, does have a sack this season and is earning a paltry $750.000 this year.
A good defensive line blows up plays or at least disrupts the flow and execution of the opposing offense. Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins and Rams quarterback Jared Goff compiled a combined qb passer rating of 110.2 over the last two games. Last season Haskins was the lowest rated quarterback in the league who was eligible for that dubious distinction. Oh and by the way the Rams gashed the Birds for 191 yards on the ground as well.
Let’s face facts. This is not a good defense. It’s a defense that gave up 27 straight points to the hapless Football Team in week one and 37 points to the Rams. That’s 64 points given up in 62 minutes. They’ve also given up seven touchdowns in nine red zone attempts in the first two weeks and they’ve created exactly zero turnovers in two games.
As for the linebacking crew Roseman has been virtually criminally negligent going into the season with Nate Gerry, T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley. The Birds did draft Davion Taylor from Colorado in the 3rd round last April but he is clearly a project and so is Temple’s Shaun Bradley who the Birds drafted in the 6th round. Not exactly the next coming of Ray Lewis. .
The ground game was one of the few bright spots on Sunday as running back Miles Sanders racked up 95 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. The 2nd year back out of Penn State appears to be the real deal but the Birds made a colossal mistake by letting Jordan Howard go to the Dolphins this past off-season. Howard would have been the perfect compliment to Sanders’ outside game as he makes his bones by running between the tackles. Howard already has two touchdowns in two games with the Dolphins. Just two games into his 5th season Howard has 32 rushing touchdowns and has caught two more for scores. Last year Howard rushed for six scores in ten games with the Birds. Sanders had three in 16 games.
The wide receiving corp is less than remarkable. Their top wideout is DeSean Jackson who is often hurt and will be 34 before the season is over. Alshon Jeffrey is still out with an ankle injury. The Birds top pick this past off-season, wideout Jalen Reaghor doesn’t seem to appear to be anything special, although to be fair he’s only played in two NFL games compiling five grabs for 96 yards on eight targets in two games. He did drop a potential touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter on Sunday near the goal line but L.A ‘s Micah Kiser was called for a helmet to helmet hit and that gave the Birds a new set of downs at Rams three yard line. Philly scored two plays later. Greg Ward did a nice job for the Birds last season when called up from the practice squad but he is what he is. He caught one pass for five yards on Sunday. And then of course there’s J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. The 2nd round pick out of Stanford two years ago still has just ten catches for 169 yards in 18 games with one touchdown. Meanwhile the Seahawks D.K. Metcalf, who was chosen seven spots behind Arcega-Whiteside in that draft has 66 receptions for 1087 yards and nine touchdowns in as many games. Metcalf as you might recall torched the Eagles in last year’s playoff game at the Linc hauling in seven balls for 160 yards and a score in a 17-9 victory.
What used to be one of their strengths is now one of their greatest weaknesses and that is the offensive line and I’m not referring to the injuries either. As it stands right now the Eagles really don’t have a good idea who their left tackle of the future is. Is it Andre Dilliard? No one has a clue but from folks I’ve talked to close to the situation there are some serious questions about the Birds first round pick from two years ago. Center Jason Kelce has been one of the greatest draft picks in the team”s history but he talks about retiring every off-season and right guard Brandon Brooks is recovering from a torn achilles. Every team has injuries but the good teams equip themselves with solid back-ups, a.k.a depth. In week one the Eagles offensive line showcased three players who combined, had taken three NFL snaps between them coming into the game. Can’t make it up.
The bottom line is that this team is suffering the consequences of poor personnel decisions mostly via the draft. You build your team through the draft. End of story. The Eagles got away with winning a Super Bowl by building a championship team primarily through free agency and through trades. It was a magnificent job by Roseman in the 2017 off-season but it was the anomalies of anomalies. It is extremely rare to put together a Super Bowl winning team through free agency and through trades in one off-season (see dream team).
Last April’s draft was a critical one for the Birds. They needed to draft impact players who could step in right away and make a difference. They didn’t do that. Not even close. They drafted a fast wide receiver from TCU with their first pick who had cases of the dropsies and lacked a competitive drive at times in college according to most scouting reports. So yeah, out of the entire 2020 draft Jalen Reaghor is their big-time difference maker.
Now let’s talk about the Nick Foles in the room. No, Never Nervous Nicky isn’t coming through that door any time soon. But the Birds did address what they believed was the necessary need for not only a viable back up to Wentz, but apparently his possible heir apparent The decision came under an umbrella of criticism as they selected quarterback Jalen Hurts with their 2nd pick out of Oklahoma.
I did a show a few days after the playoff loss to Seattle and posed the question that if the Eagles had an opportunity to draft, with a high pick, another franchise quarterback to be a fail safe for the incumbent play caller, should they do it? Needless to say I was chastised and ridiculed by listeners and my co-hosts alike for the mere suggestion that the organization might want to start thinking about drafting Wentz’ replacement, due to his health concerns or inadequate play. If we could have all viewed the situation objectively we would all have to come to the realization that Wentz’ health issues were becoming a gigantic problem and would continue to hold this team back from achieving the success that most teams receive with a durable top five quarterback.
The glaring problem we’re seeing now however is that the franchise quarterback is healthy but very little help around him. Only teams that surround their center piece with the proper personnel are the ones that truly excel on a consistent basis. Roseman and the Eagles have failed miserably at providing Wentz with even just adequate fire power for him and the team to succeed.
I’m hearing cries for Hurtz to be ready to take over the reigns at some point in the near future if Wentz’ shoddy play continues and I couldn’t disagree more. If Hurts’ name was Steve Young or Tony Romo I’d say ok I can see that and I’d be ok with it. But do you really think Hurts is going to have more success than Wentz this season or beyond? It’s possible but is it probable? Let’s think about that for a second while keeping our impulsivity in check. Hurts was a dynamic college player at both Alabama and Oklahoma. He threw 80 touchdown passes and just 20 interceptions while rushing for over 10,000 yards in his college career. That’s impressive but what has he done so far in the league? How about zero touchdown passes, no interceptions and no rushing yards. In fact he’s played exactly three more snaps than I have in the league. He wasn’t even active for week one.
There are a lot of guys that have successful college careers. That’s why they get drafted. But most do not become franchise quarterbacks in this league. Why? Because it’s the most difficult position in all of sports to be successful at. Don’t you think it’s telling that there are 7.8 billion people on the planet and not all 32 NFL teams have a dominant starting quarterback? What does that tell you? To be more fair, since there are no football powerhouses in the Middle East like say Tel Aviv State, Jerusalem A&M or Somalia Poly Tech let’s keep it to just the U.S. and Canada. In North America the population is close to just a half billion people and they still can’t staff 32 teams in the NFL with elite quarterbacks. Of the top college quarterbacks of all time in terms of passing yards only four of the top 37 became franchise quarterbacks in the league. Just Phillip Rivers, Derek Carr, Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield have become franchise quarterbacks in the NFL and the jury is still out on Mayfield. Mayfield’s back up by the way in Cleveland, Case Keenum’ happens to be the all-time passing leader in college football history in yards and touchdown passess. Keenum threw for almost 20,000 yards and 155 touchdowns while at Houston and still can’t get a starting job in the league, despite leading the Vikings to a 13-3 record and a berth in the NFC Conference Title game against the Eagles in 2017, a 38-7 loss.
So anyone out there calling for Jalen Hurts needs to think long and hard about that. Has Wentz been awful through two weeks? Yes. Have his mechanics been awful? Yes. Has his accuracy been horrendous? Yes. After two weeks Wentz is tied with the Vikings Kirk Cousins for 30th in completion percentage at 58.8%. Only the Lions Mathew Stafford (58.7%) and Washington’s Dwayne Haskins (56.3%) have been worse.
Wentz’ record since the Super Bowl season is just 14-15. That’s a losing record for a guy who just got a four year contract extension for $128 million. I say on the air constantly that this team and this quarterback haven’t been the same since their offensive coordinator in 2017, Frank Reich, left to be the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. This year I believe they tried to build Frank Reich in the aggregate. Doug Pederson is now the Offensive Coordinator, Press Taylor is the Passing Game Coordinator and the Quarterbacks Coach, they added Rich Scangarello as the Senior Offensive Assistant and brought in Marty Mornhinweg to be the Senior Offensive Consultant, whatever that means. That’s a lot of cooks. But does anyone of them feel comfortable enough to tell truth to power like Reich did? No one really knows. What we do know is that forgetting about all of the weaknesses that this team has, Wentz should not be one of them.
ESPN’s and our very own Tim McManus said on our post-game show after the game Sunday that the marriage between Pederson and Wentz isn’t a very good one and therein lies some of the problems. It made me think back to the Joe Santliquito piece in the PhillyVoice back in January of 2019 when anonymous sources inside the Eagles locker room allegedly said that Carson Wentz’ own worst enemy is Carson Wentz. He creates friction within the offense and tends to complicate things. And often times he will infuriate his offensive line by holding onto the ball too long resulting in unnecessary sacks (gee,where have we seen that before?).
It’s clear to anyone with eyes that Wentz is still making the same mistakes he made when he came into the league. This is his 5th year. There are no excuses. Right now for lack of a better word he is a bad quarterback. The frustrating part is that we’ve all seen what he can do. In the first 23 minutes of game one Wentz put up 17 points as he led three scoring drives on the first four series of the game. He zipped a first quarter touchdown strike to Zach Ertz and then dropped a gorgeously placed tear drop to Dallas Goedert for another touchdown in the 2nd quarter. Since that 1st quarter of week one the Birds have turned the ball over six times in the last seven quarters and Wentz has been responsible for five of them. That’s unacceptable. So is a sub 500 record since 2017. You can’t blame his poor play on his teammates or his long lost coaches. Because that guy with a statue out in front of the Linc has a Super Bowl MVP award, a Super Bowl ring, a 10-2 record as a starter under Doug Pederson and a 5-2 record since the 2017 season as an Eagle. Wentz still might be chasing a ghost.