In the months and weeks leading up to the Carson Wentz trade agreement, I was asked several times for my opinion of Wentz as a player. I knew what I had heard everyone say, Wentz was terrible. He’s lost his confidence. His throwing mechanics are a mess. He’s only had one good season. He needs an elite team around him to be good.
All of those things were parroted from the loudest football voices, everywhere you turned and that’s fine, but I had yet to really study Wentz and form my own opinion. With that in mind, I took to Twitter armed with NFL Gamepass recordings and started watching the 2020 Eagles. So far I’ve analyzed five games from Wentz’s 2020 season and I’ve learned a lot.
Today we’re going to look at Wentz’s athleticism.
In 2020 Wentz showed time and time again that he is a very good athlete for the position. Wentz’s ability to escape pressure, keep plays alive and pick up yards with his legs, is huge. His mobility will open up the Colts offense in ways it’s been lacking for years. Philip Rivers was excellent a season ago, but his inability to move outside the pocket limited the offense's ability to do things like designed rollouts and all of the effective passing concepts that work so well off of those. Wentz will open the playbook in other ways as Zach Hicks touched on here. Having said that his high level of athleticism doesn’t only create positive plays and we’ll look at the good the bad and the ugly from his 2020 season.
Athletic ability on display
Before the snap Wentz appeared to change this play. He does a good job feeling the pocket collapse, gets his eyes back downfield, resets his base and places this ball where only his guy could get it. If he puts this ball in front his WR gets hit or ball gets picked. Nice rep. pic.twitter.com/gGxXn6uXi0— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 9, 2021
Eagles run a naked boot flood, Wentz reads the play correctly and delivers a good ball with good placement. Nice play. pic.twitter.com/pkaFQg2oVB— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
Still has enough juice to make this happen. pic.twitter.com/8ro3WpPr4y— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
Wentz sees chance to scramble. His first two options were well covered to his left, the hole was there, so he decided to take off. When that closed he looked up and found his backside option open. Ultimately kept the play alive and got a nice gain. pic.twitter.com/6LrTCXctly— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
I love this play from 11. Does a great job avoiding the rush, stepping up in pocket, resetting his feet and delivering a perfect pass 30 yards downfield in the end zone that hit his RB in the hands before it fell to the turf.— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
This is a marked improvement from week 4 for Wentz pic.twitter.com/UPA9nFi6t4
Well, this was unexpected.— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
Great play from Wentz here. pic.twitter.com/VmGUUKYdsF
The Giants send a well timed CB blitz. Wentz avoids throwing the screen that's covered, instead makes a great play and gets positive yardage. Nice play. pic.twitter.com/0mUR3ZVEpN— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 15, 2021
The Eagles got the ball back with 2:02 to play down 6 points at their own 29. Wentz hit a curl for 11 before this one. The D sends two DB's to 11's left, feeling the pressure, he rolls to his right, keeping his eyes down field before finding 85 running open. 11 made this happen. pic.twitter.com/JPFlyNITLm— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 15, 2021
I could upload a dozen more clips of Wentz’s athleticism getting him out of jams, keeping plays alive, and creating opportunities that just weren’t there before, but you get the idea. Wentz is a good athlete.
But this article is titled “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. I’ve shown you the good, let's take a look at what happens when Wentz’s athleticism gets him into trouble.
Athletic ability gone awry
Now down 10 points Wentz tries to do too much and turns the ball over. A bad result but you can understand the intent. He does a good job escaping pressure initially, just needed to do something with it after that.— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 9, 2021
This one effectively ends it. pic.twitter.com/zy9TCxntTP
1/3 I feel like I could write a book about this play but this is twitter so I'll keep it short. The most frustrating part is that the second he gets swatted at he takes his eyes off the field. Instead of moving up in the pocket he turns his back.— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
To be fair, he's done this since pic.twitter.com/Hxja3BCjwM
3/3 the RB 75%+ of the time, he had it exactly as it was drawn up and panicked. The positive is that he tried to go to him later, the ball just got tipped and picked. This is on Wentz. Has to step up, not every play needs a hero.— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
3rd and 6, Wentz doesn't have a chances they should have this one blocked up, but it doesn't quite go that way. Before this play, protection had largely been alright. Some pressure here and there, nothing bad. pic.twitter.com/GUqWe2Q12q— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
Yeah, you wish this wouldn't happen but he wasn't being careless with the ball, the defender made a great play and stripped it out. Ultimately there's a reason you pay defensive players too, right? This isn't great but it's forgivable. pic.twitter.com/FZL1ySkZF1— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
I could also post a dozen more instances where Wentz uses his athleticism to get himself in trouble. He ran himself into sacks, he turned the ball over and he had roughly as many negative athletic plays, as positive.
Too often Wentz used his athleticism to try to save unsavable plays. He’s a good athlete but you’re not going to see him make defenders miss like a vintage Michael Vick, he just can’t create in that way. Too often Wentz failed to stay within the design of the called play, which is a fine line to toe with an athletic quarterback. On one hand, creating a quarterback who is afraid to create at all can lead to someone afraid to take chances, and Colts fans lived through two stints of Jacoby Brissett, I think we can all agree the occasional 50/50 ball is really nice to see. On the other hand, failing to curb those bad plays means your team might be willing to ship you out of town for a third-rounder and a future first*.
*Go ahead and make peace with this now. Short of injury, there’s almost no way the Colts have a first-round pick in 2022
The ugliest aspect of how Carson Wentz uses athleticism doesn’t have that much to do with Carson Wentz. Sure, Wentz is the one making the bad decisions but Wentz’s biggest mistakes come when he’s simply trying to do too much to go out and win games. I’ll show you a couple of clips that highlight why Wentz might feel the need to be a hero and try to win games on his own.
Had his RG not sacked him for the defense (very thoughtful) I think Wentz would have tried to throw this one away. He had no open receiving options. pic.twitter.com/WDImKkG9es— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
Wentz's first drop back of the second half went just like his first of the first half. No one was open before he was running for his life. pic.twitter.com/nUQp1U7oc9— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
For the life of me I just can't figure out why Carson Wentz would be afraid of getting hit. pic.twitter.com/PYvSTWqohd— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
All these clips are just from one game. I realize that it’s the Ravens but I could go back and pull similar clips from every game I’ve watched. Wentz wasn’t protected consistently and when the guys in front of him did manage to block up the defense, more often than not his receivers failed to get open on the long-developing isolation routes that his head coach loved to call. There were also a lot of bad drops.
How I imagine the huddle:— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
"Greg, we're losing by one score to a great Ravens team. We've only won one game and it would amazing to beat these guys. We need some yards here. This ball is coming to you, got it?"
"I'm ready. Just not in the hands, though." pic.twitter.com/pGEWpfQoRO
Here's my analysis for this play:— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 15, 2021
Oh no baby, what is you doin?
No one open, running for his life, trying to make a play. This is ugly. Why does he do this stuff so often?
Well, sometimes it worked.
We can debate if this play was amazing or a dumb risk another time. The bottom line is it was the most impressive 1 yard completion I've seen for a while. pic.twitter.com/Xr81VU8yPs— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
I'll never pretend throwing off your back foot into triple coverage is a good thing but on 4th down, when you're down 30-14 late in the 4th quarter being chased by half the unblocked defense, well I wouldn't have wanted him to do anything different either. Gave his WR a chance. pic.twitter.com/t00HQwRD4K— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) February 10, 2021
The ugly truth of the 2020 Philadelphia Eagles is that if Carson Wentz wasn’t making unbelievable plays, consistently, throughout every game they played, they just didn’t have the playmakers at other positions or the play calling needed to make the best of their bad situation.
How can the Colts get more good out of Wentz’s athleticism?
The good is there, and it is really good. He’s not Lamar Jackson but considering the living statue that is Philip Rivers and the blazing 4.9-second speed showcased by Jacoby Brissett, Carson Wentz might as well be. How can the team limit the negative plays?
The easiest thing the Colts can do is give him some help. The Indy offensive line, assuming they find an answer at left tackle, is light years beyond the Eagles front five from a season ago. The Indy receivers feature talented young players but need to add a piece or two to really be considered a good unit, either way, Michael Pittman Jr. alone is better than any healthy receiver Wentz threw to last season.
Putting talent around him is important but it can’t be everything, right?
Wentz made those very athletic mistakes, in no small part, due to feeling the pressure of having to win games mostly on his own. Now that the talent around him will be better, he’s going to have to learn to trust those players to do their jobs. He’s going to have to re-learn that it’s not all on him to win games. He needs to learn when his athleticism can keep a play alive and when it’s a hopeless endeavor. He’s going to have to be more willing to throw the ball away and live for the next down.
He’s going to need someone who can convince him to do all of those things.
Frank Reich will have plenty of work to do.