The Points After: Blame Wentz, But Put Struggles In Proper Perspective
Updated: Sep 25, 2020
I’m not here to defend Carson Wentz or the coaching staff. I understand the public backlash. This Eagles team shouldn’t be 0-2 and Wentz shouldn’t be the NFL’s 35th-rated quarterback.
Those are just facts. But before we plunge deeply into narratives that Wentz is no longer a good quarterback, or that he’s regressed beyond repair, or that Jalen Hurts should get his arm warmed up, let’s also remember that Wentz's problems through two weeks of this season are somewhat new to him and the team. Sure, Wentz has struggled with mechanics and accuracy before, especially during stretches of the past two seasons. But even when he's not at his most precise, he's still usually completing about 60 to 65 percent of his passes, and there's really no track record of him playing this poorly for a prolonged stretch.
Wentz is completing an eyesore 59 percent of his passes, well below his respectable average of 63.6 percent. His passer rating is 64.4, an enormous plummet from last season's 93.1 – and he struggled at times last season – and a major drop from his career 91.5 rating. This just isn't Carson Wentz, and it's hard to believe he's staying on this current path or trending further downward. Anyone who passed basic math class should understand the law of averages or even regression – in this case, progression – to the mean. Last year – yes, just last year! – Wentz led an offense that ranked fourth in the NFL on third down and third in the red zone. Despite the accuracy and mechanics issues last year, he was still brilliant at situational football. I realize it’s difficult at a time like this to harbor optimism or even put Wentz’s struggles into proper perspective, but I also think it’s important to remember that quarterbacks sometimes have bad stretches. Has anyone noticed that Kirk Cousins has actually bombed worse than Wentz after two weeks? Cousins has the same completion percentage as Wentz but an even lower passer rating. Cousins has a career 67-percent completion rate and 96.9 passer rating. Last year, his passer rating was 118.6, an upgrade over the 107.4 from his 2018 season. But after two weeks, he's been atrocious. Hard to believe the quarterback who has the fifth-highest career passer rating among active quarterbacks is going to finish 2020 among the lowest-rated at his position. Wentz’s turnovers are hurting the Eagles more than his overall inaccuracy and inability to see the entire field. He has four interceptions and lost a fumble. He has five of the team's six total turnovers in two games, and the Eagles' minus-5 turnover differential is worst in the league. Washington scored 14 points directly off Wentz’s two interceptions and the Rams scored 10 more off Miles Sanders’ fumble and Wentz’s interception to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, which was the most deflating moment in Sunday’s loss to the Rams. The Eagles were down 21-16 before Wentz's interception but moving the ball smoothly and could have taken the lead on that drive. The game might have turned completely if the Eagles had taken the lead. I would argue that Wentz could’ve battled the same throes of inaccuracy and poor field vision but still led the Eagles to victory if he hadn’t throw that pick, just like I would also argue that Wentz could’ve overcome the eight sacks and countless other hits to beat Washington if he didn’t put the ball in the hands of its cornerbacks twice. Wentz hasn’t had consecutive games of multiple interceptions since 2016, which really does suggest that many of his mistakes are correctable and will settle out in the next few weeks. Whether or not Wentz can revert back to 2017 form, which now seems like an outlier, is a valid question, but also a discussion for after this year. Right now, the Eagles just need Wentz to clean up the turnovers and get the Eagles in the win column.
Who Are You?
I have a difficult time understanding what kind of role the Eagles envision for J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who played 16 snaps (23 percent) against the Rams, and who he is expected to be in the Eagles’ offense. He’s not a deep threat. He hasn’t been sure-handed enough to play the slot. His route-running isn’t precise. The Eagles play a heavy dose of 12 personnel (two tight ends, two wide receivers), which makes them a tad slower because they’re putting two tight ends on the field. They wanted more perimeter speed, so they forked over a first-round pick on Jalen Reagor to play opposite DeSean Jackson. Arcega-Whiteside isn’t a burner and doesn’t beat defenses vertically or separate at the top of the route the way Reagor can, so if the Eagles want a speed dimension when in 12 personnel, they need Reagor and Jackson as the outside receivers. In 11 personnel (three wide receiver, one tight end), they could play Arcega-Whiteside at the X and move Reagor into the slot with Jackson at the Z, but Arcega-Whiteside must prove he can be reliable there – he hasn’t yet – and also show he’s a better option than Alshon Jeffery, who could be returning in a few weeks. Also, the Eagles have to believe that a three-wide pairing of JJAW/Reagor/Jackson (from left to right) is more effective than Reagor/Greg Ward/Jackson pairing. So far, Ward is a clearly better option in the slot than Arcega-Whiteside just based on hands and route-running. At the end of the day, JJAW might either be a better option for the slot – a big, physical slot like Jordan Matthews once was for the Eagles – or just isn’t a good fit for this offense. If he can’t separate and continues to drop the ball, the answer will be the latter. Not to belabor the point, but 17 years ago the Eagles took tight end L.J. Smith in the second round (61st overall), eight picks before the Cowboys took Jason Witten. Last year, the Eagles picked Arcega-Whiteside 57 overall in the second round, skipping on D.K. Metcalf, who went seven picks later to Seattle. Metcalf, who had 900 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, already has touchdowns in each of his first two games this season and 187 total receiving yards. Arcega-Whiteside has 10 career catches so far and one touchdown. Feels like a decision the Eagles are going to regret for a decade.
It’s true that you’re not supposed to judge a draft for three years, and it’s also true that teams are supposed to pick players on how those prospects are projected to perform three years down the road. But that doesn’t mean that Years 1 and 2 are freebies for drafted players, either.
When you have several players making top dollar – Fletcher Cox, Darius Slay, Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, and Lane Johnson for example – you also need to lean heavier on cheap labor. Draft picks are cost-controlled labor. Not having Arcega-Whiteside, Andre Dillard, Jalen Hurts and Davon Taylor making any major contributions right now is hurting the team, not to mention Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas not even being on the team.
Taylor might eventually mold into a starting linebacker next year or year after, and maybe Arcega-Whiteside turns his career around, but they’re not helping the Eagles win games today. – Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the Inside the Birds podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
Listen to the latest "Inside the Birds" podcast with Adam Caplan and Geoff Mosher here: