By Rob Maaddi
The Eagles have a quarterback controversy that seemed inevitable from the moment they spent a second-round pick on a player they didn’t need.
Carson Wentz or Jalen Hurts?
That’s the question Doug Pederson has to answer this week and he insisted it’s his decision alone. There are $128 million reasons why Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman will have their say, maybe even the final say.
Wentz has struggled mightily this season. There’s no denying it. But it’s foolish to think a guy who finished third in The Associated Press NFL MVP voting in 2017 and was still playing at a high level last December has suddenly lost it at age 27.
Instead of writing Wentz off as a bust or putting all the blame on him because it’s easy to do for those who don’t understand the game and want a scapegoat, we should examine reasons why he has regressed in 2020.
The anti-Wentz faction calls them excuses. But they are explanations. I’ll never understand why some Eagles fans revel in their own player’s failure but that says more about them.
The three main reasons why Wentz has gone from top-10 QB to bottom-5 are a poor offensive line, inadequate receivers and an ineffective scheme.
Whenever Wentz gets sacked, and that’s happened 50 times, critics are quick to condemn him for holding the ball too long without pointing out he has little time to throw and often nowhere to throw it except into the ground.
Does he hold it too long at times? Yes. Russell Wilson holds it longer than Wentz’s average of 2.91 seconds. So does 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. And Baker Mayfield. And Josh Allen. All of them play for winning teams. Why? They have a better supporting cast.
Wentz has thrown 19 percent of his passes into tight coverage, where there is a defender 1 yard or less from the receiver at the time of completion or incompletion.
For Wilson, that number is just 11.2 percent. Allen’s is 13.3, Mayfield’s is 15.6 and Jackson’s is 14.1. So even the guys holding the ball longer than Wentz eventually find more open receivers to throw it.
Woeful protection plus the inability of receivers to create separation and get open has combined to Wentz’s NFL-leading 136 pressures.
It’s understandable why the line has been atrocious. They’ve been decimated by injuries, using 11 different starting combinations in 12 games.
As for giving Wentz more weapons, the Eagles tried to upgrade their receivers. They paid DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. They drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Jalen Reagor, John Hightower and Quez Watkins. They acquired Marquise Goodwin.
But they passed on DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin and Justin Jefferson in the draft and De’Andre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs in the trade market.
The moves they made simply haven’t worked.
Money spent on Jackson and Jeffery has been wasted. Arcega-Whiteside and Watkins can’t get on the field. Hightower is learning on the job. Goodwin is sitting out the season. Reagor still has a chance to be a playmaker but injuries have held him back.
Opposing defensive backs play bump-and-run coverage against Philly’s receivers because they’re not afraid to get beat. That has disrupted timing and often the young, inexperienced receivers can’t adjust so it leads to incompletions or interceptions.
Lastly, the offensive system doesn’t play to Wentz’s strengths. Wentz often connects for chunk play on rollouts. Yet, he’s not being moved outside enough to avoid sitting in a collapsing pocket and taking licks.
Where are the misdirection plays? The bootlegs? What happened to the screen game? Why is Miles Sanders not getting the ball 20 times a game? The offense has no identity.
All of these reasons are explanations for why it has reached the point where Wentz was benched for Hurts against Green Bay. It doesn’t absolve Wentz from blame. He needs to play better. He knows it. He’s said it. But football is the ultimate team game. He needs help top to bottom.
Hurts certainly gave the Eagles a spark against Green Bay but don’t overlook when he did it. The Packers played a softer defense on Hurts’ first two drives because they were up 17 and 20. He was 4 of 7 for 92 yards and threw a touchdown pass on those two possessions.
After Reagor’s punt return got the Eagles within a score, the Packers toughened up on defense. Hurts was 1 of 5 for 17 yards, got sacked twice and threw a pick.
So, Wentz or Hurts vs. New Orleans on Sunday?
Start the man who got paid to be a franchise quarterback, the guy who finished 2019 going 4-0 with a 100.8 passer rating, 7 TDs and no interceptions in four must-win games, including two against pass defenses ranked in the top-11.
That wasn’t the anomaly. Neither was 2018 when he had a career-high 102.2 passer rating. Or 2017 when he was on the verge of winning the MVP award before he dove headfirst into the end zone and tore two knee ligaments and stayed in the game long enough to throw a TD.
No, the anomaly is 2020. Wentz will thrive again. It just may not be here.