McLANE: What, if anything, is wrong with Carson Wentz?
- Carson Wentz had a 103.5 passer rating in his first four games.
- In his last two games, the Eagles' rookie QB has a 63.5 rating.
- Wentz has led the Eagles to a 4-2 start this season.
What's wrong with Carson Wentz?
It's a peculiar question to ask just six games into the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback's NFL career, but Wentz hasn't been the same since he launched that game-clinching interception in Detroit a little over two weeks ago.
It's quite possible the answer could be summed up with just the following words: He's a rookie. But that would be a lazy explanation, especially after Wentz had shown in the first three-plus games that he wasn't your ordinary first-year quarterback.
But his relative youth has certainly played a role in his recent struggles. They are the typical speed bumps that every rookie quarterback must endure. Against the Lions, Wentz faced his first two-minute, game-winning opportunity, and he went for broke and got burned.
Last week against the Redskins, he had to adapt to a personnel change on the offensive line, and even though the offensive issues came from elsewhere, it clearly affected the young quarterback.
But Wentz was hardly the problem in both those losses. In fact, he was probably still the best thing about the Eagles, who stand at 4-2.
Beating Vikes in spite of Wentz: Sunday was a different story, however. The Eagles bloodied the Vikings, 21-10, but mostly behind the strength of their defense and special teams and in spite of Wentz and the mistake-prone offense that committed four turnovers.
Wentz accounted for three - two interceptions and a fumble - all on his own. The picks were unforced errors. The fumble was a botched handoff. But there was more cause for concern. Wentz was errant on a number of easy passes. He had trouble fielding several shotgun snaps.
"He missed some throws yesterday," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday. "He is a first-time starter. He's a rookie. And just the longevity now of the season, I've got to make sure that we're keeping things very familiar for him where he can just execute and play."
Easing Wentz into starting role: Pederson had done an effective job of easing Wentz into his first four games. His game plans involved an early dose of high-percentage throws that gave the quarterback confidence, and with that success came more opportunities for Wentz to sling the ball downfield.
But it's not as if Pederson abandoned that template over the last two games. In fact, he has probably reined in the offense since rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai took over for the suspended Lane Johnson at right tackle. There has been an even higher number of screens, short timing throws and play-action passes.
"To some extent, I would agree," Pederson said, "but [I'm] also utilizing our team's strength and Carson's ability to throw out of the pocket. He usually makes those throws. He had a couple to the left that were a little off the mark."
Pressure rattling rookie: Early pressure seemed to have rattled Wentz some. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said that the early hits he took last week against the Redskins took a toll. The offensive line kept Wentz clean for most of Sunday - he wasn't sacked - but there were some early moments that may have affected his throws.
He suffered a blow in the first quarter when guard Allen Barbre was called for holding. The penalty backed the Eagles inside their own 10 and on the next play Wentz threw high and wide of tight end Brent Celek and was intercepted.
Two series later, after the fumble, Wentz had to step up in the pocket after Vaitai was beaten around the corner. He had time and space but forced a third-down throw into triple coverage and was picked off again.
"I have to be smarter with the football," Wentz said. "But for me, it's just short-term memory. You have to move on. . . . If you dwell on it in this league, it's just going to come back and bite you in the rear."
Facing a strong defense: It should be noted that Wentz was also facing for the first time a legitimately excellent defense. Not one of the Eagles' first five opponents has a defense ranked in the top 10 in terms of yards allowed, and the average ranking of the group is 23rd. The Vikings have the top-ranked unit.
But that doesn't explain Wentz missing open receivers. He threw wide of tight end Zach Ertz twice. He threw behind tight end Trey Burton. He was nowhere near Nelson Agholor in the fourth.
"It's putting your lower body in position to make the throw and being able to drive off your back hip, especially when it's a clean pocket," Pederson said. "Sometimes when your feet are not on the target line, you tend to throw high and you tend to throw inside of a receiver."
Battling back: To Wentz's credit, and this applies to the Redskins game, as well, he battled back. There weren't any exceptional moments, save perhaps when he scooped up a dropped snap and escaped out of the danger zone and flicked a 19-yard pass to Darren Sproles. But he engineered three scoring drives.
Wentz drove the Eagles to a field goal just before the half that included a 6-yard run - after another bobbled snap - on fourth and 2. He led the Eagles on a nine-play, 77-yard drive in the third that culminated with a 5-yard touchdown pass to a slanting Dorial Green-Beckham. And there was a fourth-quarter field goal that gave the Eagles a three-score cushion.
"He's still winning football games," Pederson said. "That's obviously the ultimate stat."
No pat answer: His numbers weren't pretty and they haven't been the last two weeks. After tallying a 103.5 passer rating in the first four games, Wentz has a 63.5 rating the last two weeks. But it was likely only a matter of time before a subpar group of receivers was going to limit his efficiency.
So the "What's wrong with Wentz" question can't be resolved with one pat answer. There has been a combination of factors — his inexperience, scheme, injuries, receivers, opponents, among others — and it's not as if the sample has been significant, either.
Wentz had a poor game, and not even the best quarterbacks are immune to down weeks.