Carson Wentz, Eagles' receivers forced to develop chemistry on the fly

Carson Wentz, Eagles' receivers forced to develop chemistry on the fly

There’s no way to replace all the time they’ve missed. No way to squeeze an entire offseason of practice time into just a few days.

The Eagles’ receivers all of a sudden showed up at work on Monday and had a new quarterback, and the transition from Sam Bradford to Carson Wentz is going to take time.

There’s no way around it.

“I remember when I was young, it seemed like things were flying all over the place,” veteran tight end Brent Celek said of Wentz. “So the people around him, we just need to elevate our game and help him in any way possible. Be in the right place at the right time so he can rely on us. ...

“It’s hard to give him any advice ... because this is going to be his first start in an NFL game, and I know that crowd is going to be roaring, so I’m sure he’ll be amped up a little bit. But after a few plays he’ll settle down and be himself, and we’ve got to have some success, help him out.”

Wentz did not practice from Aug. 12, the day after he broke two ribs in the Tampa preseason game, until this past Monday, when he was cleared medically and also took over the reigns from Bradford.

Now he’s the starter for the regular-season opener against the Browns on Sunday.

How tough an adjustment will it be?

Jordan Matthews won’t use that word. He doesn’t believe in it.

“I don’t like to say the word tough, you know?” said Matthews, who didn’t practice with Wentz until this week. “You go with what you got. And it happened, so all you’ve got to do is always look at the positives, and the positives are that everybody here believes in Carson. Top to bottom, that’s the feeling.

“You can kind of feel it, Carson’s ready. This game’s not too big for him. We’re excited for him, I’m excited to go out and play with him. It’s shocking because you aren’t ready for it, but at the end of the day, obviously it’s a business and once teams started having some quarterbacks going down, some quarterback issues, you could read the writing on the wall.

“We were the one team that had two quarterbacks who can be looked at as franchise guys and then the thing was we just drafted the guy everybody thought was a franchise guy in Carson. So once he came out in spring camp and showed everybody that he was mentally and physically prepared, then when that situation happened, yeah, you’re shocked, but you kind of understand.

“We get a first-round pick, it makes sense. Trust me, I’m the main person who wanted Sam here. I wanted him to come back, and glad I got to spend some more time with him, but you have to still deal with the facts and the facts were that we were able to get a first-round pick out of it and they knew Carson was ready, so when something like that happens, hey, you go with who you got and try to win a game.”

Wentz was working with the third-stringers most of camp when he was healthy, and those guys — Paul Turner, David Watford, Cayleb Jones, Marcus Johnson — are either on the practice squad or no longer with the team.

So the main group of receivers— Matthews, Josh Huff, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham — plus tight ends Celek and Zach Ertz has a lot of catching up to do.

“Get in early and work with him, come in early, stay late,” Huff said. “It’s definitely hard. It’s like you started work for the first time and they gave you a desktop full of work and they expect you to finish it in a week. But that’s something you’ve got to do as a professional. Get down the chemistry and make sure we’re right for Sunday.  

“I got some work with him during training camp but after that I really haven’t gotten any with him. Hopefully, we don’t have those growing pains, but if we do, that’s expected. But Carson’s a smart dude. I don’t think it’ll be too much for him to handle.”

Celek has played with Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Kevin Kolb, Mark Sanchez, Vince Young, A.J. Feeley, Mike Kafka, Matt Barkley, Trent Edwards and Bradford.

So Wentz will become QB No. 12.

“It’s an adjustment but I don’t think it’s that big,” Celek said. “We’ve been practicing with him for some time now, and I’m sure he’s getting more and more comfortable being out there with us.

“We as receivers need to be in the right spot at the right time to make it easy for him, and then we’ve got to block for him and keep people off of him so he can make easy throws. Do what we do and do it well.”

For Green-Beckham, Wentz is his third starting quarterback in a month. He was in Tennessee with Marcus Mariota until he was traded to the Eagles in mid-August, and just as he was starting to build up chemistry with Bradford, Bradford was shipped to the Vikings.

“We don’t have too much time, so we have to take advantage of practice and after practice and try to get the timing right,” DGB said. “Not being here during OTAs, it hurts, but after practice is the only time we have to get ready.”

Matthews is entering his third NFL season and already on his fourth quarterback.

He played eight games with Foles, 10 games with Sanchez and 14 games with Bradford.

“It’s different but it’s something I’m used to,” Matthews said. “When I was in high school I played with five different quarterbacks. At Vanderbilt I played with six different and I think this will be my fourth different in three years in the NFL.

“So I still approach the game from the aspect of, I’ve got to make sure I do my job better than anybody so that whatever happens around me, I’m still there for my teammates, whether it’s the quarterback, whether it’s new receivers coming in, whether it’s an O-line that maybe I have to get open quicker because of timing.

“Anything like that, I’ve got to make sure I handle my job. So yeah, sometimes it’s a challenge, but at the same time it’s something I’m really used to.

“It does make it exciting when you know you’ve got a guy who is in there who can play and a guy who’s going to be here a long time in Carson, so I’m as excited as everybody.”

Eagles-Giants predictions

Eagles-Giants predictions

The Eagles will have to press on without MVP candidate Carson Wentz and turn to Nick Foles.

Foles will get the chance to keep things going against a lowly Giants team in Week 15.

We’ll get our first glance of the offense without Wentz as the Eagles (11-2) visit the New York Giants (2-11) Sunday afternoon (1 p.m./FOX).

Can Foles get a win on the road and inch the Eagles closer to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs?

Our experts provide their predictions:

Reuben Frank (12-1)
Let’s be honest, the Eagles could run Matt McGloin, Matt Barkley or Aaron Murray out there Sunday afternoon and get out of East Rutherford with a win. This is the perfect first opponent for Nick Foles to make his first start of the year. Foles, 15-9 as the Eagles’ starter, has thrown just 69 passes over the last two years and is sure to have some rust as he begins the task of replacing Carson Wentz. Who better to knock the rust off than the lowly Giants? They’re 29th in the NFL in offense, 32nd in defense and playing out the string under a lame-duck interim coach. The Giants are 2-11, they’ve scored 10 offensive TDs in their last eight games and they’ve lost games this year by 10, 10, 14, 16, 17, 20 and 34 points. The Eagles won’t need a 61-yard Jake Elliott field goal this time. If Barkley were starting, I’d pick Eagles 20-7. If Murray were starting, I’d pick Eagles 17-7. If McGloin were starting I’d go 9-7 Birds. But with Foles? This one won’t be close. 

Eagles 30, Giants 7

Dave Zangaro (10-3)
The Giants are a complete mess. So no matter what you think of Foles or the Eagles' chances of winning it all after losing Wentz, they won't drop this game. 

Foles should be more than good enough to beat the NFL's second-worst defense. And there's a real chance for the Eagles to rally around their backup quarterback. I listened to a radio interview with Jeff Hostetler earlier this week and the one thing he said stood out about his magical Super Bowl run in 1990 was the support of his teammates. He said his fellow Giants really rallied around him. That's what Foles needs to happen. 

The Eagles have overcome injuries all season, but losing Wentz is by far the biggest obstacle to overcome. In many ways, he was the reason they were able to overcome all those other blows. Can they make a run without him? Well, a lot of it depends on Foles, but the rest of the team will really need to play mistake-free football because Wentz won't be there to hide those blemishes anymore. 

Oh yeah, back to this game. The Eagles are gonna win. 

Eagles 30, Giants 13

Derrick Gunn (10-3)
What a mess the Giants are right now. GM Jerry Reese fired! Head coach Ben McAdoo fired! Future Hall of Fame QB Eli Manning sits for a game and then resumes his starting role. Their offense can't score (15.3 points per game — which is 31st in the league), and their defense, which was the heart of this team in 2016, is nothing more than a distant memory. The Giants' D is 32nd overall in yards allowed, 31st in passing yards allowed, 31st in run defense and 27th in points allowed. 

The Eagles are quickly getting over the loss of Wentz, who was having an MVP season. This should be a walk in the park for the Birds even without Wentz, but you won't hear the players say that. They have a lot of respect for their wounded division foe, and as that old saying goes, "On any given Sunday." If Dallas was able to put up 30 points on the G-men, then surely the Birds can do that. You should be able to go holiday shopping by halftime.

Eagles 34, Giants 13

Ray Didinger (11-2)
The Eagles face a steeper challenge now with Wentz gone. Yes, Foles can move the offense, but he can't do all the things Wentz can do. It will be up to the coaches to draw up a game plan that is a fit for Foles. It will start with a heavy dose of the run, which is fine since the Giants are allowing 130 yards per game on the ground (31st in the league).

Jay Ajayi is becoming a bigger part of the offense — he had 15 carries for 78 yards against the Rams — so look for him to get a lot of work Sunday. For Foles to be effective, the offensive line has to play better than it did the last two weeks. The best way to protect Foles is to control the ball on the ground and let him work the passing game off play action. It's a simple formula, really.

At 2-11, the Giants are playing out the string under interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo. I expect the Eagles defense to come out inspired and swarm all over Eli Manning and the undermanned New York offense. The Eagles may not score their customary 30-plus points but they will score enough to get the win and secure that playoff bye.

Eagles 24, Giants 13

Andrew Kulp (11-2)
Not sure how Foles will fare in his first start, but he's probably better than soon-to-be 37-year-old Eli Manning at this point. That and the Giants are trash.

Eagles 27, Giants 20

Corey Seidman (8-4)
This week’s prediction isn’t as easy it should’ve been, for obvious reasons. 

Gotta remember, however, that the Giants are a depleted team down their top two receivers and best cornerback. I think Nick Foles does enough to win and the Eagles play ball control. The defense should force many a three-and-out against Eli Manning, who gets the ball out rapidly but often for gains of three yards. 

Eagles 20, Giants 9

Nick Foles' impressive mark as Eagles starter at home

AP Images

Nick Foles' impressive mark as Eagles starter at home

Eagles Milestone Watch just isn't quite as much fun without Carson Wentz, is it?

But you know what? There are still some pretty cool statistical plateaus to look for Sunday when the Eagles face the Giants at MetLife Stadium and through the rest of the season.

Let's take a look!

• Nick Foles has won eight straight starts at home, which is two shy of the longest home winning streak by an Eagles quarterback since 1950. Donovan McNabb won 10 starts over the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Randall Cunningham won nine straight from 1991 through 1993 and Foles (2013-14) and Carson Wentz (2016-17) won eight straight. Rodney Peete (1995-96) and Bobby Thomason (1953-54) had seven-game home-winning streaks.

• Even though he's played only five games in an Eagles uniform, Jay Ajayi has already had three games with both 75 or more rushing yards and a yards-per-carry average of at least 5.0. With one more game with 75 yards and a 5.0 average, Ajayi would join Brian Westbrook, Wilbert Montgomery and LeSean McCoy as only the fourth running back in Eagles history with four such games in a season.

• The Eagles have scored 30 or more points in eight of their first 13 games. One more 30-point game ties the franchise record of nine set in 2014.

• The Eagles are averaging 176 rushing yards per game and allowing 88 rushing yards. They're on pace to become only the third team in NFL history to gain 2,250 rushing yards while allowing fewer than 1,150 rushing yards. The others are the 1941 Bears and 1969 Cowboys.

• Finally, this: Brent Celek, who could be approaching his final three games with the Eagles, has 4,973 career receiving yards, all in an Eagles uniform. With 27 more yards, he will become the eighth player in Eagles history with 5,000 receiving yards and only the 12th tight end in NFL history with at least 5,000 receiving yards all with the same team. The only other players with at least 5,000 yards all in an Eagles uniform are Pete Retzlaff (7,412), Mike Quick (6,464), Hall of Famer Pete Pihos (5,619) and Bobby Walston (5,363).