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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.

Mike Lombardi backtracks on Doug Pederson criticism – sort of

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Mike Lombardi backtracks on Doug Pederson criticism – sort of

Having previously stated Doug Pederson is unqualified, former NFL executive Mike Lombardi is finally walking back his criticism of the Eagles’ head coach. Kinda.

It only took a 13-win season and a trip to the NFC Championship game for Lombardi to admit he might’ve been mistaken.

Even now, Lombardi doesn’t sound entirely convinced about Pederson, who’s a strong candidate for Coach of the Year.

Lombardi garnered attention back in September after questioning Pederson’s credibility.

“Everybody knows Pederson isn't a head coach,” Lombardi said during one of his regular NFL podcasts for The Ringer. “He might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I've seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL.”

The comments grew beyond meaningless banter when Lombardi was tied to Jim Schwartz, and a report stated the Eagles’ defensive coordinator was actively working to undermine Pederson — just days before the start of the regular season.

It all seemed like a bunch of nonsense at the time, and the entire narrative over whether Pederson is the right person for the job hasn’t aged well. So four months and an Eagles win over the Falcons in a divisional playoff game later, Lombardi was finally ready to go back on his podcast and say he was wrong.

Well, sort of.

"I admit, I’m wrong. Okay, Doug Pederson was way better than I thought he was going to be in terms of his ability to lead that team. I think Jim Schwartz is a tremendous defensive coordinator. I think he deserves a lot of credit here. But I thought (Pederson) did a really good job with Nick Foles (Saturday). So all you Philly fans give me all this crap about, ‘Give Doug Pederson his due,’ yeah, okay, I was wrong. He’s a better coach. Now he’s going to have to do it again this week, and we’ll see how that is, but for me, I think when you win a playoff game, and you beat a team that you’re an underdog to, and you beat (Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan), and Nick Foles plays well enough, I think you deserve it. I think I have to admit — hey look, I think I was wrong in terms of how far I went with Doug, I’m not sure how great of a coach Doug is, but I was wrong in terms of how far I went with it."

Lombardi almost immediately praises Schwartz, before going on to say Pederson needs to prove himself again in the conference title game, he still doesn’t know how good Pederson is and the actual problem with his comments was the extent of his criticism, not necessarily that he was critical of Pederson in the first place.

Again, the Eagles won 13 games this season, earning the top playoff seed in the NFC, a postseason bye and home-field advantage throughout the tournament. Then they defeated the reigning conference champion Falcons and are now one victory away from a trip to the Super Bowl. He absolutely should win Coach of the Year. Even last season, Pederson won seven games as a first-year head coach with a rookie quarterback, so the idea he was ever wholly unprepared, as Lombardi suggested, was always a laughable take.

It’s safe to say Pederson has put any and all doubt to rest. There’s no need to qualify that statement or assign credit to somebody else. Pederson is good at his job. That much is a fact.

Look, almost everybody had concerns about Pederson when he was hired in 2016 and coming into this season. Perfectly reasonable. What Lombardi said in September was as preposterous as it was inaccurate, and anything less than saying he was completely, 100 percent incorrect isn’t backtracking nearly enough.

Eagles are letting the dogs out ... or in on Sunday

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USA Today Images

Eagles are letting the dogs out ... or in on Sunday

The dogs will be out in full force on Sunday night and the Eagles are all too happy to allow it. 

After the Birds’ 15-10 triumph on Saturday, Lane Johnson and Chris Long, among others in the Eagles’ locker room, wore dog masks that the duo bought on Amazon as a reminder to everyone who picked the Falcons to win and to the oddsmakers that made the Eagles home underdogs for the tilt.

Once the masks appeared after the game, fans began buying them up, selling Amazon out of the look and also creating a huge market on eBay as well. For fans who were lucky enough to get the mask, they were probably wondering if they could wear it to the game on Sunday vs. Minnesota. Well, the Eagles answered that question in a tweet Monday morning.

The Eagles have completely embraced the role of the underdog and they’ll be underdogs again on Sunday night as they look to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2004.

The city has been completely behind the Eagles all season long and there will be hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of dog masks inside the Linc on Sunday night.