Eagles v. Packers Game Preview

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

The Philadelphia Eagles host the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. The Eagles are in a must win situation, as they likely need to win five of their last six to have a realistic shot at a wildcard spot. Meanwhile, the Packers come in losers of four straight, thanks in large part to a defense that has been devastated by injuries. Below is a breakdown of the game and key matchups to watch.

Eagles Home Field Advantage

The Eagles have been demonstrably better at home, for reasons unknown. I’ve touched on these numbers before, but they bear repeating:

  Home Away
Record 4-0 1-5
Points Scored 27 22
Points Allowed 9.5 29.6
Turnover Differential +4 +1

Meanwhile, Green Bay is 1-4 on the road and have been outscored by 162 to 122. The advantage is clearly in the Eagles favor.

Packer’s Offense v. Eagles Defense

Overall, the Packers’ offense ranks #12 in Football Outsiders DVOA metrics. They are 13th in yards per game (362.7), 10th in points per game (24.7), and 10th in time of possession (31:10).

Key Stats: I am a firm believer in turnovers, third down percentages, penalties and redzone efficiency. The team that is able to excel in these four facets of the game tend to have the best chance of winning. The Packers are strong in third down percentage, ranking 6th in the league converting 47% of their opportunities; they are also a highly disciplined team, ranking 9th best in penalties on the year with only 63. However, the Packers are middle of the pack in redzone efficiency, ranking 19th in the NFL while scoring touchdowns on 54.76% of their opportunities. And they struggle with turnovers; their 16 turnovers on the year are tied for 9th most in the NFL.

Packers Pass v. Eagles Pass Defense

Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football, even if he has had an up and down season by his standards. On the season, Rodgers is completing 62.6% of his passes with 25 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 94. Those are good numbers for most quarterbacks, but below Rodgers historical production. In the last five weeks, however, Rodgers has looked like his vintage self:

  • Chicago: 39/56, 69%, 326 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 Ints, 102.2 Rate
  • Falcons: 28/38, 74%, 246 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 ints, 125.5 rate
  • Colts: 26/43, 60%, 297 yards, 3 TDs, 1 Int, 94.8 rate
  • Titans: 31/51, 60%, 371 yards, 2 TDs, 2 Ints, 79.8 rate
  • Redskins: 26/41, 63%, 351 yards, 3 TDs, 0 int, 115 rate

Like Russell Wilson last week, Rodgers poses a challenge to the Eagles with his legs. He is arguably the best quarterback in football at extending plays with his legs, buying time for his receivers to get open down field. Wilson gave the Eagles fits last week with just that, leading to the touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham. The Eagles defensive line will need to be more disciplined in their approach, making sure they keep containment on Rodgers in the pocket.

Key Matchup 1: Packers WRs v Eagles CBs

The biggest concern for the Eagles defense is their subpar cornerbacks taking on the Packers prolific wide receivers. The Packers likely have the best receiving unit the Eagles have faced all season, with Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb all posing unique challenges. Adams has finally started to capitalize on his potential, turning in his best season of his career so far. Meanwhile, Nelson is the most productive redzone receiver in the NFL, leading the league in red-zone targets (20), targets inside the 10-yard line (10) and touchdowns (9).

Nolan Carroll has played well in spurts, while Leodis McKelvin has been struggling with a hamstring injury all season that has made him a liability in coverage. But the biggest concern is Jalen Mills, who is the worst rated cornerback among 119 qualifiers, according to Pro Football Focus. Mills was especially brutal against the Seahawks, taking a terrible angle and giving even worse tackling effort on CJ Prosise’s long touchdown run.

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A few drives later, Mills was burned deep twice in a row to set up the Seahawks second touchdown of the game. Mills just does not have the foot speed to keep up with most NFL receivers, so don’t be surprised if Rodgers looks to pick on Mills all game.

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Key Matchup 2: Eagles D-line v Packers O-line:  The Packers rank 11th in pass protection according to Football Outsiders, allowing 24 sacks on the year, which is the 12th most. Meanwhile, the Eagles defensive line continues to excel in pass rushing situations, with the 2nd ranked pass rush DVOA, 26 sacks on the year, and a 7.9% adjusted sack rate. As we have seen all year, the Eagles defense goes as their defensive line goes, and this week will be no different. It is imperative that the Eagles front four can generate pressure on Rodgers consistently without blitzing. The Eagles can ill afford to allow Rodgers time to operate from a clean pocket, especially given the advantage the Packers receivers have on the Eagles corners.

Packers Run Offense v. Eagles Run Defense

The Packers are not particularly good at running the football. Eddie Lacy was having a decent year before suffering a season ending ankle injury, and the Packers have struggled to find his replacement. As a result, they rank 17th in run DVOA, 20th in yards per game (100.6), 5th in ypc (4.6), 30th in attempts (221), and 30th with rushing touchdowns (3).

Since his return in week 10, James Starks has been the featured back for the Packers, getting 10 and 14 touches, respectively. Ty Montgomery, a wide receiver converted to running back who was surprisingly effective in spurts, has gotten 5 and 7 touches during that time. The Packers also added Christine Michael, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, who has 6 rushing touchdowns on the year, which is double the amount of rushing touchdowns the Packers have as a team. The Packers are expecting Michael to contribute this week, after being inactive in last week’s loss to the Redskins.

The Packers have preached the need to stick with the run game, but have done a poor job following through. In four of their last five games, Rodgers has aired it out 56, 43, 41 and 51 times, respectively. This plays into the Eagles strength as a defense, since they have been up and down against the run but excel when their defensive lineman can pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. On the season, they rank 13th in rush DVOA, giving up the 16 most rushing yards per game and the 8th highest rushing yards per attempt. They have been struggling even more as of late, giving up 728 yards, 2 touchdowns and 4.79 yards per carry in the last 7 games.

Key Matchup: Shutting Down the Run: this seems basic, but the Eagles best chance is to shut down the run and make the Packers one dimensional. Of course, telling the Packers to beat you with Aaron Rodgers is always a dangerous proposition, but the Eagles defense has demonstrated it is not effective if their lineman have to worry about the run. If the Eagles can limit the Packers anemic run game, they have a better chance of pulling this game out.

Eagles Offense

The Eagles offense continues to struggle with consistency and explosiveness. They are the 21st rated offense according to Football Outsiders, 19th in yards per game (340.4), and 14th in points per game (24.1). The one area in which they continue to excel is time of possession, as their 32.53 average is second best in the league.

Key Stats: The Eagles offense comes up short in three of the four key stats I mentioned earlier. They are the fourth highest penalized team in the NFL (83), they rank 29th in converting 3rd downs (34%), 25th in red zone touchdown efficiency (50%). The are above average at protecting the football, however, as their 12 turnovers rank 12th in the NFL.

Eagles Pass v. Packers Pass D

Wentz has played well for a rookie, inhibited by Pederson’s conservative play calling and his receivers second worst rate of drops in the NFL. But he has cooled from his torching hot start to the season. Here are his stats over the last 5 weeks:

  • Vikings: 16/28, 57%, 138 yards, 1 TD, 2 int, 52.4 Rate
  • Cowboys: 32/43, 74%, 202 yards, 1 td, 0 int, 91.4 rate
  • Giants: 27.47, 57%, 364 yards, 0 td, 2 int, 64.5 rate
  • Falcons: 25/36, 69%, 231 yards, 0 td, 0 int, 86.7 rate
  • Seahawks: 23/45, 51%, 218 yards, 2 td, 2 int, 61.2 rate

On the season, the Eagles have the 22nd ranked passing offense according to Football Outsiders. Wentz has made a concerted effort as of late to target Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz in the passing attack. Matthews has target counts of 15, 10, 10, and 10 over the last four weeks, and is on pace to eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. I cover Ertz in more detail below, but over the last three weeks he has been targeted 25 times, as he is finally starting to develop a report with Carson Wentz.

As I alluded to before, the Packers defense has been derailed by injuries, and the lack of depth is showing up in the box score. The Packers defense has surrendered at least 30 points in five of their last six games, and have given up 33, 31, 47 and 42 points in four of their last five. The Packers rank dead last in yards per pass attempt (8.1), and have the second worst quarterback rating allowed (105.6).

In other words, Carson Wentz has a juicy matchup that he must exploit if the Eagles are going to have a chance to win this game.

Key Matchup 1: Allen Barbre v Nick Perry/Clay Matthews

A key to whether Wentz will have a good game is how well the offensive line does in pass protection. The Eagles are down to their third string right tackle, as Allen Barbre replaces rookie 5th round tackle Halapouilvaati Vaitai, who suffered an MCL sprain last week against the Seahawks. Big V had a disastrous start to his career, giving up three sacks in the Eagles loss to the Redskins in Week 5, but his play has improved considerably as of late. How Barbre performs against the Packers pass rushers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews will go a long way towards determining how well the Eagles offense performs.

Key Matchup 2: Zach Ertz & Trey Burton v. Packers LBs

Zach Ertz is one of the more maligned Eagles players this year, getting considerable heat from fans over his lack of production and aversion to contact. But he has finally caught fire, as his production over the last three weeks  (20 catches, 187 yards and 1 TD) eclipsed his statistical output during the first nine weeks of the season (15 catches, 150 yards, 0 TDs), when he was inhibited by a displaced rib and chemistry concerns with Carson Wentz.

The Eagles coaching staff deserves credit for making Ertz a focal point of the Eagles offense, especially in the redzone. They sprung Ertz for a score last week against the Seahawks with this nice trip-TE play that had Celek and Burton clear-out the middle of the field for Ertz, who ran a beautiful route to turn around Kam Chancellor for the score:

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The Eagles tight ends have a chance for a strong week again, as the Packers have given up the 8th most catches (55) and second most yards (726) to opposing tight ends.

Eagles Run v. Packers Run D

The Eagles are best when they have an effective run game. They are 14th in DVOA, 6th in yards per game (118.3), 11th in yards per carry (4.3), and 11th in rushing touchdowns (10). Doug Pederson deserves credit for sticking with the run, even when it wasn’t very effective, as their 27.7 attempts per game rank 9th in the NFL.

The Packers defense has been stout for most of the season, ranking 5th in DVOA. But their run defense has been susceptible over the last four weeks, giving up 81 yards and 1 touchdown to the Falcons, 70 yards and 2 touchdowns to the Colts, 154 yards and 1 touchdown to the Titans, and 147 yards and 3 touchdowns to the Redskins. To make matters worse, the Packers will be without impressive rookie linebacker Blake Martinez, who is one of their best run defenders and leaders on defense.

Player to Watch: Wendell Smallwood: With Ryan Mathews out and Darren Sproles nursing a broken rib, Smallwood figures to get his most action of the year. On the year, Smallwood has 253 yards on 57 carries, which yields a 4.4 yard per carry average.  I expect the Eagles to continue their ball dominating approach this week to keep Aaron Rodgers and the prolific Packers offense on the sidelines. Smallwood will need to prove to the coaches he is up to the challenge, as his costly fumble earlier in the season is likely still in the back of the coaching staff’s mind.

Game Prediction: I have a hard time believing the Packers can lose 5 straight with Aaron Rodgers, and my gut instinct says the Packers pull this one off. Nevertheless, I cannot ignore the disparity in play between the Eagles at home, and the Packers on the road. I’m taking the Eagles in this one 27-23.

Philadelphia Sports Table Podcast: WR, QB and the Playoff Push

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

I had a chance to jump on the Philadelphia Sports Table Podcast today. I spoke with Jeff Warren about the Eagles receiving situation, potential receiving free agent targets, an evaluation of Carson Wentz, and the Eagles chances of making the playoffs. Give it a listen here, and make sure to follow the folks at PST on Twitter @PhiladelphiaPST, @Jeffery_Warren, and @LenHunsicker.

 

 

The Eagles Playoff Odds

Patrick Causey, Follow on Twitter @pcausey3

Holiday season means I have more time for writing. Here’s a quick review of the Eagles playoff push as of this morning.

If the season ended today, the Eagles would finish just outside of the playoffs, with the Washington Redskins and New York Giants securing the two wildcard spots.

Rank Team Record
1. Dallas Cowboys 10-1
2. Seattle Seahawks 7-2-1
3. Detroit Lions 7-4
4. Atlanta Falcons 6-4
5. New York Giants 7-3
6. Washington Redskins 6-4-1
In Contention    
  Minnesota Vikings 6-5
  Philadelphia Eagles 5-5
  Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-5
  Arizona Cardinals 4-5-1
  Green Bay Packers 4-6
  New Orleans Saints 4-6
  Carolina Panthers 4-6
  Los Angeles Rams 4-6

If the Eagles win on Monday night (which is no guarantee), they would move ahead of the Minnesota Vikings by virtue of owning the tie breaker, since the Eagles beat the Vikings earlier this year. But the Eagles would still be behind the Redskins by one game, so they will need some help for the rest of the season. To make matters worse, the Lions, Giants and Redskins own the tie breakers over the Eagles so far, since they beat them earlier this season.

Below is the Eagles remaining games. You’ll notice that they play three teams with which they are competing for the wildcard spots: the Packers, Redskins and Giants.

Team Record Win%
Green Bay Packers 4-6 .400
@ Cincinnati Bengals 3-6-1 .350
Washington Redskins 6-4-1 .591
@ Baltimore Ravens 5-5 .500
New York Giants 7-3 .700
Dallas Cowboys 10-1 .909
Total 35-25 .583

I haven’t checked this site for accuracy, but according to FantasyIndex.com, the Eagles have the 5th hardest remaining schedule in the NFL, behind only the Cowboys, Chiefs, Broncos and Panthers.

Odds are, the Eagles will need to finish out the season 5-1 to make the playoffs. That’s a tall order for a team that hasn’t been consistent all year. But after getting screwed by the schedule makers earlier in the season (playing three teams coming off a bye and the Falcons coming off 10 days rest), the Eagles finally get some lucky breaks.

For starters, four of their six remaining games are played at home, where the Eagles are playing considerably better football, especially on defense.

  Home Away
Record 4-0 1-5
Points Scored 27 22
Points Allowed 9.5 29.6
Turnover Differential +4 +1
  • Additionally, the Eagles get the Packers and Bengals while the proverbial wheels are falling off their season. The Packers have lost four straight, thanks in large part to a defense that has been derailed by injuries. During that span, they have given up 33, 31, 47 and 42 points, respectively. So the Eagles offense will have a chance to get back on track this week.
  • The Bengals just lost AJ Green and Gio Bernard to injury. Green and Bernard account for 42% of the Bengals total yards gained on the year (1,637 out of 3,893). Losing them is a critical blow to a team that is already struggling to win games.
  • The Eagles have a chance to avenge their three divisional losses in the last four weeks of the season with home games against the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys. The Eagles were in position to win all three games earlier in the season, so they should have a decent shot at running the table.
  • Many have suggested that the Cowboys could be resting their starters by week 16, thereby giving the Eagles an easy victory. There’s certainly a chance that happens, but I am not as bullish about the prospects as mosts. The Seahawks are 7-2-1 on the season and are starting to look like the best team in football. That leaves the Cowboys little margin for error, and they have the third hardest strength of schedule remaining. If the Cowboys drop a game or two, they might need to beat the Eagles to secure home field advantage in the playoffs. The last thing they want is to have to travel to Seattle for the NFC Championship game.
  • On paper, the Ravens game screams trap game, especially if the Eagles win their next three. The game is on the road and sandwiched between two divisional games. The Eagles have no margin for error, so you hope they won’t over look anyone. But with the Ravens stout run defense, they could be a harder opponent than we expect.

Bottom line: the Eagles have left themselves little margin for error on the rest of the season. The loses to the Lions and Cowboys — games they should have won — are starting to loom large. The Eagles are likely without Ryan Mathews for a few weeks, and are down to their third string right tackle after Big V suffered a sprained MCL last week against the Seahawks (thanks again, Lane Johnson!). It doesn’t look promising, but they still have a punchers chance. And given our expectations coming into the season, that’s all we can really as for.

 

Are the Eagles Pass Catchers as Bad as We Think?

The Eagles pass catchers are playing poorly and the Eagles need to improve that position this offseason. But the situation isn’t as dire as we think, and the improvement needed isn’t as drastic as many claim.

Patrick Causey, Follow on Twitter @pcausey3

The Philadelphia Eagles are competing for a wildcard spot, but are held back, in part, by the poor play of their wide receivers and tight ends. Their shortcomings have limited Carson Wentz’s and the offense’s production. It has left points on the field – quite literally, since the Eagles have dropped at least four passes in the end zone. And it has caused rampant discussion on sports radio and in the comment sections about how the unit needs a drastic overhaul this offseason.

But are the pass catchers as bad as we think?

Yes…..and no.

Let’s start with the obvious: on the season, the Eagles have one of the least productive receiving units in the NFL. That shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that has watched this team even a handful of times. To underscore this point, I charted the top three pass catchers in terms of yards for every team to compare the Eagles to the rest of the league. Note that I used only wide receivers and tight ends, and excluded running backs.

Team WR Catch Catch% Yards TD
Eagles Matthews 53/85 62% 639 3
Eagles Ertz 35/46 76% 377 1
Eagles Agholor 27/51 52.9% 264 1
Total 115/182 63% 1,280 5
Cowboys Bryant 28/58 48% 478 5
Cowboys Beasley 53/67 79% 591 5
Cowboys Witten 49/70 70% 520 2
Total 130/195 66% 1,589 12
Giants Beckham 59/98 60% 819 6
Giants Shephard 44/72 61% 476 5
Giants Cruz 26/44 59% 425 1
Total 129/214 60% 1,720 12
Redskins Crowder 47/65 72% 637 6
Redskins Garcon 48/72 66% 593 2
Redskins Reid 49/68 72% 535 3
Total 144/205 70% 1,765 11
Saints Cooks 51/75 68% 736 6
Saints Thomas 56/74 75% 681 5
Saints Snead 46/63 73% 555 4
Totals 153/212 72% 1,972 15
Panthers Olsen 54/83 65% 745 3
Panthers Benjamin 46/80 57% 683 4
Panthers Ginn 32/51 62% 374 1
Total 132/214 61% 1,802 8
Falcons Jones 61/97 62% 1105 5
Falcons Sanu 39/59 66% 430 3
Falcons Gabriel 17/23 73% 303 2
Total 117/179 65% 1,838 10
Bucs Evans 65/121 53% 916 8
Bucs Humphries 39/60 65% 430 1
Bucs Brate 37/52 71% 393 5
Total 141/233 60% 1,739 14
Packers Nelson 53/96 55% 663 9
Packers Adams 53/80 66% 663 6
Packers Cobb 48/70 68% 517 3
Total 154/246 62% 1,843 18
Lions Jones 38/66 57% 676 4
Lions Tate 52/78 66% 540 2
Lions Ebron 35/48 72% 451 1
Total 125/192 65% 1,667 7
Vikings Diggs 67/87 77% 747 2
Vikings Thielen 37/50 74% 518 3
Vikings Rudolph 39/68 57% 404 5
Total 143/205 69% 1,669 10
Bears Jeffery 40/73 54% 630 1
Bears Miller 47/65 72% 486 4
Bears Meredith 33/44 75% 430 2
Total 120/182 65% 1,546 7
Seahawks Baldwin 54/71 76% 733 5
Seahawks Graham 45/63 71% 639 4
Seahawks Kearse 28/51 54% 336 0
Total 127/185 68% 1,708 9
Cardinals Fitzgerald 74/106 69.8 749 5
Cardinals Brown 30/57 52.6 380 1
Cardinals Floyd 26/55 47.2 379 3
Total 130/218 59% 1,508 9
Rams Britt 49/71 69% 736 3
Rams Quick 29/48 60% 442 3
Rams Kendricks 37/61 60% 369 1
Total 115/180 63% 1,547 7
49ers Kerley 40/77 52% 424 3
49ers Patton 30/54 55% 362 0
49ers McDonald 18/33 54% 322 4
Total 88/164 53% 1,108 7
Patriots Gronkowski 25/36 69% 540 3
Patriots Edelman 56/87 64% 534 2
Patriots Bennett 39/49 79% 518 4
Total 120/172 69% 1,592 9
Jets Marshall 43/91 47% 601 2
Jets Enunwa 38/70 54% 534 3
Jets Anderson 22/37 59% 270 0
 Total 120/198  60% 1,405 5
Dolphins Landry 60/81 74% 686 2
Dolphins Parker 38/60 63% 485 2
Dolphins Stills 23/45 51% 408 4
 Total 121/186  65%  1,579 8
Bills Woods 42/59 71% 493 1
Bills Goodwin 18/40 45% 316 3
Bills Clay 34/53 64% 306 0
 Total 94 /152  62%  1,115  4
Colts Hilton 57/99 57% 888 5
Colts Doyle 37/47 78% 386 4
Colts Dorsett 21/39 53% 364 1
 Total 115 /185  62%  1,638 10
Titans Walker 46/68 67% 607 5
Titans Mathews 45/66 68% 605 6
Titans Sharpe 34/65 52% 453 2
 Total  125/199  62%  1,665 13
Jags Robinson 51/102 50% 567 6
Jags Lee 42/63 66% 544 1
Jags Hurns 34/69 49% 465 2
 Total 127/234  54%  1,576  9

Combine the total production from Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor on the year, and they have caught 115 passes for 1,280 yards, 5 touchdowns and a 63% catch rate. Compared to the top three pass catchers from every other team in the league, here is how that combined production ranks, out of 32 teams:

  • Catches: T-30th
  • Yards: 30th
  • Touchdowns: T-31st
  • Catch%: T-21st

That is….less than ideal. Only two teams – the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers – have worse production from their top three pass catchers across the board. To make matters worse, the Eagles have three receivers – Matthews, Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham – that rank among the top 20 in drop rate according to Pro Football Focus. So in the short term, these problems are paramount.

But if we consider the big picture, the situation is not as dire as many suggest. For all of their shortcomings, Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz are above average players at their positions. Matthews is upholding his end of the bargain, drops notwithstanding. He ranks 25th in the NFL in total yards, and is on pace to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career.

But Zach Ertz is on pace for 56 catches for 603 yards and 2 touchdowns. That’s well below his numbers last year: 75 catches, 853 yards and 2 touchdowns. Given that Ertz is only 25 years-old, we should expect his production to improve, not regress.

So what gives? Two things. Ertz had a displaced rib, an injury which could lead to a punctured lung if not treated properly. Like Ron Burgundy, that’s kind of a big deal. Doug Pederson also alluded to chemistry concerns between Ertz and Wentz. So Ertz missed two games because of the injury, and then caught only  9 passes for 92 yards and 0 touchdowns from weeks 5-9 when he returned. Even if you hate Ertz because he avoids contact like the plague, you have to recognize that those numbers are well-below the level at which he normally produces.

Now look at the last three weeks, Ertz is healthier and has become a focal point of the Eagles passing attack. He has been targeted 26 times, has caught 20 passes, for 187 yards and 1 TD.  And that doesn’t even include the 53 yard touchdown catch that was negated by Agholor’s boneheaded penalty. Extrapolate those numbers out over the course of a season, and the end result is 96 catches, 922 yards, 5 tds. That’s impressive; and I suspect is the kind of production the Eagles were anticipating when they signed Ertz to a shiny new contract extension this offseason.

So riddle me this: if the Eagles had two pass catchers on pace to eclipse 1,000 yards, do you think we would be as concerned about the receiving options on this team? Probably not. And that is especially true once we factor in the contributions of Darren Sproles and Trey Burton.

To be clear, I am not suggesting the Eagles are set at the receiving position. It goes without saying they need to invest in that position this offseason. But I am suggesting the position might not be as dire as we suspect since we already have two legitimate receiving threats upon which we can rely.

How Do The Eagles Improve: Internal v External Options

The question becomes, from where does that improvement come?  The Eagles were banking on Nelson Agholor filling the void this season, but that plan has gone as well as the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Nevertheless, it’s too early to give up on him. I know – he’s frustrating as hell – and that frustration reached its zenith last week following Agholor getting called for a penalty that negated Ertz’s touchdown and dropping a pass that would have led to an approximately 40 yard gain.

In the moment, it seems like Agholor won’t ever justify his status as a first-round pick. But I remember the same thing being said about Brandon Graham not too long ago, and he’s now one of the best pass rushers in football. And there is at least some evidence of third year receivers making the jump after struggling during their first two seasons.

So there is hope. Agholor’s teammates and coaches have confidence in him. And he has provided brief glimpses, however fleeting, of the talent that caused many to compare Agholor to Jeremy Maclin and Emanuel Sanders. Ignore the result of these plays for a minute. Just watch the routes Agholor runs on these next two plays and remember that he was covered by Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, respectively:

The talent might be there. The confidence is not. And since cutting Agholor will produce a $2.5 million cap hit next season, the Eagles are likely giving him another year to sort it out regardless. Odds are he doesn’t figure it out. But if he does? It’s just icing on the cake.

Free Agency/Draft/Trades

But the Eagles can’t bank on Agholor improving. There is too much risk associated with Agholor at this point; they need to invest in the position this offseason.

If the Eagles want to get an elite wide receiver, they will likely have to turn to the draft again. Below is a chart of the top 13 receivers from each of the last six seasons. (Somewhat intuitive, but D = draft, FA = free agent, and T = the player was acquired by trade). Of the 91 receivers listed below, 72 were acquired in the draft (79%). Only 11, or 12%, were acquired via free agency.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
B. Floyd (FA) C Johnson (D) C Johnson (D) J Gordon (D) A Brown (D) J Jones (D) J Jones (D)
R. White (D) W Welker (T) A Johnson (D) A Brown (D) D Thomas (D) A Brown (D) A Green (D)
R Wayne (D) V Cruz (D) B Marshall (T) C Johnson (D) J Jones (D) D Hopkins (D) M Evans (D)
G Jennings (D) L Fitzgerald (D) D Thomas (D) D Thomas (D) J Nelson (D) B Marshall (FA) A Brown (D)
M Wallace (D) S Smith (D) V Jackson (D) A Green (D) E Sanders (FA) O Beckham (D) T Hilton (D)
A Johnson (D) R White (D) D Bryant (D) P Garcson (FA) T Hilton (D) A Robinson (D) A Cooper (D)
D Bowe (D) J Nelson (D) R Wayne (D) D Jacknson (D) G Tate (FA) D Thomas (D) L Fitzgerald (D)
L Fitzgerald (D) B Marshall (T) W Welker (T) J Nelson (D) D Bryant (D) A Green (D) S Diggs (D)
C Johnson (D) M Wallace (D) R White (D) B Marshall (FA) J Maclin (D) L Fitzgerald (D) K Britt (FA)
S Moss (D) H Nicks (D) A Green (D) E Decker (D) O Beckham (D) C Johnson (D) B Cooks (D)
S Johnson (D) D Bowe (D) J Jones (D) V Jackson (D) R Cobb (D) M Evans (D) M Wallace (FA)
D Jackson (D) M Colston (D) S Smith (D) A Boldin (FA) D Hopkins (D) L Landry (D) D Baldwin (D)
H Nicks (D) A Brown (D) Colston (D) T Smith (D) D Jackson (FA) B Cooks (D) T Pryor (FA)

The Eagles have several holes on their roster, including cornerback and offensive line. So investing another high draft pick in the position is less than ideal.

But the Eagles can still find value in free agency, thanks in large part to Howie Roseman, who has proven especially adept at unearthing a diamond in the rough. Malcolm Jenkins, Connor Barwin, Darren Sproles and Rodney McLeod are all examples of mid-tier free agents/trade targets that out played their perceived value.

So I’m confident that Roseman will find one to two effective receivers in free agency. Here is a list of pending free agents that Roseman can target. I’ll be brief since we will have plenty of time to address this topic in the offseason:

Free Agents:

  • Alshon Jeffery: He is the cream of crop; a potential top 15 guy that will change the dynamic of this offense. But, despite advocating for acquiring him early in the year, I think his recent suspension changes the dynamic. Lane Johnson just missed 10 games this year. Investing in Jeffery means the Eagles would have a considerable portion of their salary cap tied to two players that could miss most of the season with just one mistake. It says here that the risk is too great for Roseman’s liking. I think they pass.
  • Desean Jackson: some have expressed concerns about signing Jackson, who turns 30 this year. In the past, speed guys didn’t age well. But Jackson has become a more complete receiver as of late, and as we have seen from guys like Steve Smith and Darren Sproles, 30 is the new 27. So if Jackson comes at a discount, I’d welcome his return.
  • Michael Floyd: hard pass. He’s talented, but too inconsistent, as evidenced by his 53% catch rate.
  • Terrelle Pryor: He’s one of my favorite free agents. He’s 6’6, 240 lbs and ran a 4.38 40 during his pro day. Hue Jackson has finally tapped into his athletic potential, and Pryor has caught 56 passes for 724 yards and 4 touchdowns so far. Most importantly, he’s a big play threat that could help the Eagles stretch field vertically. Given their cap space and dearth of talent on their roster, the Browns will likely try to re-sign him this offseason. But if he’s available, he’s worth a look.
  • Pierre Garcon: Like Jackson, Garcon is 30-years old. But again, I’m not as concerned about that age anymore given the number of productive players on the wrong side of 30. Plus, he’s a possession guy, so his skill set ages better than pure speed guys. Oh, and did I mention that the dude can actually CATCH THE DAMN FOOTBALL? He’s caught 64%, 62%, 65%, 65% and 67% of his targets since coming to Washington. Sign me up.
  • Robert Woods: since Watkins was injured, Wood has emerged as Taylor’s favorite pass catcher. He’s on pace for 876 yards while catching 70% of his passes. He’s also only 24 years old. I would be shocked if the Bills let him walk, but if they do, he would be near the top of my list.
  • Kenny Britt/Anquan Boldin/Kendall Wright: not sure these guys make much since. Britt has enjoyed a resurgence in LA, but part of that is likely just because he is one of the few competent receivers on the team. Boldin is a guy I wanted the Eagles to sign this offseason, but at 36, it’s fair to wonder if he’s reached the end of his rope. And while I like Wright’s production, he is primarily a slot guy, which is where Jordan Matthews makes his living. I just don’t think any of these guys make sense.

Pick two players on that list, say, Jackson and Garcon, and pair them with Matthews in the slot and Ertz at tight end. Add in a 3rd or 4th round pick plus Agholor, and the Eagles all of a sudden have competence at the position. And considering the inept play we have seen the last two seasons, that would be welcomed.

Key Match-ups in Eagles/Seahawks

Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3

The Philadelphia Eagles are 6.5 point underdogs against the Seattle Seahawks, who are 6-2-1 on the year. The Seahawks have a decided advantage at home thanks in part to the SEC-like atmosphere created by their raucous fans. In their last 40 home games, they’ve gone 35-5. And oh, Russell Wilson is finally healthy again and has been lighting defenses up over the last two weeks. In other words, all signs point to an Eagles loss.

BUT, not all hope is lost. The Eagles have risen to the occasion more often than not this year, have yet to look like they don’t belong to with the big boys, and have a chance to surprise people with an upset. If they are going to pull it off, here are three key matchups in the game that will likely have to break in their favor.

Jordan Matthews against Jeremy Lane

While Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor continue to play at a high level, the Seahawks secondary is vulnerable against slot receivers. Over the last four weeks, journeyman cornerback Jeremy Lane has struggled against Julian Edelman (7, 99), Robert Woods (10, 162), Willie Snead (6, 56) and Larry Fitzgerald (9, 70) out of the slot.

This bodes well for Jordan Matthews, who has quietly become Carson Wentz’s security blanket over the last three weeks. He’s been targeted a combined 35 times over that span, catching 23 passes, for 226 yards and 1 td. Yes, J Matt still has momentary lapses of foolishness — like his key drop before the first half last week that arguably robbed the Birds of 3 points. But he’s otherwise has played very well and is on his way towards another 1,000 yard season. Expect a heavy dose of passes over the middle to Matthews in order to keep the pressure off Wentz and the offense moving down the field.

Eagles Running Game v. the Seahawks 2nd ranked run defense 

The Seahawks have the 2nd ranked run defense according to Football Outsiders DVOA rankings, and have limited teams to 871 rushing yards on the season, 7th best in the NFL.  But with Michael Bennett out, teams have been able to achieve some level of success running the football against the Seahawks. The Saints went 35 for 135 and 1 touchdown, the Bills went 38 for 162 and 2 tds, while the Patriots went 28 for 81 yards and 3 tds. None of those rushing attacks were highly efficient, but they used the running game to sustain drives and avoid the twin strengths of this Seahawks defense: its secondary and pass rush.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Eagles actually rank 11th in the NFL in total rushing yards, gaining 1070 yards on 251 carries (4.3 ypc). Did anyone actually suspect that? I sure as hell didn’t. Frustrating fantasy owners everywhere, it is a true running back by committee, with no running back gaining over 400 yards on the year: Ryan Mathews has 396 yards, Darren Sproles has 304, and Wendell Smallwood has gained 205.

As we saw last week, the Eagles offense is most efficient when Ryan Mathews and the run game enjoy success.  Part of that success is due to the offensive line steadily improving since Lane Johnson’s suspension. It goes without say that the Eagles will need that improved play to continue. Their outside receivers have a snow ball’s chance in hell against the Legion of Boom, so the Eagles will need their running game to be at least somewhat productive if the offense is going to have any level of success.

The Eagles dominant defensive lines verse the Seahawks offensive line

There is one consistent theme throughout the Eagles five victories this season: their defensive line has controlled the line of scrimmage. They have an opportunity to replicate that success this week against a Seahawks offensive line that has struggled for most of the season.

According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks offensive line ranks 24th in run blocking and 19th in pass blocking on the year. Comparatively, the Eagles defensive line ranks 4th against the run and 2nd against the pass according to those same metrics.

But, don’t assume this will be a repeat of the Minnesota Vikings game. The Seahawks have a young offensive line that has improved over the last couple of weeks, aided by the return of second year guard Germain Ifedi and the rapidly improved play of rookie left tackle George Fant.

The Seahawks are also helped by Russell Wilson, who is as adept at avoiding pressure as any quarterback in the league, finally overcoming the ankle and knee injuries that plagued him earlier in the year. Over the last two weeks, Wilson has completed 71.4% of his passes for 630 yards, 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and a QB rating of 130.8.

A player to keep an eye on is Brandon Graham, who is one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in the league. Graham has spent his entire career playing under the cloud of not being Earl Thomas. It says here that Graham has had this game circled on his calendar all year and will be looking to make a statement to silence his detractors (if there are any left).

Bottom line: if the Eagles are able to consistently get pressure on Wilson, the Eagles have a legitimate chance to pull off the upset. But if the Seahawks keep the Eagles defensive lineman at bay, it could be a long day for the Birds.

Bonus point: I alluded to this earlier, but the significance of the Seahawks losing Michael Bennett for another game cannot be understated. With apologies to Brandon Graham, Bennett is arguably the best 4-3 defensive end in football. His versatility — he is lined up all over the Seahawks defensive line, is a nightmare rushing the passer but is equally effective against the run — is unmatched. While the Seahawks defense has still been effective since he has been injured, they have not been nearly as dominant. In addition to the aforementioned success that opposing teams have enjoyed running the football, teams have also found it easier to come by points in his absence. Consider this: before Bennett’s injury, the Seahawks gave up an average of 17 points per game. But since his injury? That number has risen a full touchdown to 24.6 points per game. The Eagles offense isn’t going to set the world on fire, but they shouldn’t be completely shut down either.

Prediction: There is significant concern that the Eagles are getting the Seahawks at the worst possible time, right as Wilson gets healthy, their offensive line’s play has improved, and they have finally found Marshawn Lynch’s replacement in rookie RB C.J. Prosise. Add in the Eagles traveling cross country to face the Seahawks on their home turf, and it’s easy to see why the Seahawks are favored by everyone and their mother. But screw it. Why not. I’m taking a flyer on the Birds. I have a good feeling about this game, especially given the Birds potential advantage in the trenches. Give me the Eagles 24-21.

 

 

Mid-Season Evaluation of Carson Wentz, Part II

Note: This is a two-part evaluation of Carson Wentz. You can read part one here, which compares Wentz’s production to top rookie quarterbacks drafted since 2009. In part two, I break down the film on areas in which Wentz can improve.

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

It’s pretty clear that Wentz is playing at a high level for a rookie quarterback. There are only a small handful of rookie quarterbacks in recent history that have matched Carson Wentz’s production. And as I’ve documented before, Wentz’s tape is equally impressive; from his precise ball placement, to his demonstrated ability to perform the advanced aspects of quarterbacking, like adjusting plays at the line, working through his progressions, and manipulating defenders with his eyes. I don’t want to rehash all of that, so for brevity’s sake, you can review my thoughts here:

I instead want to dig into some areas in which Wentz can improve his game, most notably (1) throwing under pressure, (2) deep passing, and (3) red zone decision making and accuracy. I’m also going to touch on his wide receiver play, because it is clearly impacting his production to date.

Handling Pressure

Because PFF no longer provides the public with access to its advanced statistics (if anyone is aware of another site that tracks pressure, please let me know), I have to get creative in order to evaluate Wentz’s performance under pressure. An imperfect way to evaluate this is to look at the number of times Wentz has been hit or sacked. Of course, pressure can occur without a QB hit or sack, but we will have to make do for now.

Weeks QB Hits Per QB Sacks Per INTs
1-4 4.5 1.75 1
5-9 6.2 2.4 4

As you probably guessed by now, week 5 was the first game that Lane Johnson missed due to suspension. Big V’s play has undoubtedly improved since his first start, but the offensive line simply is not as good with Johnson on the sideline.

Wentz had issues sailing passes in college, especially when he was under pressure. That issue went largely unnoticed in the first quarter of this season, but has, perhaps not coincidentally, reared its ugly head after Johnson was suspended.

A prime example of this was the first interception Wentz threw against the New York Giants. Kelce tripped over backup guard Stefan Wisneiwski, allowing his man to collapse the pocket on Wentz. Wentz didn’t react well to the pressure; he did a half-ass scramble to the right and threw off his back foot after after Big V lost engagement on his man. Sloppy mechanics led to sloppy accuracy, and the pass sailed on Wentz and was intercepted with ease.

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Wentz needs to be smarter here. He could have stood tall in pocket and delivered an accurate pass, as Pederson recognized after the game: “I felt like he didn’t have to move. He could have stayed right there in the pocket and delivered the football.”  And while Wentz could not technically throw the ball away since he was inside the pocket and subject to intentional grounding rules, he could have essentially accomplished this by spiking the ball in Agholor’s direction.

On the following drive, Wentz tried to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure. The below clip stops right as Wentz is about to release the ball so you can see how close he is sandwiched between Brooks and Kelce.

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Pederson thought Wentz had enough space to deliver the football: “The pocket was clean enough to deliver the football…but that quick pressure, from a quarterback standpoint, makes you throw a bit high.” It’s hard to tell from this angle just how much space Wentz had to operate. But regardless, you can see that Wentz stops short on his follow through, which caused the pass to sail.

Almost every quarterback struggles throwing under pressure. It’s why you hear defensive coordinators talk about pressure being more important than sacks. So we should not be overly concerned here. But it is an area that Wentz can and should improve moving forward.

Improving Mechanics/Timing on Deep Ball

Wentz has excelled at throwing the deep ball at times, but like most rookie quarterbacks, his deep passing is inconsistent. On the season, Wentz has completed 33.3% of his passes over 21 yards in length, with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, according to ESPN.com.

The issue I’ve noticed comes down to mechanics and timing. When Wentz has a clean pocket, he is usually mechanically sound and delivers a beautiful deep ball. But if Wentz is under pressure or his mechanics are off, his deep passing suffers.

I want to highlight two examples. The first comes against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.  The Eagles dial up a play action pass with the hopes of hitting Nelson Agholor on a deep go route. It’s a routine 7 step drop, but as you will see, Wentz takes 10 steps, which throws off the timing of the play:

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This might seem like nitpicking, but NFL passing attacks are predicated on timing. As Ron Jaworski once pointed out, each route is synced to a quarterbacks drop down to the millisecond: “You’re throwing a skinny post, and you have 2.1 seconds on a five-step drop, and the weight is on the back foot and, bang, the hips open, and boom, the ball is right there when the receiver makes his break at 19 yards. You drop back 100 times, you have to do that 100 times properly. Not 50 or 75. The mechanics have to be perfect every single time. Weight on back foot, snap the hips open, drive, consistent throwing slot.”

In other words, those three extra steps made the difference between hitting Agholor in stride for a touchdown and Agholor having to stop and come back to fight for the ball.

Against the Browns, the Eagles ran a similar play, but with Jordan Matthews running the go route.  Wentz comes out of play action with his back to the defense, which is something quarterbacks are taught not to do because it limits the amount of time that a quarterback has to examine the defense:

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You can see the impact it has on the accuracy of the throw, which was about 7 yards too deep and too far towards the sideline. Matthews had no chance on the ball, and this stemmed from Wentz’s sloppy mechanics coming out of the snap.

The good news is that these lapses in mechanics are common for rookie quarterbacks. Wentz has shown the ability to be mechanically sound, so Pederson & Co. do not need to completely revamp his mechanics. Wentz should be able to iron these issues out over the next few seasons.

Improving Redzone Decision Making and Accuracy

First the good news: Wentz has zero turnovers inside the redzone. The absolute worst thing that you can do as a quarterback is take away points from your team. Wentz has avoided that altogether, and for that, he deserves credit.

Now for the bad news: the Eagles rank 25th in red-zone efficiency on the season, scoring touchdowns on only 47.22% of their drives, according to SportingCharts.com. There are a number of reasons behind this. Pederson’s play calling has, at times, been too conservative for my liking. Receivers have dropped easy touchdown catches. And, Wentz has had a couple of plays that he would probably like back.

Jimmy Kempski did a good job breaking down one play I wanted to highlight: Wentz’s misfire to Jordan Matthews on the last play of the Giants game. I won’t rehash Kempski’s analysis. He’s spot on. So go check it out.

Another play happened this past week against the Falcons. The Eagles are are faced with a 3rd and 10 in the 4th quarter. The Falcons are showing press man coverage with a single high safety. The Eagles run man beaters on the bottom of the screen: DGB runs a quick slant while Agholor runs a corner route towards the flag.

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The play works as designed. DGB gets inside leverage on his defender and has plenty of green field ahead of him to get the first down (and possibly a touchdown). But Wentz misses him. It looks like Wentz had predetermined that he was targeting Agholor, because he never looks DGB’s way.  This isn’t the wrong decision, per se, since Agholor has a half step on his defender. But Wentz sails the throw, putting it high and further up the field, a spot where Agholor doesn’t have a chance to make a play.

By now, you should have noticed a common theme among the issues I’ve covered: they require minor tweaks, not wholesale changes to Wentz’s game. That is a great sign for Wentz’s potential moving forward. Wentz should be able to fix these issues in the coming offseasons, which will only make him a more complete quarterback.

Poor Wide Receiver Play 

We cannot fully evaluate Wentz without examining the shortcomings of the players that surround him. That is most notable with his receivers, who are arguably the worst receiving unit in the league. To be more direct, outside of Jordan Matthews, the Eagles wide receivers stink.

I was hopeful that Dorial Green-Beckham might evolve into a functional wide receiver, but he has completely fallen to the wayside over the last two weeks. Meanwhile, Nelson Agholor has never eclipsed 65 yards in a single game in his career. We are probably past the point at which we can reasonable expect Agholor to turn it around.

The Eagles receivers aren’t even making routine catches anymore, and it’s created significant issues for the Eagles offense. Kempski created this video of all of the 24 drops by the Eagles receivers. I’m just going to warn you that this is depressing and infuriating all at once.

Based on Kempski’s calculations, 22% of Wentz’s incomplete passes were the result of dropped passes. If those passes were caught, Wentz’s completion percentage would rise from 65% to 72.6%.

What’s worse, I counted four passes that were dropped in the end zone. Add those four touchdown passes to Wentz’s total, and his TD% rises from 2.9% to 4.18%. Wentz would rank 6th in TD% of the 19 rookie quarterbacks I examined (as opposed to 13th) if those passes were caught.

Of course, every quarterback deals with dropped passes, so it’s unreasonable to give Wentz full credit for those stats. But, Wentz still ranks 5th in the NFL in passes dropped and the 5.14% drop rate is 4th overall. Compare that to Dak Prescott, who has only 4 dropped passes on the entire season, and it’s not hard to see how Wentz is being held back by his teammates poor play.

Bottom line

While Wentz’s play has regressed over the last five weeks, he is still playing at a high level from a historical perspective. The areas in which Wentz can improve his game generally involve minor tweaks, not wholesale changes. And we should expect to see even better production from Wentz once the front office is able to improve the talent at his disposal.

 

Mid-Season Evaluation of Carson Wentz, Part I

Note: This is a two-part evaluation of Carson Wentz. You can read part two here

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

When Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins for a pair of draft picks on April 4, 2010, it marked the beginning of a six year odyssey for the Eagles to find his replacement. There were moments of hope — Michael Vick in 2010, Nick Foles in the second half of 2013 — but the majority of the last six years has involved watching false prophets fail to rise to the occasion: from Vick, to Foles, to Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez, to name a few. Watching each season with the Eagles shorthanded at the most important position in all of sports was like reading a book for a second time and hoping for a different ending. The inconsistent play at quarterback brought an inevitable sense of doom that hung over the team’s fate like an anvil.

For once, salvation seems like a realistic possibility, and it comes at the hands of a 6’5, 235 lb. rookie quarterback from Bismarck, North Dakota. It is somewhat fitting that the Eagles effectuated the trade with the Cleveland Browns to acquire that draft picks used to select Wentz on April 21, 2016, just days from the six year anniversary of trading McNabb. Wentz’s sensational start to the season provided a level of excitement this city has not experienced since McNabb’s second year in the league: a mix of reveling in the moment with dreams of unlimited possibilities in the future; 10-years of continued success, multiple Pro Bowls,  and perhaps, a parade down Broad Street.

Of course, that early season success was unsustainable, especially given the weapons at Wentz’s disposal. He was bound to regress, and regress he did. Just compare his performance through the first four games to his performance in the last five games to see the difference:

Games

Record

Y/G

Cmp%

TD%

INT%

Y/A

Rate

1-4

3-1

251.75

67.79

5.2%

.07%

7.5

104.07

5-9

2-3

222.80

61.69

1.1%

2.2%

6.38

74.54

But all hope is not lost. Wentz has not suddenly forgotten how to play football. Nor is he headed down the same path as RGIII, whose career represents the modern reincarnation of a Greek tragedy.

Instead, the numbers and tape suggests that, while Wentz undoubtedly has areas of his game in which he can and must improve, he has a chance to be a franchise caliber quarterback.

By The Numbers

I compiled the season averages for every quarterback drafted in the first two rounds since 2009 that started at least 10 games in their rookie year, and threw in Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott for good measure. While there is a difference in the amount of games played by each quarterback, these numbers still provide a good baseline by which we can judge Wentz’s performance to date.

QB

Yards

CMP%

TD

TD%

INT

INT%

Y/A

Rate

Carson Wentz

235.7

65.0

.9

2.9

.5

1.6

6.8

87.6

Jameis Winston

252.62

58.3

1.375

4.1

.9375

2.8

7.6

84.2

Marcus Mariota

234.83

62.2

1.583

5.1

.83

2.7

7.6

91.5

Blake Bortles

207.7

58.9

.785

2.3

1.214

3.6

6.1

69.5

Teddy Bridgewater

224.5

64.4

1.076

3.5

.92

3.0

7.3

85.2

EJ Manuel

197.2

58.8

1.1

3.6

.9

2.9

6.4

77.7

Andrew Luck

273.4

54.1

1.43

3.7

1.125

2.9

7.0

76.5

Robert Griffin III

213.3

65.6

1.33

5.1

.33

1.3

8.1

102.4

Ryan Tannehill

205.9

58.3

.75

2.5

.81

2.7

6.8

76.1

Russell Wilson

194.9

64.1

1.625

6.6

.625

2.5

7.9

100.0

Cam Newton

253.2

60.0

1.31

4.1

1.06

3.3

7.8

84.5

Blaine Gabbert

147.6

50.8

.8

2.9

.73

2.7

5.4

65.4

Christian Ponder

168.5

54.3

1.18

4.5

1.18

4.5

6.4

70.1

Sam Bradford

219.5

60.0

1.125

3.1

.93

2.5

6.0

76.5

Matthew Stafford

226.7

53.3

1.3

3.4

1.53

5.3

6.0

61.0

Mark Sanchez

162.9

53.8

.8

3.3

1.3

5.5

6.7

63.0

Matt Ryan

215.0

61.1

1.0

3.7

.68

2.5

7.9

87.7

Joe Flacco

185.7

60.0

.875

3.3

.75

2.8

6.9

80.3

Dak Prescott

252.2

66.5

1.5

4.8

.25

.8

8.1

104.2

You can look at these numbers in a variety of ways. I decided to break them down with charts comparing (1) Wentz’s production to the average of every quarterback listed above; (2) Wentz’s production to the average of every quarterback drafted in the top 5; (3) where Wentz ranks compared to the other 18 quarterbacks in each respective category; (4) how Wentz compares to known busts; and (5) how Wentz compares to the five quarterbacks that have gone onto have the best careers of the group.

Wentz v. Average of All 19 QBs

Name

Y/G

Cmp%

TD%

INT%

Y/A

Rate

QB Avg

213.09

59.13

4.05

3.01

7.0

80.87

Wentz

235.7

65.0

2.9

1.6

6.8

87.6

Wentz v. Average of QBs Drafted with Top 5 Pick

Name

Y/G

Cmp%

TD%

INT%

Y/A

Rate

Top 5 QBs

225.91

58.73

3.79

3.24

7.08

79.68

Wentz

235.7

65.0

2.9

1.6

6.8

87.6

Wentz’s Rank in Each Category (of 19 total QBs)

Name

Y/G

Cmp%

TD

TD%

INT

INT%

Y/A

Rate

Wentz

5th

3rd

8th

13th

3rd

3rd

10th

5th

Wentz v. Average of Busts: Sanchez, Ponder, Manuel and Gabbert

Name

Y/G

Cmp%

TD%

INT%

Y/A

Rate

Busts

169.05

54.42

3.57

3.9

6.22

69.05

Wentz

235.7

65.0

2.9

1.6

6.8

87.6

Wentz v. Average of 5 Best QBs: Newton, Wilson, Luck, Mariota, and Ryan

Name

Y/G

Cmp%

TD%

INT%

Y/A

Rate

Top 5

234.26

60.3

4.64

2.78

7.64

88.04

Wentz

235.7

65.0

2.9

1.6

6.8

87.6

No matter which chart you look at, the same general conclusions emerge: Wentz is playing at a high level for a rookie quarterback, recent regression be damned. That is especially true when it comes to completing passes and protecting the football.

The two areas of below average production — Y/A and TD% — deserve a dose of perspective.  As I wrote about two weeks ago, Wentz’s low Y/A can partially be explained by Pederson calling a fairly conservative gameplan. He is content on attacking defenses with the short passing game and relying on his defense to keep the game close, and has limited the opportunities that Wentz has to attack defenses downfield. The low TD% is the result of a number of factors: the Eagles receivers have dropped several easy touchdowns, the Eagles tend to rely on the run once inside the red-zone, and Wentz has left some plays on the field (as we will see in a moment). In other words, there is no reason to expect that Wentz cannot improve in these areas as he continues to grow as a player.

Here are 5 other observations from these numbers:

  • Wentz ranks in the top 3 (of 19 quarterbacks — or top 15%) in 3 out of 8 of those statistical categories (Cmp%, INT, and INT%), the top 5 (approximately top 25%) in 5 out of the 8 categories (the aforementioned 3 categories plus yards per game and QB rate), and the top 50th percentile in every category except two: Y/A and TD%. That’s high marks considering the quarterbacks on this list.
  • The “five best” group was picked based on personal preference, but I don’t think the end result would change too much if you tinkered with that list. Regardless, Wentz is right on par with the production we saw from Newton, Wilson, Mariota, Luck and Ryan during their rookie seasons.
  • While it is too early to crown Wentz as a franchise quarterback, it might not be too early to breath a sight of relief that Wentz is not a bust. Look at the chart comparing Wentz’s production to the “busts” then consider this article written by Bill Barnwell on Wentz and Prescott. Barnwell used data to attempt to answer how soon we can know whether a young quarterback is destined for stardom. While you usually need to wait two years for the best to separate from the pack, you don’t have to wait long for the worst quarterbacks to stick out like a sore thumb: “The lesson to take away from all of this, as best I can tell from history, is that the excitement around Prescott and Wentz is justified, in part because they’ve managed to avoid failing immediately. The washout rate for players who struggle at the very beginning of their professional careers, even first-round picks, is higher than I expected. Whether by a lack of opportunity or an inability to adapt, cases like that of Brees (who struggled early then rebounded to become a Pro Bowler) are few and far between.”
  • Anyone else notice how the quarterbacks drafted in the top 5 have worse averages than the group as a whole?
  • Part of that is because Dak Prescott is playing at a historic rate. It’s fair to question how much Prescott benefits from the talent around him (especially his offensive line). And it’s fair to wonder what would happen if we had Wentz and Prescott switch teams. But we cannot completely write off Prescott’s production, either. He is playing extremely well and the Cowboys look like they found their quarterback of the future.

Again: it’s early. We are only at the halfway point of Wentz’s first season. As Barnwell suggested, we likely need 2-3 seasons before drawing definitive conclusions. But from an historical perspective, the early returns are promising.