Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3
There was a moment last night where I just stopped and shook my head. It had nothing to do with what was happening on the field, but was instead a reaction to the fact that I was studying film of Carson Wentz in a preseason game against third string competition. But given that this was likely one of the only extended looks we will see from Wentz in the next year (unless this season goes horribly wrong), here I am.
Overall, I thought Wentz’s play was in line with my scouting report that I did pre-draft: some positives, some negatives, and some hope for the future. Let’s break down the big take aways from his Eagles debut.
- Wentz looks like he belongs.
Yes, it was only a preseason game. Yes, Wentz was playing against second and third string competition. Yes, “insert any other caveat you want to apply.” But Wentz did not look overwhelmed by the moment or by the increase in speed from the FCS:
There is a laundry list of quarterbacks that look less poised than Wentz but have significantly more experience: Geno Smith, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn. While that is an admittedly low bar, it is nonetheless encouraging that Wentz looks like he belonged out there.
Two plays immediately come to mind. In the third quarter, the Bucs showed pressure off the edge with a corner blitz. Wentz quickly diagnosed where the pressure was coming from and hit the hot option in stride:
This looks simple, but many quarterbacks struggle with this, especially rookies, who can be overwhelmed by the moment, the added responsibilities, the more complex defenses, and the increased speed of the game. Wentz was not phased in the least.
The other play that exemplified Wentz’s poise came in the third quarter when Wentz was under enormous pressure almost immediately:
It looks like a botched snap count, as at least three lineman were slow to get off their blocks. Special shout-out to rookie offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who must have fallen asleep on this play:
But, back to Wentz. There are veteran quarterbacks in this league that wouldn’t have handled this immediate pressure as well as Wentz. He wasn’t phased, didn’t get the deer in the headlights look; he kept his cool, used his legs to break containment, kept his eyes down field and delivered a strike for a nice gain.
2. Wentz is incredibly athletic and is especially adept at throwing on the move
When Mike Mayock compared Wentz’s athleticism to Andrew Luck leading up to the draft, people laughed. But Wentz is proving Mayock right.
Wentz is 6’5, 237 lbs, but moves like a gazelle. He routinely evaded pressure (as the clip above illustrates), minimizing the harm caused by a leaky offensive line.
That video cuts off right before Wentz slid to avoid the hit. According to Les Bowen, Wentz said after the game that was the first time he slid in his life, a welcomed development.
Later in the game, Wentz showed less restraint (while also flashing impressive mobility to beat the blitzer to the edge). The kid simply cannot afford to take these kind of hits on even a semi-regular basis:
Prior to the draft, I noted that Wentz excelled while throwing on the move. This is a unique trait for a young quarterback, as most quarterbacks’ mechanics fall to the wayside, impacting their accuracy. Wentz’s ability to throw on the move was on full display last night:
Wentz is especially impressive when he is stepping up into the pocket. I think part of this is that it forces better mechanics out of Wentz, preventing him from “arming” the ball, a problem I saw a lot in his college tape. Check out this play from his first series of the game, where he delivers an impressive strike to Ertz while stepping up into the pocket
3. Wentz needs to improve his accuracy
It wasn’t all pretty though. Wentz completed only 50% of his passes, thanks in large part to some ill-placed throws.
When Wentz misses, he often misses high, sailing the ball beyond the reach of his receiver (and, at least to this point, the defenders as well). I counted at least three passes that were not catchable last night:
You can see another example here.
Wentz also needs to improve his precision, as his ball placement was inconsistent at times last night. Here’s one example:
Fourth year wide receiver (#16) T.J. Graham is running a seven-yard curl towards the inside of the field. He has a good 5 yard buffer on his defender, so it should be an easy pitch and catch. But Wentz puts the ball high and to the outside shoulder. Graham arguably could have caught this — and indeed, if it was a first string WR, perhaps it would have been caught (then again, it is the Eagles we are talking about). Wentz could have made Graham’s job considerably easier if he put the ball on his numbers, or at least threw it towards the direction in which Graham was heading– i.e., his inside shoulder.
Cleaning up his mechanics during this redshirt season should help with his repetitive accuracy. But it is something to keep an eye on as we progress through the preseason. You can see a couple more examples here and here.
4. Wentz made rookie mistakes, which are to be expected
Wentz put up underwhelming numbers last night: 12-24 passing for 89 yards, 0 touchdowns and 1 interception. This caused more handwringing than I expected, with some calling his performance “rocky” and others snidely saying he was in “preseason form.”
I try not to fixate on rookies making mistakes in their first year, especially at the quarterback position. The learning curve to the NFL is incredibly steep: systems are more complex, players are moving faster, and the magnifying glass you are placed under can be overwhelming at times.
That is especially true for a player like Wentz, who is making the jump from playing FCS football in North freaking Dakota to playing at the highest level of competition in one of the toughest markets in the world.
So when I saw this terrible decision last night — where Wentz forced a throw to a covered receiver deep in the red zone — I tried to keep things in perspective.
Look, I’m not excusing the throw — it was bad — but remember: Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions to just 26 touchdowns his rookie year. Troy Aikman threw more interceptions than touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. They went on to win a combined five Superbowls during their Hall of Fame careers.
That’s not to suggest Wentz will be nearly as successful as those two (odds are he won’t), but it is to say that we shouldn’t freak out every time the kid throws a pick. If he is still making these mistakes consistently during his second season as a starter, then we should be concerned. Until then, give him time to grow.
Bottom line: I was impressed from the rookie quarterback. He made some good plays, flashed his athleticism, and didn’t look overwhelmed by the moment. Despite his mistakes, I think it was a strong debut. Hopefully we can see more of him in the remaining preseason games.