It’s hard to imagine Carson Wentz doing anymore than he did Sunday in his NFL debut.
Just a week after being named the Eagles’ starter, Wentz completed 22 of 37 passes for 278 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 101.0 passer rating in the Eagles’ 29-10 win over the Browns at the Linc (see Instant Replay).
We’ll cover some other stuff in today’s 10 Observations. Jordan Matthews. Nelson Agholor. Fletcher Cox. And so on.
But this was Wentz’s day, and that’s the only possible place we can start. Enjoy the win and dive in.
1. This was an astonishing debut from Wentz. More astonishing when you consider the circumstances. You can’t ask for anymore than what the Eagles got Sunday from Wentz in his NFL debut. Here’s a kid who started just 23 games in college — on the FCS level — missed most of training camp, played in just one preseason game, didn’t start practicing with the first offense until last week, and he went in there and played like a veteran. He threw the ball absolutely beautifully, he made smart decisions, he avoided trouble. Both TD passes, especially the second one to Nelson Agholor, were highlight reel stuff. The kid was scary good. Smart, productive, careful with the ball, didn’t force things and found the open guy. He audibled when it made sense, showed a good feel for the blitz and was accurate and got the ball in the end zone. Now, he also took too many hits, and he’s got to learn to get rid of the ball faster. But it’s really remarkable that with as little practice time as he got that he was able to be as effective as he was. The Eagles have themselves a quarterback.
2. I really like the way Doug Pederson called this game. He seems to have a terrific feel for calling plays, incorporating a variety of formations and personnel groupings, and using all his weapons to keep a defense off balance. Now, this was just the Browns, and it’s only one game. But Pederson at least so far does seem to have a good feel for developing a gameplan and carrying it out. I like this offense. I like the way it attacks. Remember, this was all with a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut. One who was a third-stringer until last weekend. As Wentz grows more and more experienced, Pederson will ask more and more of him. It’s going to be a fun process to watch.
3. It was nice to see a defense that was actually at its best late in the game. Something that was absent the last three years. The Browns made some plays early. Robert Griffin III hit Terrelle Pryor for 44 yards to set up a touchdown and Corey Coleman for 58 yards to set up a field goal. But after that field goal drive to open the second half, the Browns netted 14 yards, one first down and zero points on their next six possessions. By then the Eagles were up three TDs. It just wasn’t possible for the Eagles’ defense to be that sharp late in games while Chip Kelly was running his hurry-up offense and the defense was forced to play 35 to 40 minutes a game.
4. Matthews sure looked like a No. 1 receiver out there. Other than a drop on his first target of the year — which would have gone for only a three-yard gain — he caught everything, made three flat-out circus catches, finished 7 for 114 with a TD and just had the feel of a No. 1 wide receiver. After last year’s drop-riddled September, this was very good stuff from Matthews.
5. And how encouraging was it to see Agholor sprint under that third-quarter Wentz spiral, judge it perfectly, catch it in stride and dash into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown. The Eagles desperately need Agholor to be a big-play guy lining up on the outside. Agholor finished a respectable 4 for 57, including a heads-up seven-yard gain on a ball that Josh Huff batted in the air in the fourth quarter. We didn’t see much last year and we didn’t see much this summer, but we saw some positives Sunday, and if Agholor can keep it up, that’ll be huge for Wentz and for the Eagles.
6. Wentz did take too many hits Sunday, and that’s something to keep an eye on. Although some of that was Wentz’s fault, the O-line didn’t have a particularly good day. New right guard Brandon Brooks specifically seemed to struggle.
7. I haven’t made it a secret how big a Kenjon Barner fan I am, and the third-year running back sure looked powerful Sunday, turning four carries into a career-high 42 yards. Barner has never had a chance to be a significant part of an offense, but it just makes sense for the Eagles to incorporate Barner more and more to give Ryan Mathews every chance to stay healthy. Barner really explodes off the line of scrimmage and is a true power runner. I think he and Mathews complement each other nicely. Mathews is going to be the No 1 guy. He had a nice game Sunday with 77 yards despite no runs longer than seven yards. But I hope Barner continues to play a major role in the running game.
8. Cox hasn’t been shy about saying he’s going to carry this defense, and he sure did against the Browns. He had a sack, two hurries, a tackle for loss and three solo tackles in a typically dominating performance. More important than the numbers, he just got a consistently tremendous push up the middle, helping shut down the Browns’ running game.
9. Caleb Sturgis scares me. There, I said it. I just don’t trust him yet. In his first game after beating out Cody Parkey for the kicking job, he missed a 47-yarder, and yeah, that’s not a layup, but it’s also a kick that these days in the NFL you have to make. Sturgis made his other two field goal attempts, from 22 and 38 yards, but those kicks in the 40s are ones you have to make. Sturgis is on the clock.
10. Finally, we don’t talk much about Donnie Jones, but he just keeps getting better. Jones opened his 13th NFL season with punts of 62 and 72 yards, and the 72-yarder was the longest by an Eagle in 23 years, since Jeff Feagles had a 77-yarder in 1991. Jones finished with a 49.2 average and three punts inside the 20. What a weapon.