Has Carson Wentz hit the rookie wall? Are defenses catching up to the Eagles signal-caller?
Wentz's numbers are down the past two weeks, and an argument can be made he has regressed. The explanation for the 23-year-old's recent struggles are likely better explained by the tape than simple platitudes, though.
Simply put, Wentz isn't enjoying the same level of protection he did in his first four games with the Eagles, and it's causing a lot of the erratic decision-making.
You wouldn't necessarily think so just by looking at the box score. On Sunday, the Vikings failed to record a sack and were credited with only two hits on Wentz in the Eagles' 21-10 win at Lincoln Financial Field.
Yet the first of those two hits came early enough to set a tone, which may have contributed, if not directly led to Wentz's first interception.
To this point in the season, Wentz has done an outstanding job of going through his progressions and making the right decision with the football. As he's about to find out on the Eagles' second possession of the game though, there isn't nearly as much time against this Vikings pass rush.
Wentz drops back to pass on 2nd-and-4 from the Eagles' 17-yard line, and his first read isn't there.
He looks left, and his second option is covered.
By the time Wentz gets to his third look, 310-pound defensive tackle Shamar Stephen has reached the quarterback, and his pass intended for tight end Brent Celek will fall harmlessly incomplete. It's not like this is a case where a first-year quarterback is slow to go through his progressions either. It was a bang-bang play. Allen Barbre just got beat.
Wentz did hesitate slightly on the release — possibly because Celek wasn't all that open — but on his third attempt of the game, he had already learned a valuable lesson: Get the ball out quickly.
So being the fast learner that he is, Wentz tries to adapt on the very next play. It's 2nd-and-12 after Barbre is flagged for holding there, and the quarterback sets up for a quick out to Celek, his first read.
The problem here is the route is well covered by Eric Kendricks. Wentz unloads anyway, and while the linebacker does appear to be committing pass interference, this was a poor decision regardless. The ball sails high out of Celek's reach, perhaps because he was being grabbed, and is intercepted by safety Andrew Sendejo.
Here's the overhead view of the play. Not only is Celek covered, but Harrison Smith also sees the ball is going to the tight end well before its release. He's about to vacate the other half of the field, where wide receiver Jordan Matthews is running an uncontested slant into space. It's a clean pocket too, so Wentz has time to exploit the Pro Bowl safety's aggressiveness.
Smith's break on the route suggests Wentz might be relying a bit too much on his first read anyway. In this situation, it proved to be a mistake, although one has to wonder how much the shot he took on the previous play sped up the clock in the rookie's head.
Pressure on the quarterback was also more of an issue at times than statistics let on. While the Vikings weren't credited with a hit on Wentz's second pick, the pass rush certainly made an impact.
Two series later, the Eagles are in 3rd-and-11 from their own 38-yard line. The Vikings are going to send six on the blitz, which the offense does a nice job of picking up — except, not to pick on Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the right tackle.
Defensive end Danielle Hunter is in the backfield so fast, Wentz never gets to his second read. In fact, to avoid the sack, the young signal-caller does something he seldom does and temporarily drops his eyes to elude the rush.
Wentz manages to keep the play alive and is again looking downfield. The problem is he doesn't have much time to set his feet, let alone scan the field with two Vikings defenders closing in. He pulls the trigger anyway.
Clearly, this pass intended for Matthews was ill-advised, as there are four defenders that have a shot at the interception cornerback Xavier Rhodes ultimately came up with. Wentz should've just taken a sack here rather than put the ball up for grabs like that.
Yet while this didn't go down as a hit on the stat sheet, the immediate pressure from his right contributed to this. Wentz needs to and should learn to make better decisions under these circumstances over time, but it's not as if this was an entirely unforced mistake.
It wasn't only turnovers that left people wondering what's going on with Wentz. On 1st-and-10 from the Eagles' 49 in the second quarter, he missed Celek all alone down the seam for a potential touchdown or at least a huge gain, instead targeting Zach Ertz on a riskier intermediate throw.
Once again, the Vikings' pass rush is on the scene and deserves credit for bailing out the secondary here. A seven-year veteran, defensive end Everson Griffen doesn't bite on the play-action here, so once the quarterback finishes carrying out the fake, he's going to be in for a nice surprise.
As soon as Wentz turns around and sets up to throw, Griffen is already on top of him.
With immediate pressure in his face, Wentz can't even make a quality throw to Ertz. All he has to do is put the ball a little out in front of the tight end, but that's tough to do with Griffen driving him to the turf.
With that in mind, it's pretty much impossible to blame Wentz for not seeing a blown coverage had allowed Celek to run completely unchecked.
Heck, it's hard to blame Wentz for struggling as much as he did in the first half, completing 9 of 20 passes for 56 yards with two interceptions — good for a miserable 12.5 passer rating. For context, passer ratings are higher than that if the quarterback does nothing but throw incomplete passes.
It's also worth noting that as Wentz settled down and the protection improved, so did the quarterback's efficiency. In the second half, he completed 7 of 8 attempts for 82 yards with a touchdown and no more turnovers.
The reality of the situation is no matter how good Wentz is, there are always going to be bumps in the road for rookie quarterbacks. Anytime the protection is less than stellar, as it was for much of the first half against the Vikings on Sunday, those issues all rookies face are going to be even more pronounced.