The Points After: Pederson Must Clean Up Wentz Mess
Make no mistake about the constant barrage of turnovers seen weekly from Carson Wentz: they're mostly Wentz's fault. Sure, he and the offense's pitfalls are also a sour cocktail of pass protection breakdowns, curious play calling, and penalties putting the offense behind the sticks.
But there weren't co-conspirators on both Wentz interceptions Sunday night against the Cowboys, and one of his two fumbles surely could've been prevented by simply throwing the ball away, a common refrain for much of the season. Since the start of 2019, Carson Wentz has 15 turnovers on either first or second down and in the first three quarters of a game, a revealing stat about Wentz's shoddy ball security in scenarios that call for prudence more than heroics. Managing down and distance has clearly been problematic for him. Wentz's stubbornness, which he doubled-down on in his postgame interview by promising to stay aggressive, is the biggest obstacle between the team ever seeing its franchise quarterback return to 2017 near-MVP form, but the person most responsible for fixing this mess is Doug Pederson. Judging by Pederson's postgame comments, the agitated Eagles coach isn't as tolerant of his quarterback's allergy to ball security as Wentz is. At least that's what Pederson claims.
"Well, the first thing we know that any turnover is unacceptable both by himself and us as a team," Pederson said Monday. "It just puts our defense in a position obviously on a short field, and we just can't do that. We can't do that consistently and that's been kind of the theme the first half of the season.
"But we all know that it's unacceptable, something that we definitely have to correct and fix in the second half of the season." Pederson's tough talk is just rhetoric until he actually does something to hold Wentz accountable. We've discussed on ITB several times that Pederson isn't particularly hard on Wentz, and neither is quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Press Taylor. But even if Pederson and Taylor aren't Wentz's harshest critics, it would be ridiculous to think they've condoned Wentz's decision-making and ignored the root of the quarterback's problems. But if Pederson and Taylor aren't going to give enough tough love to Wentz in the classroom, they must adjust elsewhere or run the risk of continuing to be Wentz's most ardent enablers. We'll find out just how annoyed Pederson truly is when the Eagles travel to MetLife Stadium in two Sundays for a rematch against the hapless but hard-nosed Giants, who watched Wentz fire up two touchdowns in the final four minutes, 38 seconds last Thursday to rally the Eagles from down 11 to win, 23-22.
The Giants aren't good, but they fight hard and Monday night came within a botched two-point conversion of upsetting a very good team – sound familiar? – in losing 25-23 to the Buccaneers, their fifth one-possession loss of the year and fourth loss by 4 or fewer points. If Pederson is serious about holding Wentz accountable, he'll adjust the playbook to limit Wentz's options downfield and emphasize shorter, intermediary routes designed to combat Wentz's impulse to hang onto the ball in search of the bigger fish. Remember the San Francisco game? Wentz's 42-yard touchdown to Travis Fulgham was one of just a smattering of times that Wentz put the ball deep into the Bay Area night. Most of the game plan centered on dinks and dunks, the kind of an offense that lulls TV viewers to sleep but was precisely what the doctor ordered for a quarterback who had entered Week 4 toting six interceptions, one lost fumble and just three touchdown passes. Pederson could send his strongest message yet by incorporating Jalen Hurts into the game plan as more than just a gadget or 2-point conversion option, neither of which has spiced up the offense the way Pederson had hoped, or the way Howie Roseman intended when he raised the ante on backup quarterback value by using a second-round pick on the former Alabama/Oklahoma star. Play Hurts for an entire series, maybe two, and let Wentz watch as someone else, someone who could possibly be considered the next starting quarterback, has a crack at engineering the offense – his offense – while he once again watches from the sideline, emotions stirring inside like a boiling cauldron. . If pointed words and repeated coaching points aren't doing the trick, use Wentz's competitive thirst against him. You don't have to completely bench Wentz to send a clear and direct message that turnovers won't be tolerated. For too long, Pederson has allowed his quarterback to casually dismiss game-wrecking interceptions and wince-worthy fumbles as unfortunate byproducts of good, aggressive football. This is Wentz's mess, whether he acknowledges it or not. But it's Pederson's problem to fix.
Can't take Pederson off the hook for his "we could easily be" a better team in the standings comment. Pederson said this Monday: "Are we where we want to be? Yeah, we're first place in the NFC East, but at 3-4-1, it could easily be the other way, right? It could be 4-3-1 or 5-3 or whatever it could be." Could also be 2-4-1 if Giants tight end Evan Engram makes a routine catch in that Thursday night game, or 1-5-1 if Engram makes that catch and if Niners quarterback Nick Mullens doesn't throw a ball directly to Alex Singleton on Sunday night. So many games in the NFL are decided by one possession that it's ridiculous to play the what-if game on a weekly basis. As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are.