Look, much like the Indianapolis Colts’ top brass, my evaluation of enigmatic starting quarterback Carson Wentz remains fluid—and is very much still ongoing (except hey, my opinion doesn’t matter for the franchise’s decision-making and long-term success so there’s that).
We’ve seen the good.
And this past Sunday, even at times, the downright ugly.
Even in a game where Wentz looked like his career worst—forcing two bonehead turnovers late, we still saw the flashes of greatness—as on the run, he rifled a well-placed ball 38 yards downfield to emerging star wideout Michael Pittman Jr. to a Colts squad that was otherwise on life support—facing nearly insurmountable odds for a realistic comeback:
Not done yet.— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) October 31, 2021
Honestly, I think you and I individually have more fingers than the number of starting NFL quarterbacks who can currently make that type of big-time throw, while also extending a play outside the pocket under duress in a pressure-filled late game situation.
My opinion, and maybe one day this will even be on the @OldTakesExposed ‘Wall of Shame’, but I still think Wentz is good enough to take a team to a Super Bowl with—but it also depends a lot on the overall supporting cast and system surrounding him.
I know there are established ‘camps’ of Colts fans.
Some have eternal optimism and believe Wentz can consistently regain his prior NFL MVP caliber form he once showed as a shooting star with the Philadelphia Eagles—heck that at times, he’s already showcased as a fresh member of the Colts so far this season.
Others will throw out terms like ‘mediocre’ or ‘average starting NFL quarterback’ without really even giving Wentz a ‘fighter’s chance’ in Indianapolis—as their minds have already been made up, been made up for a while at that, and won’t change with each of Wentz’s passing performances regardless. (A position that I’ll never really come to understand).
What do I think about Wentz?
Well, I think he can be a really good ‘system quarterback’, but before one starts thinking that brings a negative connotation to it, much like when a quarterback is called a ‘game manager’ or ‘caretaker’—as someone, who seemingly just hands the ball off, checks down to his running back, and consistently hits only wide open receivers—and adds value as long as he isn’t turning the ball over or falling down over his own feet, it’s not.
I think there are very few ‘good to great’ starting NFL quarterbacks who aren’t ‘system quarterbacks’.
I think those select NFL superstars are limited to Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson—future Hall of Famers bound for Canton, who could end up at any NFL destination in any NFL system and still have a reasonable degree of success with their new team.
There is no system, as they are the system.
To be fair too, I think there are some blossoming young passers like Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert as well, who could all eventually get there—maybe even really soon.
What I see in Carson Wentz though is a starting NFL quarterback, who can be really good—that is, with the right coaching and offensive system (having a strong running game to lean upon is critical)—and being backed up by a stout defensive unit also wouldn’t hurt.
It’s not hard to see that the Colts already have some—if not the potential, for such pieces.
That happened under then Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich in 2017, when Wentz was a bonafide MVP candidate before suffering a season-ending torn ACL—and we’ve seen some flashes of it this season with Frank Reich as now Colts head coach.
Which leads me to my next point:
I think Wentz can be a lot like the 2017 and 2018 Pro Bowl version of former Los Angeles Rams starting quarterback Jared Goff—who happened to be taken just a pick ahead of Wentz in the 2016 NFL Draft, #1 to his #2 overall.
Forever linked I guess—for better or worse.
In back-to-back seasons, Goff, under offensive guru (and current Rams head coach) Sean McVay, threw for 28 touchdowns to 7 interceptions and 32 touchdowns to 12 interceptions respectively—as he was good enough to lead the Rams to the Super Bowl during the 2018 campaign.
But it was rarely Goff solely carrying the offense or being asked to do too much.
As part of a highly effective ground game, it was the Rams leaning heavily on the legs of former 2x First-Team NFL All-Pro Todd Gurley, who had a combined 2,500+ rushing yards and 30 total rushing yards during those same consecutive standout seasons.
It was the Rams taking calculated shots with Goff and putting him in a position to succeed by playing to his strengths and mitigating his weaknesses.
He was comfortable in that offense.
Which leads me to my next point:
The Colts can’t call on Wentz to carry the offense or ask him to do too much either. Yes, the ‘analytics nerds’ (and I mean this honestly very endearingly) will point out that passing wins in today’s NFL, and you know what, they aren’t wrong.
They’re absolutely right.
I agree with them.
Heck, I might be one of them.
However, a team still has to play to its personnel, and while you and I may want the Colts to have a prolific passing attack again that the Colts once featured on a perennial Super Bowl contender, AFC juggernaut, and eventual World Champion, you can’t put a #18 jersey on a pig and expect it to all of the sudden shred opposing secondaries like Peyton Manning surgically and notoriously did. Instead, you’re going to bacon.
Now, I don’t think Wentz is a ‘pig’ as an NFL passer by any means, but I also don’t think he’s either Manning or even Andrew Luck for that matter.
He can be really good when it’s going right—and I think his best is still yet to come with the Colts, but he also has some clear limitations to keep in mind (i.e., too much ‘hero ball’ at times being one of them and a bit reckless with the football).
Asking him to throw 51 times a game, when the Colts’ best offensive playmaker, Jonathan Taylor, who’s ascended into a Top 5 NFL running back, only had 16 carries seems skewed.
This is an offensive line that is built to power run block.
It’s an offense that features a pair of tenacious wideouts on the perimeter, Michael Pittman Jr. and Zach Pascal, who are among the most physical in the entire league at run blocking.
The Colts have to maintain better balance and can’t expect Wentz to carry the offense, especially when with T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell already out, he had one wideout, Pittman Jr., who was capable of making impact catches—and the entire Titans defense knew it late on Sunday.
Don’t get me wrong, Wentz can be a really good starting NFL quarterback, but he’s not that guy.
At least not yet.
Yes, the Colts ran some RPOs that Wentz kept as a ‘keeper’ instead of handing off to Taylor, (that would’ve amounted to a few extra carries), but if you didn’t leave Sunday’s soul-sucking loss thinking that the Colts should’ve given Taylor at least a handful of more forced touches regardless, I think you’re pretty off-base here.
(Not to mention, that Nyheim Hines, the Colts’ electric scat-back, who Indianapolis thought was a dynamic enough weapon to hand a 3-year, $18.6M deal to this past offseason, and is one of their few true ‘take it to the house’ threats only had * checks notes * 1 carry total).
I’ve heard things like ‘Taylor was a decoy’ and ‘there was extra attention’. Okay, Titans running back Derrick Henry sees that same extra attention—even more so (36.5% of 8 man+ boxes to Taylor’s 25.62% respectively), literally every game, yet Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel still managed to get him 28 carries on Sunday (and that was even later, what we learned was on an injured foot. I mean holy cow).
I don’t think the Colts need to run Taylor into the ground with carries just for the sake of it—after all, the NFL season is long, and it’s even longer now (with an added 17th regular season game).
Those carries add up down the stretch where a running back can end up outright gassed, and it’s a grueling marathon, not a sprint.
That being said, I think there was a happy medium between 20-25 total carries for Taylor that Reich failed to meet on Sunday—while Hines also still somehow remains ‘the missing man’ rushing in the Colts backfield.
What I think with Wentz is that we’ll see a lot more good than bad, if the Colts continue to coach him up, get him increasingly comfortable, and let him lean on the ground game a bit more.
Maybe arguably even his best ball yet.