Frank Reich

Carson Wentz's audibles, pre-snap reads reminiscent of Peyton Manning

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Carson Wentz's audibles, pre-snap reads reminiscent of Peyton Manning

A perfect pass wasn’t even the most impressive aspect of Carson Wentz’s 59-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith against the Cardinals on Sunday. It wasn’t Wentz stepping up in the pocket to buy time and avoid a sack, either.

The most impressive aspect of that play — and perhaps the reason the Eagles should be most hopeful and excited about the trajectory Wentz is on — was the quarterback's changing the call in the first place.

The touchdown to Smith was originally going to be a handoff to Kenjon Barner, but Wentz didn’t like the look the defense was giving. So 21 games into his NFL career, the 24-year-old signal caller called an audible and threw a bomb instead.

It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen Wentz change the play at the line of scrimmage. Far from it. The trust the Eagles have in him to make pre-snap reads was evident from his very first game as a professional in 2016.

Wentz has done nothing to shake the organization’s faith in his ability to change the play. If anything, Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s belief in the second-year passer only continues to grow.

It’s to the point where Pederson sees a resemblance in the most legendary pre-snap quarterback in the history of the game.

“We give him a little bit of flexibility,” Pederson said this week. “However, it is things that we work on in practice and it has to be within the game plan that we've discussed and worked on.

“We do have a system where it's just a ‘take it’ system, where I can just call the formation, get to the line quickly, bark out cadence — kind of what Peyton Manning has done in his career type of thing.

“Then we have a run or a pass that Carson can get to, but everything is built into the game plan specifically in situations like that for him.”

Wentz has been compared to a lot of players; Peyton Manning might be the most prestigious yet. It doesn’t sound out of line, either, when you stop to think about it.

What set Manning apart from the rest of the league? The 14-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time Most Valuable Player had terrific arm strength, sure, and was incredibly accurate with a fast release. Where he really beat defenses, though, was often before the football ever got to his hands.

Already in his brief career, Wentz appears to be following in those footsteps. Heck, he was before the Eagles got to him with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft.

“It’s preparation,” Wentz said. “It’s studying. It’s knowing your playbook, knowing what you can realistically get into as far as play calls.

“We have a bunch of different terms every week that we’re kind of thinking, so it ultimately comes down to preparation, but, shoot, I’ve been doing that since college. That’s helped me see things and speed up that thought process.”

It’s an attribute the Eagles saw in Wentz from the beginning and part of the reason they fell in love with him. Whether he can become the next Peyton is impossible to predict — Manning was essentially an offensive coordinator on the field, choosing from as many as three or four different plays pre-snap.

But the football IQ is there. So is the drive to be the best and the competitive fire. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich recalls hearing about outbursts Wentz would have with coaches at North Dakota State, and oddly enough, finding that to be a positive during the evaluation process.

“I remember one of the things, going there and him saying that his coaches used to say that he had a lot of arguments with his offensive coordinator,” Reich said. “For me, I took that as a good thing, because he knew what he wanted, he knew what was good, and we welcomed that. That's a good dynamic.”

Wentz downplayed those conversations with coaches in college but admitted he wants to have a voice when designing the game plan. Pederson and Reich sound as though they’ve been more than happy to oblige.

“My relationship with Coach Pederson and Coach Reich has been really, really solid,” Wentz said. “We’ve had a lot of open dialogue, and I respect the heck out of their opinions, and thankfully they respect mine as well. It’s been really beneficial for me and for this whole team.”

Reich elaborated on why those conversations are valuable, even if they may occasionally get a little heated.

“We're all stubborn,” Reich said. “Coaches, players, you’re very confident in what you know and what you believe and what you want, and so we have good discussions and we take a lot of input from Carson like we do all of our players.

“Certainly from the quarterback position, there's a unique contribution I think that you can make and that he can make. What we appreciate about him is that he's mature enough to understand there's a process.”

Wentz trusts the process, although he’s also become very involved with everything to hear him describe it.

“Coach Pederson and I — I go talk to him at least once a day,” Wentz said. “I go in his office sometimes more than once, twice, three times even. Whenever we install plays, I’m like, ‘What do you think about this idea?’ or, ‘How do you feel about this?’

“We’re very comfortable with each other. He’ll come to me and, ‘What do you think about this,’ too. I don’t think it’s anything I’m hesitant to speak up, it’s just we have mutual respect for each other where we can just have that open dialogue.”

The results are evident. Wentz isn’t changing the play every time he breaks the huddle, but the offense's incredible efficiency five games into 2017 is, in part, a reflection of the quarterback’s ability to get into the right call.

The Eagles rank first in the NFL in third-down offense, converting an astounding 53.4 percent of the time. And Wentz is completing 62.1 percent of his passes, with only 3 interceptions and 1 fumble lost (see story).

Most importantly, the Eagles’ record is 4-1.

There are a number of reasons for Wentz’s success. His having the freedom to audible and doing so successfully should not go overlooked.

“We have a couple different systems with that,” Wentz said.

“Sometimes we have two plays. Sometimes we have no play, you just go see how they react and then get into the best play, what you feel is the best for that situation. Then there’s plenty of other times where you have a play call, and you just go up there and you’re like, ‘Yeah, something’s fishy here,’ so you get out of it."

Not exactly Manning-esque, but it’s significantly more than what’s on the plate of a lot of other young quarterbacks around the league.

This is also all still very early into not only Wentz’s career but Pederson’s as head coach as well. This is only Pederson’s second season running the show, and their second season together — which means there’s room for the two to develop and grow together, even in terms of pre-snap decision-making.

“There’s plenty of times where the play he calls is the perfect look, so we’re just rolling,” Wentz said. “There’s time where you’re seeing things and you want to just get out of it.

“It’s all situational, but I think the more effective we are with it, I think it could potentially grow a little bit.”

The level Wentz is playing at now, and the caliber of decisions he is making on the field only lends itself to seeing his responsibilities increase over time. He certainly appears to have the acumen for it — as well as the support system of a coaching staff who believes in him.

"It just comes down to having respect for each other and respecting each other's opinions," Wentz said, "and it’s been a really good relationship."

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Rivera thinks Pederson has been 'outstanding'

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Rivera thinks Pederson has been 'outstanding'

There were plenty of people who were surprised last year when Jeff Lurie decided to hire Doug Pederson as the Eagles' head coach. 

Ron Rivera wasn't one of them. 

The head coach of the Panthers, the team the Eagles will face on Thursday Night Football, has known Pederson for nearly 20 years. Back in 1999, when Pederson was brought to Philly by Andy Reid to be the Eagles' quarterback until Donovan McNabb was ready, Rivera was brought in to coach linebackers. 

At the time, Rivera was a 37-year-old getting a position coach job for the first time and Pederson was a 31-year-old quarterback finally getting the chance to start.

Pederson spent just one year with the Eagles as a player but he left enough of an impression that 18 years later, Rivera didn't hesitate to answer this question. 

Did you think then that Pederson could be a head coach? 

"Oh yeah," Rivera said on a conference call with Philadelphia reporters on Tuesday. "If coaching was going to be the path he took, I had no doubt that this young man was going to get the opportunity. He's so smart, he's a hard-worker and he's got the passion to want to win. 

"You look at what his situation was when he got to Philadelphia with Andy and you can see him help with the development of Donovan. He was right there. He was what you hope to have in a guy that's coming in to be in that role. And that's exactly what he did. I just remember saying a couple times, 'he's going to be a good coach one day.'"

Rivera remembers Pederson as a team player in '99. He said Pederson was in a "tough" situation back then and the Eagles simply weren't very good. "He stood tall and never complained about anything," Rivera remembered. 

The two went their separate ways after 1999. Pederson went on to stay in the league as a player for five more seasons before eventually beginning his ascent in the coaching ranks. Rivera had three stops before the Panthers hired him as a head coach in 2011. 

Now both head coaches, they're just two of several who have learned under Reid and then got a team of their own to lead. 

"I just think the one thing [Reid has] done, and personally in my case, is he allows his assistant coaches to grow within the system, within the offense or defense," Pederson said. "So the defensive guys, back when they were under Jim Johnson, when they were here, have flourished. And listen, it helps to have successful seasons, too, and good offenses and good defenses. Whether they have gone on to get other coordinator jobs or what, if they were a position coach and just watching their careers over time and the success that they have had, that's the biggest thing. He just allows you to work and to grow and further your career that way."

Rivera's first two seasons at the helm in Carolina didn't go that well. The Panthers went 6-10 his first season and 7-9 in Year 2. It wasn't until the third season that they made the playoffs. They lost in the divisional round in 2013 and 2014 before making it to the Super Bowl, losing to the Broncos, in 2015. 

That's probably why Rivera understands patience. And it's probably why he thinks Pederson has done a pretty good job so far. 

"I think he's done outstanding," Rivera said. "I think last year was one of those things where they got off to a hot start and expectations rose way too quick for them, to be fair. I think right now, they're exactly where they should be. I think that first year is always tough and you just try to win as many as you can but at the same time, you have to temper your expectations. I think he's done a great job with that. I love the way they've come out. I like the energy and the way he coaches."

No Fletch, no problem
The Eagles have been without Fletcher Cox for the last two games and the defensive line has held it together. Sure, the Eagles really miss their best defensive player but Beau Allen has played well in his place and Tim Jernigan has taken his game to a different level. 

"They're just taking it upon themselves," Pederson said. "I did challenge the D-line last week [that] we’ve got to generate some pass rush and they were able to do that last week and create some edges and it just boils down to each man just doing his job and doing his assignment. Whether your top pass rusher is there or not, you’ve got to figure out ways. With [Jim Schwartz] and (defensive line coach) Chris Wilson, they are utilizing the stunt games and line games and things that create some edges for the D-linemen to get to the quarterback."

In place of Cox, Allen and Jernigan have gotten most of the work, but Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham have been playing inside on third downs. And Elijah Qualls and Justin Hamilton have gotten snaps as well. 

In addition to Cox, the team has also been without fourth option Destiny Vaeao, who is questionable heading into Thursday's game. 

Seeing Seumalo? 
Isaac Seumalo, who began the season as the Eagles' starting left guard, has been inactive for the past two weeks, but should dress on Thursday because of Lane Johnson's concussion. That doesn't mean he'll get playing time at his old post. 

The Eagles are going to continue their left guard rotation on Thursday, but Stefen Wisniewski will start and get most of the snaps, with Chance Warmack rotating in occasionally. 

There's a chance we could see Seumalo, though. This season, the Eagles have used Halapoulivaati Vaitai as an extra tackle/tight end in some run formations. “Big V” won't be able to do that against the Panthers because he'll be starting at right tackle. 

Maybe we'll see Seumalo fill that extra tackle spot on Thursday. 

"Yeah, we train all — we pretty much have all of our offensive line ready to step into that role," Frank Reich said. "It just depends, by game plan, how much of that we want to do, depending upon certain things that they do schematically [and] certain personnel matchups. Sometimes in coverage, we're trying to do things where sometimes when you're — well not to get into some of the details — but there's just certain different ways we like to use it, so that's why it's important those guys all know how to play that position."

Quote of the Week I: "Yeah, I mean it's a lot easier when you don't have to do the long press conferences, then you can get back to work." — Schwartz on dealing with a short week 

Quote of the Week II: "When you go in there, there's a bunch of old people in there. Sitting in the cold tub, laying down, just getting their bodies right." — Rasul Douglas on the Eagles' cold tub room this week 

Quote of the Week III: "The celebration was pretty good. I have to admit. It was good." — Reich on the Eagles' baseball celebration on Sunday 

Random media guide note: Something on Najee Goode's bucket list is a HALO jump — a 30,000-foot skydive at a small landing target. 

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Carson Wentz is a giant faker

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Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Carson Wentz is a giant faker

Looking at the stat sheets can give a decent idea of how Carson Wentz is performing this season. 

It's just not the only way. 

The Eagles care about stats, sure. But they also care about the details that don't show up in the stat sheets. For example, the team even grades Wentz on his ability to carry through a fake after he hands the ball off. 

How good is he at it? 

"He carries out his fakes better than anybody I've ever seen," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "I think that helps us. You don't notice it a lot of times but it's those little things; the cumulative effect of those things, so that if we run play action, so that if he ever keeps something off of that. He takes a lot of pride, and it's one of the things that I think has helped him develop. 

"He works very hard and he doesn't take plays off in practice. I've never seen a quarterback carry out fakes like he carries out fakes and how serious he takes his ball handling and every aspect of it. It's excellent."

Carrying through his fakes isn't an area where Wentz has gotten better from Year 1 to 2. In fact, he said he developed the skill while in college, playing in North Dakota State's pro style offense. So he's always been pretty good at it. 

Wentz said he has always liked to see how defenses react. Fakes go both ways. He can carry through a fake after a handoff, but perhaps more importantly, he can fake the handoff into a naked bootleg. 

"Anything like that, any little thing that's going to help the play or give us an extra spilt second to get a backside cutoff block or something like that," Wentz said, "those are big things that I think … and I'm not the only one who does that. Everyone goes the extra mile to help their guys out. It's definitely a satisfaction you see when someone does have to honor that."

Let's get situational 
If you're looking for an area Wentz has greatly improved from Year 1 to Year 2, how about situational football? 

Four games into the 2017 season, Wentz has thrived in some important parts of the game, specifically on third downs. 

"In the development of becoming an elite franchise quarterback, that's something we've talked to him about from the start: really what sets you apart as a quarterback is how you perform in situational football," Reich said. "That's third down and red zone. Then what kind of a knack do you have of making big plays on first and second down? That's really what separates those elite players.

"And so becoming a playmaker on third down and in the red zone is a big part of any quarterback's development. I think he takes a lot of pride in that. I think he knows that. I think he studies it a lot. I think he has a lot of confidence in the players he's throwing to."

So how well is Wentz performing on third and fourth downs? 

Yeah, that's not bad. 

Overall this season, the Eagles have converted on 50.8 percent of their third-down situations, good for second in the league. For perspective's sake, they were 20th in the league in 2016 at 37.9 percent. 

"That, going back even to training camp, I remember you guys were always asking on the biggest thing I was focusing on and it was situational football," Wentz said. "And that comes from talking to Coach Reich, Coach (Doug) Pederson, Coach (John) DeFilippo. They were always harping that. Going back last year, watching the tape and just discussing, ‘alright, if this was the situation, what would you have done differently?' And those are things that I really took to heart, really focused in on."

While Wentz has greatly improved on third and fourth downs, there is still room to grow in the red zone. Through four games this season, Wentz has completed 9 of 17 passes (52.94 percent) for 60 yards and five touchdowns in the red zone. 

Wentz's completion percentage in the red zone is 14th in the NFL. At 55.56 percent, Wentz is slightly better inside the 10. 

Clement time
The Eagles will likely be without Wendell Smallwood (knee) this week against the Cardinals. That leaves just two of their original five running backs — LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement — healthy for Sunday's game. 

After Darren Sproles went down, Smallwood assumed most of the team's third-down duties, but now he's out. So Clement might be the next guy up in those situations. 

"It's just the nature of the game," Clement said. "Some guys go down, some guys have great opportunities in front of them. It's about what I can do to better prepare myself for this game Sunday."

As a third-down back, Clement needs to be able to pass protect as well as catch the ball out of the backfield. Those are two areas he has worked to improve since his arrival as an undrafted free agent this spring. 

While catching the ball is important, the most important thing on third downs, especially for a rookie, is pass protection. The Eagles can't put Clement on the field to block if they're worried Wentz is going to get his head knocked off. Pederson said Clement has been "improving" as a blocker thanks to work with running backs coach Duce Staley. 

Clement credited Staley, along with Pederson, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and his elder teammates — Blount, Sproles and Smallwood — for helping him. 

Getting back to Destiny
The Eagles might get back second-year DT Destiny Vaeao this week. That could be a nice boost for a team that's without Fletcher Cox again. 

Vaeao hurt his right wrist during the opener in Washington and has missed the last three weeks. That was a shame for Vaeao, who had a tremendous training camp, according to the coaching staff. 

"It's tough," Vaeao said about missing time. "Every Sunday that passed by, it hurts not playing. You just have to be patient and everything will come."

Quote of the Week I: "The whole (offensive) line is playing unbelievable right now. They're playing kind of pissed off. They just have an attitude about them, which is awesome to see." — Carson Wentz 

Quote of the Week II: "Hey, there's Bruce Arians!" — Brandon Graham, spotting FanRag reporter John McMullen on the sideline at practice wearing a Kangol hat

Quote of the Week III: "I thought I should have not tried to stiff arm him and just ran straight and I would have scored." — Blount's thoughts after he went back and watched his career-long 68-yard run against the Chargers.  

Random media guide note: If Rodney McLeod could be any superhero, he'd be Batman.