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."