What happened to Carson Wentz?
That’s the Million Dollar Question in Philadelphia. How does one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks become one of its worst overnight?
Most likely, it’s not one thing. And it’s not two things. It’s a combination of a lot of factors that all converged in a perfect storm of historic regression.
Here are 10 possible theories. Is it all of them? Is it some of them? Is it something else entirely? We may never know. But we’ll always wonder.
1. The knee: Wentz has had some really good stretches since he tore his ACL three years ago, but the reality is he just hasn’t been the same quarterback since he left the L.A. Coliseum on Dec. 10, 2017. In his last 11 games of 2017, Wentz was the best quarterback in the NFL. He threw 29 touchdowns and five interceptions, and the Eagles went 10-1. He hasn’t approached that since. He had a terrific six-game stretch in 2018, a very good five-game finish last year. But that sustained MVP-level of excellence has been missing. Wentz showed he can still be very good when the pieces are in place around him, but maybe because of the ACL injury he’s no longer able to shine when they’re not.
2. Confidence: No matter how big your arm is, no matter how well you know the offense, if you’re playing quarterback and don’t have your confidence, it’s impossible to be effective. And there were certainly times this year Wentz didn’t seem confident. His body language was just all wrong. He’d make a few nice throws and get the offense rolling, and then the inevitable fumble or interception. Not always his fault, but we all saw Wentz hanging his head on the way to the sideline and then another turnover and then the whole thing would snowball out of control. Without confidence, bad things are going to happen.
3. Doug: It’s pretty clear Doug Pederson seems to be more comfortable calling plays for Nick Foles and Jalen Hurts than Wentz. Their skills just seem to line up better with the RPOs and QB movement plays that Pederson loves more than Wentz, who Pederson seems to see as a classic drop-back passer. Why were Pederson and Wentz in lockstep in 2017? Wentz seemed more mobile back then and Pederson wasn’t as hesitant to get him on the move and run plays that took advantage of his athleticism. This year, Pederson seemed to have no clue how to get Wentz comfortable, and it showed.
4. He got no help: He didn’t have Zach Ertz for five games. He didn’t have Dallas Goedert for four games. For six of his starts, Jason Peters was attempting to play left tackle. He had exactly one game with the Eagles’ two best tackles - Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata - on the field and Johnson didn’t even make it through the game. He was missing Miles Sanders for three games, Jalen Reagor for five games, DeSean and Alshon just about all year. Heck, he had Jamon Brown blocking for him one game. He had one productive receiver for one five-game stretch, and the Eagles averaged 25.4 points in those five games. Passes were dropped, blocks were missed, assignments were blown. It was a very difficult environment for a quarterback to flourish. Maybe an impossible one.
5. Too muscular: A lot was made of the muscle Carson added during the offseason with the goal of finally getting bigger and tougher and stronger and finally staying healthy through a full season. And if you look at the Wentz of 2017 and the Wentz of 2020, his build is definitely different. He’s just a much bigger, more lumbering guy. Wentz never said how much weight he put on, but it’s conceivable that the extra weight and muscle compromised his ability to move in and out of the pocket and eliminated one of his real strengths.
6. Concussion: As Chiefs and former Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder likes to say, “If you’ve seen one concussion, you’ve seen one concussion.” Often the effects of concussions are short-lived. Sometimes they can last for years. It’s fair to wonder if there’s a connection between the concussion Wentz suffered on that brutal cheap shot from Jadeveon Clowney in the playoff game against the Seahawks in January and the struggles he’s had making split-second decisions this year.
7. The Jalen Affect: We know Wentz wasn’t crazy about the Jalen Hurts pick, and maybe the realization that the Eagles felt a need to draft a quarterback when they already had a 27-year-old former Pro Bowler in his prime could have damaged Wentz’s psyche in some pretty profound ways. If you feel like your boss just hired your successor, that’s not an ideal environment to shine in.
8. He was actually about to turn it around: There was a point this year where it looked like Wentz was about to turn things around. His first five games, Wentz had six TD passes and nine INTs. The next four he had eight TDs and five INTs and a decent 83.4 passer rating with very little help. Not great but there were significant signs of improvement. Over a four-game span, he had only two fewer TD passes than Pat Mahomes. Maybe he was about to snap out of it. But then the Eagles went on their bye and once they got back, he showed more signs of regression until he was benched. Why weren’t Pederson and Wentz able to build on the progress Wentz made during that stretch from the Ravens game through the second Giants game? Who knows. But they weren’t, and after the bye the signs of improvement were all gone.
9. No running game: Pederson never attempted to take pressure off Wentz by balancing the offense. Through 12 games, the Eagles had the 28th-most rushing attempts and 28th-most rushing attempts, even though they ranked 3rd in the NFL in yards per rush and 32nd in yards per pass. In his 11 full starts, Wentz averaged 43 drop-backs per game while the running backs averaged 17 carries per game. How are you going to get a struggling quarterback out of a slump throwing the ball 72 percent of the time? You’re not.
10. Too many cooks spoil the broth: With offensive coordinator Mike Groh gone, the Eagles brought in senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello, senior offensive consultant Marty Mornhinweg and passing game analyst Andrew Breiner and added passing game coordinator to QBs coach Press Taylor’s job description. That’s four offensive coaches who were either new to Doug Pederson’s staff or had a new title. It’s an unusual arrangement with no offensive coordinator and a lot of voices in Pederson’s ear. Quite possibly, it failed miserably.
Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast: