Commanders

Notes after watching Wentz at his best and worst in 2021

Commanders

Pete Hailey is not a current or former NFL player, nor is he a current or former NFL coach. He is a reporter. Therefore, this space won't be used to closely analyze whether the right or wrong reads were made, identify the defensive coverages that were employed or anything else super-nuanced like that.

That said, he does cover Washington on a day-to-day basis, meaning he can (hopefully) pass along helpful observations after watching Carson Wentz's best performance of 2021 along with his worst. So, here's what he learned about the Commanders' new quarterback from doing just that:

 
  • The two contests I re-watched on NFL GamePass were Colts vs. Jets from Week 9 and, yes, Indy's dreadful and confusing trip to Jacksonville in Week 18 where they lost to the lowly Jaguars and missed out on a playoff berth. Wentz's numbers from the first affair were: 22 completions on 30 attempts for 272 yards and three touchdowns, which equated to a season-best 134.3 passer rating. As for the second, he finished with 17 completions on 29 attempts for 185 yards and one touchdown, one interception and one lost fumble, which equated to a 74.6 passer rating (that actually wasn't his lowest on the year, but because of how much people reference the ghastliness of the loss, I felt compelled to view it).
  • To start off with the positive, Wentz's arm is far superior to Taylor Heinicke's and should allow offensive coordinator Scott Turner to call for more shots to the intermediate and deeper parts of the field. He also displays a good grasp of when to change up the trajectory of the ball: when he needs to throw a dart, he can; when he needs to take a little heat off of it in order to layer it over the top of a dropping defender, he can; and when he needs to loft one up toward the stadium lights, he can. 
  • This second-quarter completion against New York might've been the best toss I saw from Wentz across the two outings. Wentz's wideout broke out toward the left sideline behind a corner and in front of a charging safety and Wentz was able to put it on his target right before he tumbled out of bounds. When people talk about his raw talent, this is the kind of highlight they're referring to: 
    NFL GamePass
    It doesn't get much better than this
  • Wentz is often criticized for poor mechanics, but in the win over the Jets, they didn't really show up. That's not to say the criticism is wrong — his 27th-best completion percentage in the NFL in 2021 suggests he is not the most fundamentally-sound guy — but he was on point in this matchup. Whether he was leading a running back on a dump off, executing a screen or humming a slant on third-and-6, Wentz was delivering with serious accuracy. Of course, that wasn't exactly the case in Jacksonville, but we'll get to that.
  • One thing Wentz appears quite comfortable with is standing in shotgun, taking the snap, executing a fake handoff with his running back and then looking to attack the defense with his arm. This sort of play-action is something Turner does all the time with Antonio Gibson and represents one aspect of Washington's scheme that Wentz should grasp right away. 
  • In terms of scrambling, Wentz isn't as quick or agile as Heinicke. No one would label him a smooth runner. Also, he won't run away from a trailing defensive end or linebacker like Heinicke and the faster QBs can (he was tripped up once in each of these two games by a pursuing opponent). However, he has no issue with rolling out and tucking the ball or stepping up and then bailing for eight or 10 yards when needed. In addition, his imposing size should make him an asset on sneaks, something Heinicke was just too small to help on.
  • In both the Jets and Jags tilts, Wentz proved to be dangerous when attempting to pick apart the defense in between the two safeties. He was undeniably disappointing in Jacksonville, but he did find T.Y. Hilton early with a 33-yarder that Hilton snared in between three defenders and had the announcers openly guffawing. It's fun imagining what he can do with Logan Thomas and Terry McLaurin in that section of the field.
  • OK, time for the bad, because so far, the Commanders sound like they acquired a franchise changer. Perhaps the most troubling part to me while watching Wentz was that when the Colts were desperate for an offensive jolt in their regular-season finale, he was just unable to provide it. The best signal callers can rise above a lazy and sputtering unit and get it going singlehandedly, but on that particular afternoon, Wentz just fell in line with the rest of the sleepwalking visitors. He wasn't alone — his offensive line was getting manhandled and Jonathan Taylor wasn't his elite self — but Wentz didn't engineer any turnaround.
  • The lost fumble Wentz had in the second half versus the Jaguars was absolutely crushing. With his squad down 13-3, he dropped from under center, faked a handoff and then turned around, only to encounter a free blitzer. Wentz reacted by trying to evade the oncoming threat, only to have the ball stripped. The offensive line was culpable for the initial breakdown, but a replay revealed that Wentz lost possession BECAUSE HE WAS TRYING TO ONE-HAND/BACKHAND A SHOVEL PASS TO A TEAMMATE. The following screengrab gives an angle of the failed flip and also is a prime example of Wentz compounding one mistake with another, which is one of his most mentioned flaws: 
    NFL GamePass
    This is the definition of reckless
  • The interception Wentz had that Sunday was almost as unforgivable. Right after his defense held Jacksonville to a field goal post-fumble, Wentz came out, pump-faked when staring at his tight end and then immediately threw it at that same spot, despite the fact that no one on defense reacted or cleared an opening. Actually, as you'll see in the video of the turnover, Wentz's hesitation allowed for the area to get more crowded. Every quarterback falls victim to mental lapses, but this one was truly blasphemous: 
  • Wentz's refusal to give up on a particular sequence can produce magic but, also, misery. Against the Jaguars, there was much more of the latter, as he was sacked six times, a few of which occurred because he wouldn't unload in time to a checkdown option or relent with an incompletion. Commanders fans in 2022 will probably find the Wentz experience enthralling on one play and infuriating on another. The side that has more tallies will go a long way in determining if Wentz is still with Washington in 2023.