Eagles

Carson Wentz already accomplishing things even Donovan McNabb didn't

Carson Wentz already accomplishing things even Donovan McNabb didn't

After the Eagles beat the Cards at the Linc a couple weeks ago, I ran into Donovan McNabb outside the locker room and asked him if he thought he'd have any franchise records left by the time Carson Wentz was finished.

"Are you kidding?" Donovan said with a smile. "Nope. He's going to break all of them."

What he didn't say was that Wentz might break all of them this year.

McNabb is the greatest quarterback in Eagles history. A six-time Pro Bowler. A guy who probably won't be a Hall of Famer but should at least be in the conversation.

And Wentz is now doing things McNabb never did or didn't do until several years into his outstanding career.

Seventeen touchdowns through seven games? Donovan never did that.

Three touchdown passes in three straight games? Donovan never did that.

Two four-touchdown games in a three-week span? Donovan didn't do that until his sixth season.

A passer rating of 90 or higher in five straight games? Donovan didn't do that until his eighth season.

Nine straight games with at least one touchdown pass and one or fewer interceptions? Donovan never did that.

Wentz has thrown four TD passes of 50 yards or more in seven games this year. Donovan had four TD passes of 50 yards in his first 50 games.

Wentz is on pace for 38 touchdown passes. Donovan averaged 21 per year as an Eagle and threw more than 25 only once.

A 133 passer rating on third down? No. 5 was never even over 85 until his 10th year.

Yes, the game has changed since Donovan was a rookie 18 years ago. More of a passing league. And no, none of this is meant to disparage the achievements of McNabb, who never had the weapons Carson currently has.

But it does provide startling context into just how far Wentz has come in an extremely short period of time.

Wentz has blossomed over the past month into a flat-out superstar. His decision making is off the charts. His pocket awareness is astounding. His deep accuracy is getting better every day. His ability to use his legs to escape trouble and make plays on the move is astonishing. His knack for absorbing a huge hit and bouncing up and standing tall in the pocket and making throws down the field moments later is astounding.

This is Year 2.

We all expected Wentz to improve dramatically in Year 2, but this? 

Very few quarterbacks in NFL history have been this explosive this fast. 

In fact, Wentz's 104.0 passer rating through seven games is the fifth-highest in NFL history by a second-year player. And three of the four ahead of him (Dan Marino, Kurt Warner, Otto Graham) are in the Hall of Fame. The other is his backup (Nick Foles).

He's 23 games into his career. 

I ran into injured Eagles special teamer and safety Chris Maragos after the game Monday night, and he put Wentz's progress into perspective, pointing out that 22 months ago he was playing in the Missouri Valley Conference and 14 months ago he was a third-stringer behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel.

So in a little over a year he's gone from backing up Chase Daniel to convincing McNabb he won't have any team records left.

Wentz's meteoric ascent from a third-stringer who was supposed to be inactive going into opening day last year before Teddy Bridgewater got hurt to a record-setting 24-year-old who's quarterbacking the hottest team in football at an MVP level is virtually unprecedented in NFL history.

We're still a week away from the midpoint of the season, but Wentz is on pace for over 4,200 yards, 38 touchdowns, nine interceptions and more than 400 rushing yards.

Here's a list of QBs in NFL history who've thrown for 4,200 yards, rushed for 400 yards and thrown fewer than 10 interceptions: 

Yep. Nobody. Ever.

I know, I know, don't get carried away. It's only seven games, you never know what the future holds, it's all about what he does over the long haul, blah, blah, blah.

But it's impossible to not get carried away watching this kid play football. He's that good. He does things that defy belief. The way he's playing right now, I can't figure out how the Eagles will lose another game.

And the scary thing is he's going to get better. 

Donovan told me two weeks ago he believes Wentz will be the greatest Eagles quarterback of all-time by the time he was done.

Wentz may hold that title a lot sooner than any of us expected.

By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

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AP Images

By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

Bill Belichick didn’t win a playoff game until his fourth year as an NFL head coach and didn’t reach a conference title game until his seventh year.

Don Shula didn’t win a playoff game until his sixth year as a head coach.

It took Dick Vermeil four years to win a playoff game, Dan Reeves six years, Tom Landry eight.

Heck, Pete Carroll didn’t reach a conference title game until his third head coaching stop, and Marv Levy didn’t even get to the playoffs until his eighth year as a head coach.

Just a little context.

Pederson has been magnificent this year, and out of everybody we talk about who’s played a role in the Eagles' success — from Carson Wentz to Nick Foles, Howie Roseman to Joe Douglas, Fletcher Cox to Malcolm Jenkins, Jim Schwartz to John DiFillippo, Jason Kelce to Alshon Jeffery — Pederson is the common thread that’s tied all of it together.

We saw last year that Pederson had a rare ability to keep a team together when faced with adversity. Whether it was the whole Sam Bradford situation before the season, Lane Johnson’s suspension, a couple arrests, two players publicly speaking out about mental health, or just keeping the thing on the rails after three straight late-season ugly losses, Pederson won over his players by confronting each issue openly and professionally and treating his players like grown men.

By the time the team training camp ended this past summer, Pederson had earned the respect of the veterans by preaching discipline without being over the top about it and by constantly keeping the lines of communication open with his players. 

Here’s a young, inexperienced coach who had a long but undistinguished playing career and no real track record or resume as a head coach trying to convince a locker room of Super Bowl winners and all-pros that he knows what he’s doing.

But he did that. Just by being himself. Tough, smart, open, honest.

And once you get guys like Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Peters, LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery to buy in, the younger guys just fall in line. 

And that might be the biggest challenge any head coach faces. Getting guys to believe in his message. To believe in him.

But Pederson has tremendous instincts when dealing with people, a real natural, honest way of getting his point across, and it enabled him to seamlessly win over the locker room. 

Once that happened, this team was built to withstand whatever challenge it faced. To withstand whatever roadblocks stood in its way.

And as it turned out, there were plenty of them. 

We don't have to run down the littany of season-ending injuries the Eagles faced, but what this team has accomplished without its MVP quarterback, its Hall of Fame left tackle, its best linebacker, its all-pro returner and its top special teamer is nothing less than astonishing.

Nick Foles is their quarterback and they're in the NFC Championship Game.

Think about the last month.

They came from behind in Los Angeles to beat the Rams after Wentz got hurt. They beat the Giants on the road. They beat the Raiders to clinch No. 1 seed. They "upset" the Falcons in a conference semifinal playoff game. 

For this football team to be one home win away from the Super Bowl after all it has been through speaks volumes about Pederson. He's guided this franchise through adversity that would have crushed some locker rooms, and he's done it in his second year as a head coach above the high school level.

Pederson found a way to get 53 guys to believe in themselves even when very few other people did. And they returned the favor by consistently playing smart, physical, disciplined football for him no matter who the opponent, no matter what the score, no matter how long that Injured Reserve list grew.

This has been a masterful year for Pederson, and anybody who can't see that just isn't looking very hard.

Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

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USA Today Images

Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

Jay Ajayi wasn't hurt Saturday night. So why did he barely play after a huge first quarter?

Ajayi dominated the first quarter of the Eagles' 15-10 playoff win over the Falcons at the Linc with seven carries for 49 yards. But after a one-yard carry a minute into the second quarter, he didn't touch the ball again until the third quarter.

After his hot start, he didn't even get on the field on the Eagles' last two drives of the first half.

LeGarrette Blount actually had more carries than Ajayi after the first quarter, but netted only 19 yards on nine attempts, although he did score the Eagles' only touchdown from a yard out in the second quarter.

Ajayi never got into a rhythm after his long layoff. He had eight carries for five yards after the first quarter and finished with 15 carries for 54 yards along with four catches for 44 yards, including a 32-yard catch and run that was the Eagles' longest offensive play of the game.

Head coach Doug Pederson said Monday he just wanted to get Blount some work. He also said he likes to go hurry-up after long plays and was unable to sub Ajayi while the offense was going with tempo. But there weren't any plays longer than 15 yards while Ajayi sat.

Pederson said the decision on which back to use rests with him and not running backs coach Duce Staley.

“I ultimately control the personnel," he said. "Duce doesn’t sub them. I’m the one calling the plays, so I call for those guys in particular situations, and a couple times when we broke off a long run or a pass particularly — it’s a good time to go a little tempo. So whoever the back is at the time on the field, I just kept him in there.

"And [Blount] was heating up a little bit and we wanted to get him going as well and it’s just the way it went."

Ajayi had 35 of the 86 net yards on the Eagles' only touchdown drive of the game.

After that second-quarter TD drive, the Eagles ran 15 times for 17 yards, not including three Nick Foles kneel-downs.  

Pederson said all the backs know all the plays, but he just prefers different backs depending on what the Eagles are doing offensively. 

Of the Eagles’ 67 offensive plays, Ajayi played 29, Blount 20, Corey Clement 16 and Kenjon Barner one (see Snap Counts).

"The way it is set up is by design, by scheme design, a particular back might be good at a certain run scheme so we put that back in for that particular play," he said.