DB’s Weekly Take: The enigma of Carson Wentz

Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz warms up before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Philadelphia. Photo by Chris Szagola/AP Photo.

Watching the painfully bad game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football this week, I couldn’t help but observe Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz with wonder and confusion. He had another pretty bad game, throwing for just 123 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and two lost fumbles. But the Eagles managed to win the “less bad than the other team” contest with a 23-9 victory. 

Wentz has had one of the weirdest, most tumultuous up-and-down careers of any quarterback through his first five seasons. I’m not lying when I say Wentz has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL this season. He leads the league with 12 interceptions, and when you add his league-leading four lost fumbles, he’s turned the ball over a whopping 16 times in Philadelphia’s first eight games. That’s an average of two turnovers per game. Not good. 

On top of that, he’s completing only 58.4% of his passes, worse than every other qualifying quarterback besides Drew Lock of the Denver Broncos. His passer rating of 73.2 is tied with the New England Patriots’ Cam Newton for third-worst in the league, and his QBR of 49.1 is in the bottom five as well for quarterbacks that have made at least four starts. Another stat that a lot of analytics people like to throw out there for quarterbacks is ANY/A (adjusted net yards per pass attempt), and Wentz is second-to-worst in the league in that as well, above only Sam Darnold of the winless New York Jets. 

I’m not cherry picking stats here. Everything points to Wentz being one of the worst, if not the worst quarterback this season whose starting job isn’t really in question. Why is that?  

Well, it’s because in the past, he has shown the ability to be a very good, even borderline elite NFL quarterback. But he has been so up and down that it’s impossible to get a read on who he really is as a quarterback. The time he’s missed with injuries doesn’t help either. 

So let’s start at the beginning of his NFL career to try and better understand the enigma of Carson Wentz. He was drafted second overall by the Eagles in 2016 after a career at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State that only included one full season as a starting quarterback. Despite missing the majority of his senior season with a wrist injury, the Eagles were impressed enough with him through the combine and the pre-draft process to give up multiple picks to trade up and draft him at No. 2. 

His rookie season in 2016 was decent. He threw for over 3,700 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he also threw 14 interceptions. He led the Eagles to a 7-9 record and was far outshadowed by Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott for the Cowboys, who was drafted way after Wentz in the fourth round. Wentz showed potential as a rookie, but was still mostly a question mark. 

In 2017, Wentz took a major leap, becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Through the first 13 games of the season, Wentz led the Eagles to a 11-2 record and threw for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. However, he tore his ACL in Week 14, which ended his season early. At the time of his injury, he was neck and neck with Tom Brady for the MVP, which Brady would go on to win. 

Nick Foles finished the regular season for the Eagles and then led them on an improbable run to winning Super Bowl LII against the Patriots, where Foles won the game’s MVP. Wentz won a ring despite not being able to play in the postseason. 

When Wentz came back in Week 3 of the 2018, he continued where he left off the previous season. In 11 games, he threw for over 3,000 yards again, 21 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He also completed over 69% of his passes, far higher than his first two years. The success for the team wasn’t the same though, as the Eagles went just 5-6 in his starts. 

Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz passes during the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Philadelphia. Photo by Derik Hamilton/AP Photo.

Heading into Week 15, Wentz suffered a back injury that would cause him to miss the rest of the season for the second straight year. In his absence, Foles won three huge games at the end of the season to put the Eagles in the playoffs. Then, they upset the Chicago Bears in the first round (remember the double-doink game?) before losing to the New Orleans Saints. 

So at this point in his career, Wentz has shown that he can be a great quarterback, but he can’t stay on the field enough to make a difference when the games matter most in the postseason. Despite this, the Eagles committed to Wentz over Foles in the offseason, signing Wentz to a four-year, $128 million extension while letting Foles leave in free agency. 

In 2019, Wentz responded with what I believe was the most impressive year of his career. He wasn’t quite as good stats-wise as 2017, but he played with a depleted receiving corps all year and still put up over 4,000 passing yards. By the end of the season, I swear they were just grabbing random guys off the streets of Philadelphia to play receiver for the Eagles, but Wentz made it work. He finished with 4,039 yards, 27 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 yards with no wide receiver catching over 500. 

Wentz almost single-handedly played the Eagles into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, and they played the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs. Finally, Wentz was healthy enough for his postseason debut. That debut lasted approximately five minutes, as he was knocked out of the game with a concussion on the Eagles’ second drive. This led me to wonder whether Wentz just has the worst luck ever or if he is actually allergic to postseason football. I suspect it’s the former, but I don’t know anymore. 

Anyways, after Wentz went down, there was no Foles to save them, and veteran Josh McCown went down with the ship in a 17-9 Eagles loss. 

That brings us to this season, where he has regressed to worse than his rookie year, which only adds to his mystery. Wentz has shown so much potential to be great, and everybody around the Eagles organization wants him to be great. But how long does he have until we just take him for what he is: an incredibly talented but incredibly inconsistent quarterback. 

Despite Wentz’s horrendous season so far, the Eagles are in first place in the laughably bad NFC East, and they will probably win the division by default with something like a 6-9-1 record. Then, maybe we will get to see Wentz last longer than five minutes in a playoff game. That would be a sight. 

I like Wentz, and I hope he figures himself out. He makes a lot of plays that other guys can’t make with his athleticism and accuracy. But far too often this season, he’s made plays where I find myself asking,”What was he thinking?”  

Maybe it’s in his head, but Eagles fans are starting to lose patience with him. Now that he has that big contract he has to live up to, being a bottom-five quarterback in the league is not going to cut it. Wentz has had a weird, up-and-down career so far. I hope for his sake that he can stay healthy and be productive once again. 

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