It’s not too early to get excited about what fans are seeing from rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and an Eagles defense that is showing early signs of strength.
By Mike Diviney | September 20, 2016
After a highly improbable 2-0 start, is it too early to declare Carson Wentz the savior of the Philadelphia Eagles franchise? Definitely.
Is it too early to be very excited for the future of the franchise because of Wentz? Definitely not.
Since being named the Eagles staring quarterback just a week before the season opener—and after having missed the preseason with a rib injury—Wentz has been spectacular at times and workmanlike at others. Even more impressive than his play has been his poise.
Wentz has shown uncommon command and self-assuredness. Any player can say that he does not get nervous before his first NFL game, as Wentz did, but the Eagles quarterback has gone out and backed it up. Although the Browns were a perfect foil for the young quarterback, as they are possibly the worst team in the NFLFacing a home opener with little time to prepare, Wentz was tremendous, recording a QB rating over 100.
He faced a much tougher test in Week 2, when the Eagles went on the road to play the Chicago Bears on Monday night. It was tough going early, with the offense stalling repeatedly and settling for three field goals. However, the defense stoned the Bears, limiting them to just one touchdown in the first half.
Wentz led a key field-goal drive via the two-minute offense to give the Eagles the lead just before halftime. He never looked panicked, always seemed to be in control, and the quick-strike offense looked very smooth. In every situation he has faced to this point, Wentz has played with the poise of a veteran. He is the first rookie quarterback to win his first two starts without turning the ball over.
Conversely, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler withered under the pressure. As the Eagles defense continued to press him, he unraveled.
The Bears offense continued to struggle, and then turned the ball over on three straight possessions, culminating in a critical interception that the Eagles’ newest linebacker, the very active Nigel Bradham, returned to the Chicago 2-yard line. Cutler left the game at that point with an injured throwing hand.
When Ryan Matthews scored from a yard out with a tremendous second-effort run, the rout was pretty much on.
The Eagles later forewent a chip-shot field-goal attempt that would have extended their lead to 25-7; instead, head coach Doug Pederson remained aggressive, challenging his team to punch the ball in. With help from a defensive penalty, Matthews’ ensuing touchdown gave the Eagles a 29-7 lead, and sealed the Bears’ fate.
It was a questionable call, but since it worked, Pederson should be lauded for going for the kill shot. It was also his second successful fourth-down call in as many weeks. Chicago scored a meaningless special-teams touchdown to set the final score at 29-14—maybe the first time an Eagles team has scored exactly 29 points in two consecutive games since at least 1960.
The only number that really matters is 2-0. Second only in importance to Wentz’s performance has been that of Doug Pederson, who has been excellent so far. He and offensive coordinator Frank Reich have crafted game plans that have put Wentz in a position to succeed, and the quarterback has taken the opportunities and capitalized on them tremendously.
Under Pederson, the entire team has looked poised and prepared. Gone are the haphazard machinations of the Chip Kelly offense. Gone is the seemingly single-minded focus on losing the time of possession battle and subjecting the defense to 72 snaps a game. Most importantly, gone (thus far) are the turnovers that can result from running too many plays too fast. The Eagles have yet to turn the ball over through two contests, which is where a shaky offense costs a team wins. That’s a remarkable statistic given that the Eagles have lead the entire NFL in giveaways in the past two years.
Young quarterbacks, especially those who did not play big-time college football, frequently find themselves victimized by the speed of the NFL game and commit too many giveaways. With Pederson’s and Reich’s help, Wentz has managed to avoid that so far.
Not to be overlooked, the Eagles defense has been solid each of the first two weeks, recording three sacks each game. The three takeaways it generated against the Bears swung the momentum in the Eagles’ direction, and contributed decisively to the outcome.
Through two games, the Eagles defense has allowed the fewest points of any in the league (17). Its only weakness so far has been the inability of the secondary to play long passes while they are in the air. Several times, Eagles defensive backs have been in a position to make a play on a ball, only to allow the opposing receiver to pull in a bomb. It has not hurt the team yet, but they would be wise to improve on it.
There are some negatives to note. The Eagles receiving corps is still showing its lack of polish, having dropped a number of Wentz’s beautiful long balls against the Bears. Had any of them been caught, as they should have been, Wentz’s rather pedestrian numbers would have been eye-popping.
Jordan Matthews has been productive, but still drops many catchable passes. On Monday, he had only one more catch than third-year tight end Trey Burton, who showed up the receiving corps by snagging five balls for 49 yards and the Eagles’ lone airborne touchdown. Josh Huff and Dorial Green-Beckham have been invisible, and too infrequently have any of the wideouts made tough catches to help their young quarterback.
The Eagles also have struggled to run the ball effectively. For some reason, against the Bears, Darren Sproles was the primary ball carrier, and Ryan Matthews had only nine carries, although two of them found the end zone.
Wentz must also be more judicious with his body. He has been injury-prone in his short career, and it would be disastrous for the entire Eagles franchise if he were to be unable to stay healthy throughout the year. That is the only chink in his armor so far. It is easily correctable, but it needs to be corrected immediately. On Monday, he took an unnecessary hit instead of diverting out of bounds when he had the sideline available. For a quarterback whose offensive line will offer enough opportunities for defenses to bury him, Wentz should be less inviting of contact.
Wentz is sure to have some struggles this season. Eagles fans have been enamored with young quarterbacks before, and have been wrong before. It is too early to say for sure, but this guy seems different. He has all the measurables, all the tools, and his mental acuity for the game seems off the charts. What he has done so far, even against two bad teams, has been impressive.
The team will face its toughest test at home next week against the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Eagles can keep the party going, the excitement for this season will be off the charts. With what Wentz has shown so far, the future already seems bright.
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