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Eagles Film Review: Defensive pressure affecting Carson Wentz

Eagles Film Review: Defensive pressure affecting Carson Wentz

Has Carson Wentz hit the rookie wall? Are defenses catching up to the Eagles signal-caller?

Wentz's numbers are down the past two weeks, and an argument can be made he has regressed. The explanation for the 23-year-old's recent struggles are likely better explained by the tape than simple platitudes, though.

Simply put, Wentz isn't enjoying the same level of protection he did in his first four games with the Eagles, and it's causing a lot of the erratic decision-making.

You wouldn't necessarily think so just by looking at the box score. On Sunday, the Vikings failed to record a sack and were credited with only two hits on Wentz in the Eagles' 21-10 win at Lincoln Financial Field.

Yet the first of those two hits came early enough to set a tone, which may have contributed, if not directly led to Wentz's first interception. 

To this point in the season, Wentz has done an outstanding job of going through his progressions and making the right decision with the football. As he's about to find out on the Eagles' second possession of the game though, there isn't nearly as much time against this Vikings pass rush.

Wentz drops back to pass on 2nd-and-4 from the Eagles' 17-yard line, and his first read isn't there.

He looks left, and his second option is covered.

By the time Wentz gets to his third look, 310-pound defensive tackle Shamar Stephen has reached the quarterback, and his pass intended for tight end Brent Celek will fall harmlessly incomplete. It's not like this is a case where a first-year quarterback is slow to go through his progressions either. It was a bang-bang play. Allen Barbre just got beat.

Wentz did hesitate slightly on the release — possibly because Celek wasn't all that open — but on his third attempt of the game, he had already learned a valuable lesson: Get the ball out quickly.

So being the fast learner that he is, Wentz tries to adapt on the very next play. It's 2nd-and-12 after Barbre is flagged for holding there, and the quarterback sets up for a quick out to Celek, his first read.

The problem here is the route is well covered by Eric Kendricks. Wentz unloads anyway, and while the linebacker does appear to be committing pass interference, this was a poor decision regardless. The ball sails high out of Celek's reach, perhaps because he was being grabbed, and is intercepted by safety Andrew Sendejo.

Here's the overhead view of the play. Not only is Celek covered, but Harrison Smith also sees the ball is going to the tight end well before its release. He's about to vacate the other half of the field, where wide receiver Jordan Matthews is running an uncontested slant into space. It's a clean pocket too, so Wentz has time to exploit the Pro Bowl safety's aggressiveness.

Smith's break on the route suggests Wentz might be relying a bit too much on his first read anyway. In this situation, it proved to be a mistake, although one has to wonder how much the shot he took on the previous play sped up the clock in the rookie's head.

Pressure on the quarterback was also more of an issue at times than statistics let on. While the Vikings weren't credited with a hit on Wentz's second pick, the pass rush certainly made an impact.

Two series later, the Eagles are in 3rd-and-11 from their own 38-yard line. The Vikings are going to send six on the blitz, which the offense does a nice job of picking up — except, not to pick on Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the right tackle.

Defensive end Danielle Hunter is in the backfield so fast, Wentz never gets to his second read. In fact, to avoid the sack, the young signal-caller does something he seldom does and temporarily drops his eyes to elude the rush.

Wentz manages to keep the play alive and is again looking downfield. The problem is he doesn't have much time to set his feet, let alone scan the field with two Vikings defenders closing in. He pulls the trigger anyway.

Clearly, this pass intended for Matthews was ill-advised, as there are four defenders that have a shot at the interception cornerback Xavier Rhodes ultimately came up with. Wentz should've just taken a sack here rather than put the ball up for grabs like that.

Yet while this didn't go down as a hit on the stat sheet, the immediate pressure from his right contributed to this. Wentz needs to and should learn to make better decisions under these circumstances over time, but it's not as if this was an entirely unforced mistake.

It wasn't only turnovers that left people wondering what's going on with Wentz. On 1st-and-10 from the Eagles' 49 in the second quarter, he missed Celek all alone down the seam for a potential touchdown or at least a huge gain, instead targeting Zach Ertz on a riskier intermediate throw.

Once again, the Vikings' pass rush is on the scene and deserves credit for bailing out the secondary here. A seven-year veteran, defensive end Everson Griffen doesn't bite on the play-action here, so once the quarterback finishes carrying out the fake, he's going to be in for a nice surprise.

As soon as Wentz turns around and sets up to throw, Griffen is already on top of him.

With immediate pressure in his face, Wentz can't even make a quality throw to Ertz. All he has to do is put the ball a little out in front of the tight end, but that's tough to do with Griffen driving him to the turf.

With that in mind, it's pretty much impossible to blame Wentz for not seeing a blown coverage had allowed Celek to run completely unchecked.

Heck, it's hard to blame Wentz for struggling as much as he did in the first half, completing 9 of 20 passes for 56 yards with two interceptions — good for a miserable 12.5 passer rating. For context, passer ratings are higher than that if the quarterback does nothing but throw incomplete passes.

It's also worth noting that as Wentz settled down and the protection improved, so did the quarterback's efficiency. In the second half, he completed 7 of 8 attempts for 82 yards with a touchdown and no more turnovers.

The reality of the situation is no matter how good Wentz is, there are always going to be bumps in the road for rookie quarterbacks. Anytime the protection is less than stellar, as it was for much of the first half against the Vikings on Sunday, those issues all rookies face are going to be even more pronounced.

How the Eagles and Redskins have changed since their first meeting

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USA Today Images

How the Eagles and Redskins have changed since their first meeting

Back in Week 1, the Eagles and Redskins looked like two evenly matched teams, and they wound up playing a very evenly matched game. It took Brandon Graham's stripping the ball from Kirk Cousins and Fletcher Cox's returning it 20 yards with 1:29 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Eagles a 30-17 lead. Otherwise, the game was close.

But this is Week 7. A lot can change in the NFL in 43 days — and it has. The Eagles are on a four-game winning streak and their confidence only appears to be growing. And while Washington has won three of its last four, the injury report reads like a short story these days. These teams are not remotely the same, the Redskins in particular.

It’s worth looking at position-by-position because the differences are rather striking in several cases.

QUARTERBACKS
Do we still think Cousins is a better quarterback than Carson Wentz? If nothing else, Wentz is closing any perceived gap between the two. Cousins is completing a higher percentage of his passes for more yards per attempt, and it’s not particularly close — 66.5 percent and an 8.4 average, compared to 60.9 percent and 7.7 for Wentz. But Wentz has also led the Eagles to a 5-1 record, while Washington enters this week at 3-2. I know who I’d take, and it’s certainly close regardless — although, technically, Cousins is still the more efficient and prolific passer of the two.

Marginal edge: Washington

RUNNING BACKS
It’s almost as if Darren Sproles switched uniforms. Sproles is out for the year, depriving the Eagles of one of the most unique weapons in the NFL. Or so we thought, anyway, because Chris Thompson is doing a lot of Sproles-like things in Washington. Thompson has become the focal point of that offense, leading the team in rushing (175 yards), receiving (340 yards) and touchdowns (4). Conversely, the Eagles have shifted to a power running game led by LeGarrette Blount, who entered the week ranked third in the NFL with 5.57 yards per carry. With the statuses of Robert Kelley and Wendell Smallwood up in the air, both backfields could be incomplete.

Edge: Even

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS
Zach Ertz has 405 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Nelson Agholor has 321 yards and four scores, while Alshon Jeffery has 317 with two trips to the end zone. After Thompson, Washington’s leading receiver is Vernon Davis with 225 and one touchdown. Even Torrey Smith has 210 and a score. The Eagles have played one more game than the Redskins, but still. Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson have proven unable to replace the production left behind by DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon when the duo chose to leave as free agents. Jamison Crowder has oddly gone missing as well, and Jordan Reed just looks like a shell of his former self.

Distinct edge: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINES
For my money, the Eagles have the best offensive line in the NFL right now. They replaced Isaac Seumalo at left guard, mostly with Stefen Wisniewski, and the rest of the unit has been playing at or above expectations ever since. Washington’s O-line is pretty good, too, when everybody is healthy — but that won’t be the case on Monday night. Left tackle Trent Williams is delaying knee surgery, so he won’t be 100 percent if he suits up at all. Meanwhile, Williams’ backup, Ty Neskhe, was already ruled out for this game. This situation has the potential to take a turn for disastrous for the Redskins.

Edge: Eagles

DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN
First-round draft pick Jonathan Allen landed on injured reserve for Washington this week, joining outside linebacker Trent Murphy, who also missed the opener. Those are some of the more disruptive players up front for Washington, though defensive tackle Matthew Ioannidis has emerged as an interior pass-rusher and is tied with Ryan Kerrigan for second on the team with 3½ sacks. The Eagles have remained pretty much the same up front, boasting the No. 1 run defense in the NFL so far this season. Cox and company have been as advertised.

Slight edge: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS
The Redskins’ offensive line could devolve into a mess but their secondary already looks like a disaster. All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman is out, and the other half of that tandem, Bashaud Breeland, is hobbled by a knee injury and is questionable to play. Starting safety Deshazor Everett is questionable, too, so that’s three-quarters of the secondary that either isn’t playing or won’t be 100 percent. The Eagles, on the other hand, are only getting healthier. Rodney McLeod and Corey Graham have been back after missing some time, and Ronald Darby could return to the lineup on Monday. Plus, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and Malcolm Jenkins are all playing at a high level.

Very distinct edge: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS
Both teams suffered key losses this week, with kicker Dustin Hopkins going on IR for Washington and Chris Maragos down for the Eagles. The Eagles were also hit with the losses of Caleb Sturgis and Sproles, but Jake Elliott has since nailed down the kicking duties, while Kenjon Barner is a capable fill-in returning punts. The Redskins didn’t have great special teams before losing Hopkins and they surely aren’t going to be better off now.

Edge: Eagles

OVERALL
The last time these two teams met, the Eagles looked slightly superior on paper and wound up winning a game that was determined in the final two minutes. This time, the Eagles appear to have a rather sizable advantage, not to mention they're playing at home, so you would think the margin of victory would be greater. Granted, this is a game between two NFC East opponents and division games are usually tough, so it might not turn out that way. But given the state the Redskins are in entering this contest, there’s a reason the expectations are a convincing win for the Eagles this time around.

Edge: Eagles

ESPN disrespects Philly by thinking a cheesesteak is a fajita on a roll

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ESPN Twitter

ESPN disrespects Philly by thinking a cheesesteak is a fajita on a roll

Here's a promo ESPN used to promote tonight's Monday Night Football contest between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins.

Because the game takes place in the city of Philadelphia, a land known for its cheesesteaks, the friendly people at ESPN seem to believe viewers need a recipe for a cheesesteak.

Only watch the recipe they give... for a cheesesteak. This awful tweet hit the web on Saturday:

Looks like they're making fajita's right up until they put a couple of slices of cheese on top.

I don't know about you but that doesn't look like any cheesesteak I've ever eaten in Philadelphia. A cheesesteak is made with chip steak or any other piece of thin, flat steak that's then chopped up to varrying degree while being cooked. Not some pre-sliced up ribeye.

Twitter was not on board either, via Foobooz:

Here's a hot take: the people at ESPN aren't as dumb as this video would make you think. IN FACT, they purposefully butchered this cheesesteak in order to send a cheesesteak-loving city into a frenzy, thus getting their promo for a football game in front of more eyeballs.