For a second-round pick, it’s fair to say that JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s rookie season hasn’t been a resounding success to this point.
So it’s definitely notable that his two biggest catches of the season have come on off-schedule plays.
“That’s kind of like backyard football,” Arcega-Whiteside said this week. “Ain’t no real way to coach it or train for it. It’s just like, broken play, get open. There’s no technique or nothing. It’s just get open. I’ve just been lucky that Carson [Wentz] has found me and I was in the right place at the right time. Hopefully, we can get some more going forward.”
For whatever reason, it seems like the rookie is better in those situations right now. Maybe it’s because of the NFL learning curve or because these are the situations where thinking is completely removed from the equation. Just go out there and make a play.
It’s encouraging to see his playmaking ability, even when it hasn’t come as much on the initial play calls. At least we can see that he has it in him.
Arcega-Whiteside caught a 29-yard pass on an off-schedule play in the fourth quarter of the Patriots game. And then on Sunday in Miami, his first NFL touchdown came on a 15-yarder on a broken play.
The touchdown came with 13 seconds left in the first half against the Dolphins. It was 3rd-and-goal from the 15, which is a difficult situation to convert. In fact, NFL offenses have gotten touchdowns on just 2 of 13 such opportunities this year.
“He's been at the right place at the right time,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “The play there at the end of the half for the touchdown where he's inside releasing there and then he is working with Carson as Carson scrambles out there to the right, and then he's able to get out of the grass above the DB and come back and fight for the ball was a really good play by JJ and Carson.”
As Wentz escapes the pocket, you can see the rookie lock eyes with him. He’s about to take one more step toward the sideline and cut back inside, avoiding the defender that had tight coverage on him. Wentz puts it on him.
Arcega-Whiteside and Wentz haven’t played a ton together, so it’s impressive that they’re able to connect on these types of plays. The receiver has to understand where the quarterback is going to throw it and the quarterback has to trust that the receiver is thinking the same thing.
“We talk about it,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “It’s like, ‘ideally, we want this guy to do this or this guy to do this.’ But at the end of the day, just get open. Come back to the quarterback, be friendly and play ball.”
That’s usually the main coaching point for receivers in these off-schedule situations: Be quarterback friendly, which means give him a target, give him an opportunity to get the ball to you.
That’s exactly what Arcega-Whiteside also did in the fourth quarter against the Patriots a couple weeks ago. He found an open spot in the field where Wentz threw it and came back to get the ball.
What makes Arcega-Whiteside good in these situations?
It’s pretty simple.
“Just his ability to keep working,” Wentz said. “JJ does a great job of it.”
The Eagles have struggled to find consistent plays from their receivers this year, so the fact that their second-round pick had trouble getting on the field at first and still has just six catches for 101 yards isn’t great. But Arcega-Whiteside and Wentz will be together for a least a couple more years after 2019.
And these plays are certainly a silver lining.
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