On one play in Thursday’s win over the Giants, Carson Wentz exhibited everything he’s shown during the 2020 season. The good, bad and ugly.
On a 1st-and-10 in the second quarter, Wentz masterfully avoided a pass rush, scrambled around to buy time and then showed off his arm strength by rifling a pass across his body and across the field to Travis Fulgham.
The problem, of course, was that this was a terrible decision and it’s one of many terrible decisions Wentz has made this season. He was lucky the pass wasn’t picked off. Even if Fulgham is calling for the ball like this, it’s just too dangerous a play to make, especially on first down to start a drive in great field position.
Wentz began that drive with that cross-body throw and ended it with an even worse decision in the red zone when he threw this interception.
But in recent weeks, Wentz has also made some spectacular plays too. He was tremendous down the stretch on Thursday, leading the Eagles on two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to steal a 22-21 win.
It seems like every time we yell for Wentz to throw the ball away, he’ll escape pressure and remind us all how talented he is. And every time we tell him to not take chances on some throws, he’ll thread the needle with a beauty.
And it all leads us to the most pressing question surrounding Wentz in his fifth year in the NFL: Do the Eagles just have to put up with Wentz’s mistakes because of his ability to make up for it with some incredible off-schedule plays?
To a certain extent … yeah.
Wentz’s big plays are often worth the risk. The Eagles can’t — and shouldn’t — try to remove the gunslinger mentality from Wentz’s game.
But to excuse some of Wentz’s horrible decisions because he has a propensity at times to make those great plays doesn’t make sense either.
This isn’t black and white.
A lot of times it comes down to situations and an understanding of when it makes sense to take a chance. Calculated risks. Those two plays above weren’t worth the risk. One was on a first down and the other was in the red zone on second down. It’s not worth it.
As much as I roll my eyes when Wentz says, “It’s a fine line” — it has become a favorite line of his — that’s really the best way to describe these situations. It’s unfair to say Wentz’s chances are warranted when they work and awful when they don’t, but it’s about picking and choosing those spots. Sometimes, the Eagles are going to get burned by these risks but it’s about finding a balance.
Late last week, Doug Pederson was asked to compare Wentz and Pederson’s former teammate Brett Favre, who gun-slinged his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Well, that was always the thing with Brett, the reward was definitely greater,” Pederson said. “ But you knew there was going to be some risk involved. Carson obviously has the ability to do that. He's got the arm strength, the mobility to extend plays with his legs.
“I would think the one thing that we're seeing with Carson now, the same thing I saw with Brett, is that physical toughness, being able to stand in the pocket, take some hits, bounce up, and do it again. To me, that's kind of some of the similarities there.
“Carson is solid. He's getting better every week. Again, had a great comeback yesterday for us. That's some of the same things that obviously I saw in Brett when I played with him.”
It’s worth noting that Favre was known for interceptions throughout his career in a way Wentz never has been before this year. In Favre’s first five years in the NFL, he averaged 15.4 interceptions per season and had an interception rate of 2.9 percent. Of course, he was also a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro in those seasons, all in a different era.
But Wentz’s interceptions this year are abnormal for him. Having 10 through seven games is awful, but he had just seven interceptions in each of his three previous seasons. And his overall INT rate is still at 1.9%. So we’ve seen from Wentz that he can play at a high level, make big plays and not turn the ball over at an absurd rate, at least not through the air.
I’ve seen so many people in the last several days asking if Wentz’s big plays make up for his poor decisions and I’m telling you the Eagles shouldn’t have to choose. They should be able to have both.
In general, it’s been really hard to evaluate Wentz this year. He hasn’t been himself but he’s also one of two healthy players left on his offense. That doesn’t excuse poor decisions like those two throws above but it does explain his overall lack of production and the mindset that has led to many of those poor decisions.
There’s no question that Wentz has been pressing this season unlike any year before in his career. Even when he was down to practice squad receivers at the end of last year, he still threw seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in the four-game winning streak to finish off the regular season. So to blame his picks on his lack of weapons this year doesn’t seem right. The offensive line in front of him might be a bigger reason.
In any case, Wentz is never going to be a game manager and the Eagles would be stupid to try to turn him into one. He’s a play-maker.
So, yes, the Eagles have to live with some of these chances. But to think that they have to simply live with all of them, to think that Wentz can’t eliminate some silly mistakes, doesn’t make sense either.