Eagles

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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NFL players, including Malcolm Jenkins, respond to Trump’s request

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USA Today Images

NFL players, including Malcolm Jenkins, respond to Trump’s request

You might remember earlier this month, when President Donald Trump acknowledged one of the reasons some NFL players have been demonstrating during the national anthem and asked for suggestions for names of people to pardon (see story).

As a reminder, this is what Trump said back on June 8: 

“I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me — because that’s what they’re protesting — people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system,” Trump said. “And I understand that. And I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated — friends of theirs or people that they know about — and I’m going to take a look at those applications. And if I find, and my committee finds that they are unfairly treated, then we will pardon them or at least let them out (of prison).”

Players — at least the Players Coalition, including Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins — responded to that request from the president today in an op-ed in the New York Times

The main idea of the op-ed was that the President’s power to pardon people can certainly help, but it doesn’t change the criminal justice system or help combat systemic racism. 

Here’s part of the op-ed, penned by Jenkins, Doug Baldwin, Anquan Boldin and Benjamin Watson, four members of the Players Coalition made up of NFL players: 

President Trump recently made an offer to National Football League players like us who are committed to protesting injustice. Instead of protesting, he suggested, we should give him names of people we believe were ‘unfairly treated by the justice system.’ If he agrees they were treated unfairly, he said, he will pardon them.

To be sure, the president’s clemency power can be a valuable tool for redressing injustice. Just look at Alice Johnson, age 63, who was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug conviction until her sentence was commuted by President Trump. He should be commended for using his clemency power in that case.

But a handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that N.F.L. players have been protesting. These are problems that our government has created, many of which occur at the local level. If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn’t been listening to us.

That’s just a very small part of the full op-ed. To read the whole thing, click here

The rest of the piece gets into more specific instances where the players think the criminal justice system should be overhauled and ask the president to use his power to help change it. 

An interesting note toward the bottom of the piece tells Trump, “Our being professional athletes has nothing to do with our commitment to fighting injustice. We are citizens who embrace the values of empathy, integrity and justice, and we will fight for what we believe is right.”

While that might be true, these players have a platform because of their ability on the football field. One they’re using to try to make positive changes in the country. 

Several players, including Eagles defensive end Chris Long and former Eagles receiver Torrey Smith, along with Jenkins, also posted video responses to Trump’s request: 


More on the Eagles

Nick Foles is a legend, but Eagles still need Carson Wentz

Nick Foles is a legend, but Eagles still need Carson Wentz

I’ve heard this a lot over the last few months: The Eagles won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles. 

It’s a very true statement, but still has flaws. 

And before we get too far into this, I want to offer a disclaimer. What Foles did in last year’s playoffs was incredible. He’ll go down as an all-time great Eagle and deserves all the credit in the world for getting it done and becoming the Super Bowl MVP. 

But the problem with “The Eagles won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles” is two-fold. 

First, it neglects the incredible contributions Carson Wentz made to winning that Super Bowl by playing at an MVP level before going down in December. 

Second, it makes it seem like it's a real possibility the Eagles could repeat with Foles, even if Wentz doesn’t return to form. 

This is going to seem obvious, but apparently, it’s not: the Eagles need Wentz. 

Let’s start with the first of those two points. Because of how amazing Foles was in the playoffs, it’s easy to forget just how good Wentz was in 13 starts. He wasn’t just good, he was MVP-of-the-league good. A little while back, Reuben Frank dove back into some incredible Wentz stats (see story).

Now, we’ll never know if Wentz would have been able to pull off the kind of magic Foles did in the playoffs the same way we’ll never know if Foles would have been able to lead the Eagles to an 11-2 record through 13 games. But, at least for me, I have an easier time believing that Wentz could have lived up to Foles’ level of play than Foles’ playing at an MVP level through most of the regular season. 

Sure, Foles dunked in the playoffs, but Wentz provided the alley-oop. Wentz was the biggest part of the reason the Eagles won the NFC East. He was the reason they were able to overcome so many injuries to not only get a first-round bye, but to also earn homefield advantage in the playoffs. Imagine what happens if the Eagles have to play a wildcard game or have to travel to Atlanta or Minnesota. If the Eagles don’t have that bye week, can Brandon Graham heal in time for that wild-card game? Maybe not. 

So maybe they still make it through the playoffs, but Wentz definitely made the road much easier. 

The second part of this might be hard to swallow after Foles has been called the greatest insurance policy in the NFL for months. That’s pretty true as well. As far as backup quarterbacks go, having a Super Bowl MVP is pretty good. 

But there’s a reason the Eagles view Wentz, not Foles, as their future. There’s a reason that before the Super Bowl, when the team took a team photo, Wentz was the only player not in position by jersey number. He instead was in the direct center, as the face of the franchise. He’s special. 

Last week, I was on Philly Sports Talk and guest co-host Danny Pommells suggested that Foles start the opener because of the fear of rushing Wentz back too soon. I understood the point, but disagreed. In this league, there aren’t any easy games; there’s no time to wait for a healthy player to get healthy. Because if Wentz gets cleared by doctors, there’s no decision to make. He’s still the starter because he’s the better player. 

And that isn’t a shot on Foles, saying that one of the best quarterbacks in the league — a guy who could go down as an all-time great — is better than him. It’s just the truth. Although, it seems recently we’ve been blinded by the bling of 219 diamonds in a Super Bowl ring.