Carson Wentz

Carson Wentz feels 5-1 Eagles 'just wired different this year'

Carson Wentz feels 5-1 Eagles 'just wired different this year'

There's something special going on around here, and Carson Wentz isn't afraid to say it.

“We’re made different this year," Wentz said after practice Thursday. "We have a different character makeup in that locker room, and nobody’s going to ever settle for anything less than greatness. So we’re going to go out there every day and attack it.”

The Eagles, 5-1, go for their fifth straight win Monday night against the Redskins, who they beat on opening day at FedEx Field.

Wentz, in only his second season, has elbowed his way into the NFL MVP conversation (see story). His emergence as the unquestioned leader of this team has mirrored the team's emergence as one of the NFL's elite teams.

Wentz spoke Thursday about how he sensed something different, something special, as far back as spring workouts.

“You could just see it, even going back to OTAs," he said. "You could see the competitive nature, even in practice. You couldn’t wear pads. You couldn’t even press cover outside. You could just see the competitive nature.

"And then through training camp, it just kept getting elevated even more. You could just see it from the leadership on down. We’re just wired different this year.”

When Wentz tells his teammates to strive for greatness, they listen, because here's a kid who in just 22 career games has established himself as one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. He has 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions this year and has posted a passer rating of 90 or higher in five of six games.

“It’s something that we always strive for," Wentz said. "And really, in everything we do in life, you strive for greatness.

"When we’re sitting where we’re at right now, we can just never let that slip. We can never let that slip from our preparation in the film room, the meeting room, the weight room, in practice, so that’s just something I feel like we have to always keep focusing on.

"Never settle, never settle, and just keep striving for that greatness.”

Wentz said he didn't feel anything lacking last year, when the Eagles went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for a third straight year.

It's just that head coach Doug Pederson is in Year 2, coordinators Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz are in Year 2 and Wentz is in Year 2.

The whole program is in Year 2 and there's a confidence, an attitude, a swagger that was nowhere to be found last year or really the last few years.

“I think it was just a natural growth," Wentz said. "You go back and look at last season again. We were so close in so many of those ballgames but [it's] just the natural growth that’s taken place both from coach and just really all of us being in this together and having a year under our belt."

Jay Gruden 'very upset' Eagles were able to land Carson Wentz

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USA Today Images

Jay Gruden 'very upset' Eagles were able to land Carson Wentz

Washington head coach Jay Gruden has faced Carson Wentz just three times so far.

That's all he needed to think Wentz is special.  

"I think he's progressed at a rate as fast as anybody I've seen really," Gruden said on a conference call with Philly reporters on Thursday. "His ability to make plays in the pocket, his ability to stay in the pocket in the face of a rush and still deliver balls accurately, his command of the offense. 

"I think he's already proven this short in his career that he's one of the top quarterbacks in the league, quite frankly, and he's going to be for a long time. And I don't know how he got to Philadelphia. And I'm very upset about that." 

Wentz is 1-2 against Washington in his first three games, but that first win came in this season's opener on the road. In that game, Wentz completed 66 percent of his passes for 307 yards, two touchdowns and one pick, for a passer rating of 96.8. 

And Wentz has gotten even better since then. He's now the favorite in Vegas to win the NFL MVP. 

When asked how daunting it might become to face Wentz twice per season for the foreseeable future, Gruden pointed out that it's similar to the Cowboys and Dak Prescott. Then he pointed out they still have to face Eli Manning twice per season. 

"Every week it seems like we're playing against an excellent quarterback and knowing that Wentz is going to be there for a long period of time just puts a few more gray hairs on my head," Gruden said. "But love the competition and it's our job to get after him and make him uncomfortable." 

While Wentz is clearly the Eagles' quarterback of the future, things are a little cloudier in Washington, where Kirk Cousins is in his second year of playing on a franchise tag. 

Gruden said the "intent" is to have Cousins for the long-term, but it's already been a long saga and there's still no deal in place. 

Cousins has had a crazy career path. He began as Robert Griffin III's backup after being taken three rounds later in the same draft in 2012. But he won the starting job and he's started every game for Washington the last three seasons. 

Thursday, on a conference call with Philly reporters, Cousins said he thought there was a good chance the Eagles were going to draft him in 2012. He felt that way after meeting with Howie Roseman and Andy Reid before the draft. But instead, the Eagles took Nick Foles 14 spots ahead of him. 

After watching the Eagles rotate quarterback since then, Cousins doesn't have any hard feelings. 

"I think the Eagles have ended up with the guy that they want," Cousins said. "I think they're really excited about Carson Wentz and for good reason. They're one of the best teams in the league on third down, and some of the plays he's making off-schedule are very special. I think they're very content and I'd like to think the Redskins are as well. Hopefully, it can make for a great rivalry that a lot of fans can get behind and get excited about, hopefully, for many years ahead."

Why the Eagles will (and why they won't) finish as NFC's top seed

Why the Eagles will (and why they won't) finish as NFC's top seed

All of you who predicted before the season that the Eagles would open with five wins in six games, raise your hand.
 
Put your hands down, liars.
 
If you made that prediction and acted on it, you're likely not reading this. You're probably taping the next episode of Island Hunters.
 
The Eagles haven't finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed in the NFC since 2004. The landscape can change any one of thousands of ways over the next 11 weeks. While I'm confident the Birds will return to the postseason for the first time since 2013, they're gunning for that No. 1 spot. Here are the reasons why they will, and why they won't, be atop the NFC standings after Week 17.
 
WILL
 
1. Carson Wentz

A little more than 13 months ago, we had no idea what we had in the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. Since then, he's shown that not only can he lead an offense, but he has also grown as an NFL passer by leaps and bounds. He's the best QB in the game on third down this season (130.5 rating), and it's no coincidence he's the favorite to win NFL MVP.
 
2. Lane Johnson
Wentz's performance, both last year and this year, can be directly linked to whether or not Johnson is protecting him. During Johnson's 10-game suspension for a second PED violation in 2016, the Eagles went 2-8. With him, they were 5-1 last year, 4-1 this year. It's impossible to undersell his role in the offense's efficiency.
 
3. Doug Pederson
If there are 70,000 fans who signed a petition to ban NFL referee Pete Morelli from working Eagles games, there should be at least three times that many that should write apology letters to the Eagles' head coach. So many wanted to run him out of town for going for it on 4th-and-8 against the Giants, but did you applaud him for calling the perfect play — a 19-yard out-route to Alshon Jeffery with seven seconds left — a play that took exactly six seconds. Since then, how many times have you screamed at your big screen over a Pederson mistake? I'm guessing not many. Give the guy some props.
 
4. The NFC is garbage
Who is going to beat them out for the No. 1 seed? The Giants are done. The Packers are done. The Eagles are two games in front of nearly half of the conference with 10 games left. The way I see it, there aren't many teams that can catch them. Who's gonna do it ... Case Keenum? Jared Goff?
 
5. You guys
If Carson Wentz has been the most pleasant surprise of the 2017 season, Eagles fans are a close second. The team opened the season with four road games in the first six weeks, but thanks to #EaglesNation, the more recent two away from the Linc sounded like home games. I defy you to name a fanbase that travels better than this one.
 
WHY THEY WON'T
 
1. The cornerbacks
For a position group held together by chewing gum and chicken wire, they've been all right. But for every big play the corners have made, it seems like they've allowed two. They had better hope Ronald Darby returns to 100 percent sooner rather than later and that Patrick Robinson continues to find his footing in this secondary, or they'll face an uphill climb.
 
2. Doug Pederson
Yes, I mentioned he's been impressive as a play-caller, as well as the glue that holds the team together. But am I the only one waiting for the other shoe to drop in a close game? He's starting to win me over, but I can't be alone among those not completely sold on Doug.
 
3. The new receivers
Last year, Nelson Agholor couldn't catch. This year, Torrey Smith can't catch. And for all that Wentz has done this season, it doesn't seem like the chemistry is there with Jeffery quite yet. Jeffery and Smith have been thrown to 73 times through six games. They have 38 catches (52.1 percent). That percentage must go up.
 
4. The schedule
To get to 5-1, the Eagles fought through some tough games. But December awaits. (Insert Game of Thrones reference.) They'll play three straight road games, including back-to-back west coast games against the Seahawks and Rams. Throw in a Christmas night tilt with the Raiders and a New Year's Eve against a Cowboys team that could really need a win and the season's final month will be anything but a cakewalk.
 
5. Chaos theory
The same thing that got us here could be a big reason it ends here. No one predicted the Eagles' 5-1 start. No one predicted the Giants' 0-5 start or the Cowboys' 2-3 start. One thing we know is that there's quite a bit we don't know. What I do know is that I'm here for all of it. Eleven weeks to go ... hold on to your butts.