In career day, Carson Wentz's 3rd-down mastery continues in Eagles' win over Cardinals

In career day, Carson Wentz's 3rd-down mastery continues in Eagles' win over Cardinals

Here's all you need to know about how far Carson Wentz has come:
He had three touchdown passes all last year on third down. And he had three Sunday against the Cards.
Wentz continued his 2017 third-down mastery Sunday in the Eagles' blowout win over the Cards, going 11 for 12 on third down with nine conversions and throwing for 255 yards and three TD passes.
Just on third down.
In all, it was a career day for Wentz, who completed 70 percent of his passes and threw for 303 yards with four touchdowns in the Eagles' 34-7 win over the Cardinals at the Linc (see breakdown).

"Situational football is huge, that's what separates the good teams," Wentz said. "Being effective on third down, staying on the field, it helps time of possession, it helps the defense, it's a big part of the game. They call it the money down, and to be that efficient on third down is huge."

Among his Eagles' third-down conversions were two 3rd-and-11s and a 3rd-and-19.
Wentz threw an 11-yard TD to Zach Ertz on a 3rd-and-6 in the first quarter, a 59-yard TD to Torrey Smith on a 3rd-and-5 in the first quarter, a 72-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor on a 3rd-and-19 in the third quarter (see Roob's 10 observations).
He's the first Eagles QB to throw three TDs on third down in nine years, since Donovan McNabb — who spent some time with Wentz in the locker room after the game — threw TDs to Jason Avant, Brian Westbrook and DeSean Jackson, also against the Cards, at the Linc on Thanksgiving Day 2008.
"It's just guys playing on time, playing in rhythm, and it's something we take pride in," Wentz said. "We put so much extra time into it both in practice and then in the film and meeting rooms as well. I think we're seeing it paying dividends on Sundays."
Wentz vowed to get better on third down.

And five games into the season, he's the best in the league.

"This is one of the things that we talk about all spring and summer with him, was the third downs and emphasizing the third downs," Doug Pederson said. "I think the personnel that we have on offense helps that. I think the offensive line protection in some of those areas helps that.
"Then, listen, it's a credit to the guys down the field. There were some big plays made today that we expect. We don't want to be in those 3rd-and-long situations, but we do expect to execute that way and hopefully stay on the field."
Ertz caught four of Wentz's third-down throws and Agholor caught three, but five different receivers caught at least one, including Marcus Johnson, who converted a 3rd-and-1 with his first career reception.
When you're converting clutch third downs with an undrafted free agent who spent last year on the practice squad and had played 23 career snaps on offense before Sunday, you know you have something good going (see rookie report).
"Carson's playing at an extremely high level on that (third) down," Ertz said. "He understands the blitzes, he understands where to attack with the ball. We've been really efficient in that regard, and we're real happy with it.
"We're understanding where the chains are, we're understanding the down and distances, our O-line is playing great, so we're able to have deeper routes on those plays instead of just check-downs. So we're attacking the defense on those downs and we're not taking them as a disadvantage for us."
Let's compare Wentz on third down last year with this year.
You won't believe the difference.
Last year, he completed 56 percent of his passes on third down with 60 conversions, three touchdowns, five interceptions and a 67.0 passer rating that ranked him 28th of 30 qualifying quarterbacks.
This year? Including Sunday, he's hitting on 71 percent of his passes on third down with six TDs, one interception, 30 conversions and a 137.8 passer rating.
He will likely be the top-ranked third-down passer in the NFL on Monday morning.
Overall, Wentz is now hitting on 62 percent of his passes and throwing for 272 yards per game with 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His passer rating is up to 97.7 (see report card).
"He played amazing today," Ertz said. "Obviously, there's plays everyone wants back, but four touchdowns to four different guys is a huge stepping stone.
"He's the face of the franchise. As he goes, we go. And the most impressive part is that he's so even keel through the highs and the lows.
"We love playing for him. Our offense played at an extremely high level — against a team that's had our number the past couple years and has a really good defense."
What about Wentz's only incomplete pass on third down?
It came on a 3rd-and-5 early in the third quarter. He had Ertz open but just missed him.
"He said he wanted to find a hole and go bury himself in it," Ertz said with a laugh. "But it happens to everybody. Nobody's perfect. I had a drop against the Giants, so we're even now."

5 realistic options for Eagles at No. 32

USA Today Images

5 realistic options for Eagles at No. 32

There’s a chance the Eagles don’t even pick tonight. They own No. 32 but could try to move back to gain more draft picks. Very possible. 

But if they don’t, here are five options at 32 from Paul Hudrick and Dave Zangaro: 

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Guice is a bell cow back that will make an impact immediately at the NFL level. If there wasn’t an athletic freak like Saquon Barkley at the top of the draft, Guice would be RB1. He’s powerful, explosive and has outstanding vision.

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Michel shared the backfield during his time at Georgia, but was productive every time he received an opportunity. The tape that stands out is his game against Alabama. He showed elite quickness and elusiveness against the highest level of competition. Michel is a complete back, but just a notch below Guice.

Eagles RB situation
The Eagles bring back Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement this season, but after that? There’s nothing in stone. LeGarrette Blount left in free agency. Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey are on the roster, but aren’t locks. Kenjon Barner is back on the street, along with Darren Sproles, who might be a candidate to bring back in the summer. Even if the Eagles don’t draft a RB in the first, it would be somewhat surprising if they don’t take one at some point.

Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
Harrison has phenomenal size, length and athletic ability. He’s physical and fluid in his movements. Discipline has to be the biggest concern. At times, he’ll take poor angles or go for the big hit leading to missed tackles. He should excel against tight ends in coverage at the next level.

Eagles S situation
Safety is one of the more under-the-radar needs. The Eagles have Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, but Jenkins is getting older and McLeod’s cap number is rising. With how much the Eagles moved Jenkins around last season, and with Corey Graham gone, the Eagles’ third safety is important. Chris Maragos isn’t the answer; he’s too important on special teams. And despite how much the team has talked up Tre Sullivan, is he really the guy? A safety at 32 makes sense. He wouldn’t start but could play a lot.

D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
I have Moore as WR1. He has unbelievably quick feet and reliable hands. He’s tremendous after the catch, always looking to turn up the field. He also shows serious toughness from the wide receiver position. He’ll have to refine his route running, but he could become an elite WR on the outside or in the slot. Moore also has experience returning punts and kicks.

Eagles WR situation
Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins. Good start, right? But after that, the Eagles have a bunch of unproven guys, starting with Shelton Gibson. Even Hollins has more to prove. Agholor finally lived up to his draft status last year but it’s time to start thinking about this future. And Wallace is on a one-year deal. The Eagles could use another weapon … especially one who can return.

Connor Williams, OT, Texas
This pick represents great value. Williams’ 2016 tape had him as the best tackle going into 2017. An injury derailed his season and draftniks began questioning whether he had the length to succeed at OT. The 2016 version of Williams is an elite lineman, whether at tackle or guard – or even center.

Eagles OL situation
DZ: The starters are set, but Jason Peters is aging and Halapoulivaati Vaitai is the only solid depth piece at tackle if you don’t include super-versatile Isaac Seumalo. The interior depth guys are Seumalo and Chance Warmack. The Eagles always emphasize building along the lines, specifically the offensive line.

Eagles taking a RB at No. 32? History suggests it's unlikely

USA Today Images

Eagles taking a RB at No. 32? History suggests it's unlikely

The last running back the Eagles drafted in the first round was Keith Byars. That was 32 years ago.

The last running back they took anywhere in the first three rounds was LeSean McCoy. Believe it not, that was nine years ago.

It’s been true for decades, and it’s still true today. The Eagles simply do not believe in using premium draft picks on running backs.

And it’s hard to blame them.

The Eagles have had 61 picks in the first three rounds over the last 20 years and used just four of them on running backs – McCoy in the second round in 2009 and Brian Westbrook (2002), Ryan Moats (2005) and Tony Hunt (2007) in the third round.

Shady, who is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career, is actually the only running back the Eagles have taken in the first two rounds since Charlie Garner back in 1994.

“I think running backs the last few drafts you’ve been able to see guys contribute from every part of the draft,” vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. “You think about third-round picks, guys like Dave Johnson, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara. Those guys weren’t first- or second-round picks.”

A lot of mock drafts and experts had the Eagles taking a running back in the first round of last year’s running back-rich draft.

But they took a lineman, Derek Barnett, for the 19th time in their last 25 first-round picks.

And they managed to cobble together a running back corps that wound up third in the NFL in rushing yards despite not a single back taken in the first four rounds of the draft in a key role.

“Coming out of the draft everyone thought last year we needed to get a [running back] high,” Douglas said.

“And we ended up addressing it acquiring one player in the draft (fourth-rounder Donnel Pumphrey, who didn’t play), another player after the draft (Corey Clement) and then two more veterans after the draft (LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi). So there’s a lot of different ways you can get those guys.”

Blount and Clement came into the NFL as undrafted rookies. Ajayi was a fifth-round pick. Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood were both late-round picks.

Add it all up and you have a Super Bowl backfield without a running back taken in the first 148 picks of a draft.

“We thought maybe there would be an opportunity to get one of those running backs [last year], maybe a different guy than Pump,” executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said.

“But we went and as a staff attacked it, getting LeGarrette, who had a great year and was really a huge part of our team, and then making a trade and getting Jay. 

“We’re going to attack it in the draft, we’re going to attack it in June, we’re going to attack it in August, and we’re going to attack it at the trade deadline. … This is not the end of talent-acquisition season. It’s really just starting.”

Teams often will bypass even the most talented running backs in the first round simply because their shelf life is so limited.

For every Adrian Peterson, there are 10 Larry Johnsons, C.J. Spillers or Beanie Wells.

The last running back the Eagles took in the first round to rush for 750 yards in a season was Steve Van Buren.

They’ve drafted 10 since taking him in 1944.

But Douglas said the Eagles aren’t philosophically opposed to taking a running back in the first round, although it’s almost impossible to imagine them actually taking one.

“Great running backs are difference makers,” Douglas said. “We’ve seen that in today’s NFL. Special guys coming out of the backfield and can hurt you in the pass game. If it’s the right player, we’re not opposed to taking him.”