Sure, I understand the criticism that you can throw Wentz’s way. The funny thing about that, Wentz will catch the blame unlike his targets that drop balls every week. The rookie actually caught his own pass off a deflection this season. He also tackled Vontaze Burfict after throwing a pick. If only more of his teammates had that fire. Philadelphia’s 3-0 start was a surprise but in the end, they were the mediocre team that they were expected to be. Rookie head coach, rookie quarterback, at least they had a great start to catch the public eye before getting skimmed over on the scoreboard by everyone. Everyone that just looks at the scores, sees another lowlight of Wentz throwing an interception, or getting sacked in the redzone to end the game. Let’s get straight to the point here, what Eagles’ players would you want in fantasy football, in Madden, or your favorite team in real life? Maybe a few of the defenders, Darren Sproles, maybe Wentz if you don’t have your franchise quarterback. Oh, not sold on Wentz? Too soon? Talk to me at the end of this.
Ryan Mathews is an injury-riddled running back with fumbling issues. Darren Sproles is fantastic with limited touches and on special teams. When Mathews got hurt, again, they tried to feature Sproles and the load was too heavy. It’s OK and all, he’s one of the all-time greats at his particular role. I’m just telling you that there’s no Le’Veon Bell, no David Johnson, or no Ezekiel Elliot in Philly. The rookie Wendell Smallwood earned more carries but then he got lost for the season with a knee injury. I actually think he could be the future back of this team as early as next season, but all good things take time and there’s other moving parts on offense.
The offensive line has been a strength all season, definitely an upper tier unit across the league despite their moments of breakdowns and injuries. Jason Peters isn’t getting run into the ground by Chip Kelly’s uptempo practices and play-calling on game days. He still looks like he can play at a high level for 2 more seasons. Lane Johnson might have a real case against the NFL, nonetheless, strike two on one of the elite right tackles in the league. His presence has definitely been missed, but the unit has managed better than most teams would have performed after losing a blocker of that caliber. Rookie Isaac Seomalu graded high in his debut against the Redskins. The Eagles are pretty good in the trenches, consisting of mostly veterans.
Since Zach Ertz was drafted, everyone has been waiting for him to dethrone Brent Celek but his blocking has too good to take off the field. Celek probably has earned some more targets, he won’t burn by anyone but the vet has a way of getting open when called upon. It’s something little, but if most players did all the little things right then the Eagles record would be flipped around. Ertz doesn’t have the instincts to play backyard football when Wentz eludes pressure and that’s exactly why Trey Burton has become one of the go-to guys. Burton made the switch from quarterback in college and appears to be coming around as a tight end. Actually, he looks like the most reliable target in recent weeks, moving the chains on 3rd downs and actually gaining separation. Ertz is going through an adjustment period, another offense to learn, adapting to being a go-to guy and they paid him because they believe he will grow into it.
As for Jordan Matthews, he is who we thought he was and that’s a slot receiver. He’s a big target that suffers from mental lapses by rounding routes and dropping balls that hit his hands. Those are the same characteristics to describe Dorial Green-Beckham. Nelson Agholor is smaller than them but he’s shown to have the same flaws and that’s the make up of this receiving core. Josh Huff had some play-making ability with on screens, reverses, and as a returner, but he was let go after some off-the-field incidents. Matthews has proved to be effective in the slot, keep him there, just don’t ever expect him to evolve into a #1. Agholor has the more speed to be a role player. As you can see, he needs to develop a professional mentality and thick skin and those aren’t necessarily things you can teach.
Most importantly, it’s unfortunate how underwhelming Green-Beckham and Ertz have been in the redzone, they were supposed to be the big targets to convert drives into touchdowns. But no, I’m hoping to see Sproles, Burton and Paul Turner on the field. Turner garnered some offseason attention, got released then signed to the practice squad. He might not be the next undrafted Victor Cruz to make a name for himself, but the guy has the instincts that go hand-in-hand with Wentz’s scrambling and I want to watch him in this last few games. I’ve seen more than enough of the other guys, who were all high draft picks by the way. Perhaps former receiver Greg Lewis, the wide receivers coach, needs more time to grow as a coach as well. He, along with a young core probably need one key addition to get things rolling. For example, say they do lure DeSean Jackson back in free agency, that will give them a deep threat again to open things underneath for Ertz, Matthews, Beckham, and the ground game.
Although aggressive when it comes to 4th downs, head coach Doug Pederson has shown the other side of the coin when you go for it all the time in Madden and you don’t convert. You lose a chance at a field goal, give the opponent decent field position, puts the defense against the wall to be perfect, and it casts a shadow over the confidence of a young offense. Pederson’s decision-making has been one of the team’s biggest flaws, from challenge flags to the play-calling. Don’t overlook the impact of Pederson being a former quarterback, it is a big deal. Just like having backup quarterback Chase Daniel, someone that knows how to be a pro, how to study film, providing a sideline perspective for the rookie. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is still learning as a coach, he’s not seasoned, and Philip rivers actually had one of his worst seasons under Reich as a coordinator. Pederson and Reich are projects in their new coaching roles. Daniel has played the most pivotal role behind the scenes, in between possessions, and with the things we don’t see. The play-calling, although the running backs and wide receivers need to be upgraded, hasn’t been able to match the ebbs and flows of season.
General Manager Howie Roseman did a fantastic job with the roster in the offseason, providing overnight damage control after Chip Kelly’s mess. Every week we still see LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson do the same things that they did in an Eagles’ uniform. Roseman shed Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso from the defense, added Brandon Brooks to the line and moved up twice to draft Wentz #2 overall. Even before Philly’s trade with Cleveland, I preferred Wentz over Jared Goff because he knew how to direct an offense and had more mobility.
In no way did I see what I’m about to say coming. Wentz has earned an A-grade in my book over the course of his rookie season.
Pre-snap: He’s patient at the line, gets a defense to prematurely show blitz, hard counts them offsides, and audibles out of a play into a successful one.
During the play: He’s got a good feel for pressure, he sheds arm tackles, has the toughness to scramble in a crowd for first downs and QB sneaks, he extends plays looking to pass, he’s got a good arm but no one is really getting open to begin with. I like how he’s got the fire and “let’s go” attitude to take a deep shot. The guy consistently stands tall in the pocket to throw a strike, knowing that he’s about to get rocked, he takes it and gets up over and over again.
Biggest Flaw: Occasional overthrows in the 15-20 yard range.
Postgame: Gives a great press conference and interview. He’s displays leadership, exudes confidence, takes the bullet even when it’s not his fault, doesn’t throw anyone under the bus, is forward-thinking, transparent that he needs to improve even when successful, understands that there is a personal process and a team process, the guy just gets it and he’s all about it. I don’t feel that Goff remotely resembels those qualities, and the same can be said for a grip of starting quarterbacks for various reasons.
The narrative about the Eagles’ defense being the key to their success is so wrong. So wrong. Before we get into the defense, the key to this team’s wins has been whether Wentz can milk 34 minutes in time of possession. That kept a flawed defense off the field, kept them fresh, gave them favorable field position to stop opposing offenses, and obviously score points. Not always touchdowns, there were a lot of field goals, regardless, the load was all on Wentz with a below average supporting cast, odd play-calling, and a front-running defense.
The d-line has talent, Jordan Hicks is the future at middle linebacker, and the safety tandem is elite. Jim Schwartz is a good coordinator, stubborn because he doesn’t like to blitz and he didn’t want Eric Rowe around, but he’s still a good coordinator. The obvious hole is cornerback, then I would say outside linebacker. Fletcher Cox has to adjust to seeing extra blockers so the Pro Bowler is still growing in his game as well. He’s just got to learn from this season, watch the film, and find the ways he can actively contribute like his big contract suggest. Bennie Logan is another standout that I like a lot. I like Connor Barwin but he and Schwartz have to figure out a way to get his production back up. He’s a very athletic player that can do it all, he can cover a back on one play and stuff the run on the next, he’s just not that one-dimensional pass rushing specialist. Brandon Graham broke out this season and then came to a halt, perhaps hitting a wall, but he’s shown that he can play at a high level for half a season and that’s good news. The motors might have slowed down because of the quick completions allowed by the cornerbacks that are afraid to bump and run or aren’t allowed to. Too much off-coverage on 3rd and short that basically give opponents the right of passage to move the chains.
The special teams has been elite since Dave Fipp arrived, Sproles hasn’t lost a step, and there’s no wonder that the big 4 special teamers all received contract extensions: Donnie Jones, Caleb Sturgis, Chris Maragos, and Jon Dorenbos. They are all-around reliable, returns, punts and coverage, and on kick offs.
Very bright future for Wentz and the Eagles. Not bad for one offseason to purge some bad contracts and acquire a franchise QB. Clearly, the Eagles need to upgrade at receiver, cornerback, outside linebacker, and running back. A team with high defensive aspirations will also look for a pass rushing specialist and that won’t change this offseason, that’s always going to be a priority when you don’t have a guy piling up the sacks. We all know that a rookie QB is going to have his pros and cons, I’m just telling you that his pros greatly outweight the cons and a mediocre situation to inherit, which includes being a backup to Sam Bradford and getting hurt in the first preseason game. And again, his lack of offensive weapons and play-calling that needs to be better. To end this season I would spread 4 and 5 wide and let Wentz fling the ball around. They might have a bit of fun doing it and he’ll see the blitz coming to find an open target for a few yards that is basically a run play anyway like Andy Reid used to do. I don’t want to see any more of Ryan Mathews, and I’d rather give the reps to the passing offense that needs it all-around.
People fall in love with highlights and numbers. Here are the rookie’s stats:
The good: 247 passing yards per game, completing 63, four 300 yards games, 4 multi-TD games
The good: T5 in completions with Carr, 6th in attempts, more yards than Dak/Mariota, just behind Eli/Big Ben
The bad: 13 touchdowns (1 rushing), 15 turnovers (12 picks and 3 fumbles), 6.5 yards per attempt, 4 multi-INT games
Offensive Player Stats
Sacked 8th most at 30x, 2x was not sacked, same amount of INT as Winston, Tannehill, Flacco, less than Rivers/Brees/Eli/Palmer
Leading rusher is Mathews with 487 yards, averaging 44 yards per game (26th), T10 with 9 TDs (team got him there)
Sproles 4th in RB receptions (47), 7th in first downs (17)
J. Matthews 29th in receiving yards (765 leads team), Kenny Britt and Terrelle Pryor are gonna break a thousand
Huff led the team in YAC and he’s no longer around, Matthews 49th in TDs with 3
Among TEs Ertz 7th in receptions, 10th in yards, 10th in first downs, 22nd in TDs with 2
Offense: scores more than Seahawks (Wilson), Giants (Manning), Ravens (Flacco), all SB winning QBs
Offense: scores about the same as DET, TB, ARI, other NFC playoff contenders
Offense: as many first downs as OAK, more than PIT, GB, DET
Offense: not good on 3rd downs 37%, gone for most 4th downs in league, 1 of 8 teams with over 100 penalties
Offense: #1 in time of possession
Defense: 12th fewest points allowed and yards allowed, middle of the pack in INT and FF (10 each) and sacks (28)
Special Teams: best kick off coverage (18.4 return average), 4th fewest punt returns allowed (19)
Special Teams: K Sturgis 6th in points with 108, 1st in kick return average (28.6), 4th in punt return average (12.4)
Too early to call my shot on Wentz? Not for me it isn’t. Watch each game’s story unfold, the load this kid has to shoulder, basically needing to will an offense. His best weapons are the blockers, and that’s how you build a team, from the inside out.It takes time to get to the next offseason, the next free agency period, and the next draft. It takes time to get the weekly reps and for a team to grow together.
The Eagles haven’t won a division game this season, but watching each of those games and seeing how those teams perform week to week, they aren’t too far behind the rest of the division. All that with a new head coach, new system, rookie quarterback, a lot of young players that need to develop, and they could benefit from adding a few talented pieces like any other team. It might be next season, maybe not, but the year after that and we will start to see this team take strides like the Raiders, Chiefs, Lions and Buccaneers all did, in due time. They’re all in the playoff picture right now.