Carson Wentz has had an up-and-down 2020 season to say the least. He struggled in all facets early on in the season, but he’s gradually gotten better over the past four weeks, leading to his best statistical outing last week against the New York Giants. Still, he was inconsistent for stretches of that Thursday night game.
There’s no denying Wentz has all the talent required to be a premiere franchise quarterback in this league, his downfalls come with his decision making and subpar accuracy. His penchant for big plays and late game heroics are commendable, but if it weren’t for his inconsistencies throughout ball games, he probably wouldn’t always find himself in a position where he has to pull off a comeback.
Some of this falls on Doug Pederson’s play calling as well, which in my opinion, has been more alarming than some of Wentz’s struggles. After four and a half years of working together, Pederson should have a better feel for what Wentz can and can’t do. Yet, Pederson still relies too heavily on the passing game, even when the running game is working. Which puts all the onus on Wentz to make plays.
Here are three ways Doug and the coaching staff can try to mitigate some of Wentz’s shortcomings, and potentially unlock a more consistent version of their franchise quarterback.
Continue to run more up tempo
Whenever Wentz is in up tempo mode, he always seems to play more efficiently. We saw it on the first drive of the Giants game, where Wentz went 4-for-4, scrambled for a fourth down conversion, and then capped off the drive with a rushing touchdown.
We’ve also seen it during the fourth quarter this year, Wentz’s best statistical quarter by a wide margin. 6 of his 10 passing touchdowns have come in the fourth quarter along with posting a 86.7 QB rating.
The up temp offense allows Wentz to get into a rhythm and more importantly, it slows down the opposing pass rush. Wentz has been hit more than any other QB in the league this year and it’s not even close. He’s been hit 76 total times and the next closest is Joe Burrow with 60. Wentz has also been sacked a league high 28 times while being blitzed 97 times, second most behind Daniel Jones.
Tiring out the defense while allowing Wentz to make quick reads, or even running the ball consistently in an up tempo offense, would undoubtedly minimize some of the mental lapses in Wentz’s game.
Stick with the running game in close games
I’ve never been a fan of the constant “you need the run the ball more!” narrative from Philly fans. If the running game just isn’t working, it’s usually better to pivot to the short passing game and screens.
But for the most part, the running game has been effective for the Eagles this season. As a team they’ve averaged 5 yards per carry. Miles Sanders alone has averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 86.8 rushing yards per game. Pederson has stuck with the running game a little more often when Sanders has been healthy, but only giving him 14 carries per game seems like malpractice.
In this past week’s game against New York, there was no logical reason to go away from the running game and have Wentz throw 43 times. It was a one possession game for the majority of the night, and for essentially the entire third quarter, the offense couldn’t move the ball.
Doug has also gone away from the screen game this season, which is pretty surprising. It used to be a focal point of his offense but it’s become non-existent in 2020. Maybe that has to do with the lack of experience upfront, but it would be nice if Pederson was able to scheme up creative screen plays to get his backs in space.
We’ve all seen Wentz’s tendency to try and play hero ball. Taking the ball out of his hands just little bit with running plays would probably minimize some of that.
Don’t force Wentz to be a pocket quarterback
Throughout his career, it’s been clear that Wentz is much better when he’s outside of the pocket. There have been times where Doug has run designed roll outs, and more often than not they work. But for the most part, when Wentz gets outside of the pocket it’s his own doing while trying to improvise.
We saw it in the final minutes of the Giants game last week. On the first touchdown pass, Pederson called a speed out for Greg Ward. Wentz did a quick roll out to his right and hit Ward on the money for the TD. We saw it again on the following series when Wentz scrambled out to his right and hit tight end Richard Rodgers for a 30 yard gain.
Wentz still has some accuracy issues when out of the pocket, but the chances for a big play increase when he’s scrambling. He has a touchdown rate of 4.4% while in the pocket and a 6.3% touchdown rate when outside it.
Wentz just isn’t a pocket quarterback. It obviously would be great if he was, and it would make it easier for Doug’s play calling. But molding the offense around what Wentz does well is not impossible. Every successful offense in the NFL molds their system around their quarterback, so there’s no reason Pederson can’t do the same with Wentz.
Wentz is not a perfect quarterback, he’s far from it. Quarterbacking in the NFL is about 75% coaching. Without smart play design and smart play calling, there’s only so much a quarterback can do. Wentz still has his shortcomings with his accuracy and questionable decision making, but it’s up to Pederson to put Wentz in more favorable situations.
This isn’t to say none of the blame falls on Wentz this season. He’s been flat out bad at times. But I still believe he’s a good quarterback with the right coaching.