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Film Room: Carson Wentz, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly- Part 3: Mental Processing

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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 mental processing.


Overview

The most exciting aspect of Carson Wentz, by my estimation, is his ability to process the game mentally. Last season he was excellent at manipulating defenses, moving defenders where he wanted them to go with his eyes and body language. The way Wentz is able to do this is rare and the implications of this ability point to a player who makes great pre-snap reads while understanding how each defender is going to react to each receiver running their specific routes while also processing an insane amount of information in under two seconds post-snap. Wentz’s mental ability is, really, truly, rare.

The problem with seemingly every aspect of Carson Wentz as a football player is that I describe all of the positive aspects he displays in regard to his athleticism, passing, and now mental processing. After all the good stuff, I still have so much more to write.

Carson Wentz is elite in this aspect of his game, sometimes. In what follows, I’ll show you the good and explain why I think the bad happened as often as it did in 2020.


The Good

I wanted to include this play again, it qualifies as both a good throw and also as high-level processing. Before the snap, Wentz is given a two-high safety look. It seems like, somehow, Wentz knew that despite the split safety coverage, the vertical route to his right would be one on one if he looked left and gave the defense a pump.

It’s fairly easy to move a single deep safety to take a deep shot, if there are two safeties, it’s usually much more difficult. Even if he cheats the way the QB looks, it’s still rare you’re going to get this kind of one on one look. But Wentz looks left, gives a pump, and a fraction of a second after spotting his deep receiver, fires in a deep pass that’s caught for a big gain.

In the comments of the last article Paul Carey Jr. said the following about this play:

Honestly, if you look at the play the safety was doing a QB spy the whole time while he should have been in cover 2.... he was doing that before Wentz looked his way... it was bad coverage.

It was bad coverage because Carson Wentz manipulated him and made him believe he needed to cheat to the middle. That’s not a normal thing for a two-deep safety coverage and Wentz looked to his left the entire time, knowing he was going to go back to his right because of the look the defense gave him. How did he know that safety wasn’t going to be where he was supposed to be (assuming the Washington Football Team wasn’t disguising coverage and running something I can’t distinguish)? The only explanations are that Carson Wentz is a psychic or something in his mental preparation for that game led him to believe that if he had that play called against that specific defensive look that he could move that safety where he wanted him to go which would give him a one on one shot downfield with his best receiver.

Either he can predict the future or the guy made his pre-snap reads and knew exactly what the defense was going to do based on the offenses called play.

It’s true that most NFL quarterbacks can do this on occasion. What separates Wentz is that he does it, a lot.

Carson Wentz knew this blitz was coming. Watch how the protection slides and picks it up. Wentz, once again looked left, moving the defense before finding a vertical target running open deep.

When I get to the bad and ugly sections of this article and I talk about Wentz not trusting his receivers, remember this play.

The telling part of this play is that as soon as the ball is snapped Wentz looks at the outside linebacker who dropped into coverage rather than rushing. He sees that, looks back to his left, comes back right, sees the LB has given him a throwing lane before he fires it to a safe place for his receiver to go get the ball. It’s simple but it shows good post-snap processing.

This play doesn’t show amazing mental processing ability, Wentz sees that the Ravens have a single high safety that is going to be preoccupied with the receiver running to the middle of the field and he knew his running back had an exploitable matchup. This isn’t an elite read though it was the correct read, I’ve included it here because I believe the many plays like this one the 2020 Eagles had contributed to Wentz’s displayed mental struggles later in the article.

You often see highlights of quarterbacks moving defenders in deep coverage. Here Wentz uses his eyes and body language to move a defender who’s five yards past the line of scrimmage. Most quarterbacks are just going to try to fire a pass in, and that might have worked but Wentz wanted to create space for his receiver first.

I’ve changed my mind on this play from what I initially wrote on Twitter. I like that he saw the opportunity, made the decision, and didn’t second guess himself. It doesn’t hurt that he also picked up the first down.

Once again Wentz makes a read before the snap that tells him he’s going to have a deep shot, one on one as long as he can hold the single high safety in the middle of the field for as long as possible. Wentz does that and gets a big gain as a result.

Saying that Wentz didn’t or couldn’t work through progressions is completely incorrect. He can and when given time in the pocket to throw, he often did. In the play above Wentz was looking for someone, anyone to get some kind of separation and his last option on the play ended up being the guy with the most separation.

People who accuse Wentz of deciding where to go with the ball before it’s snapped do have a point. He often does do that but if you’ve used that as a criticism of Wentz in the past, you’re not making the point you think you are. Wentz doesn’t do that and just guess who’s going to be open, Wentz reads the defense pre-snap, knows where each defender is going to be based on what his receivers are going to do and more often than not, Wentz gets the look he wants, the look he knew he would have and then he uncorks the pass.

I noticed a few of these plays, plays that ended poorly and I believed he was guessing, too, but the more I watched the more I realized he wasn’t guessing. His pre-snap ability is really good. The bad plays that come from him looking off the defense for a second before coming to the other side that had the matchup he clearly wanted, go bad mostly due to bad throws which are almost always caused by the mechanical issues we talked about in previous articles. Wentz’s ability to read a defense before the snap is rare. Unfortunately, he didn’t always make the best decisions despite his ability to make those reads.


The Bad

I was wrong when I tweeted that. He didn’t guess, he just threw a bad pass. Throwing a bad pass is a problem, but it wasn’t the mental error I initially believed it was.

There’s a lot I don’t know about this play. I don’t know if Wentz keyed on a matchup he thought he was going to have, away from the smash route combo to his left. I don’t know what his pre-snap read was that made him initially look right instead of left. I don’t know if the game plan that week dictated something specific that made him do something that looks wrong.

It could be that any of those things caused him to ignore the smash concept, look to his right, and ultimately end up taking a sack, or it could be he took it upon himself to ignore the designed play. At this point, it seems like either is just as likely given the lack of trust he seems to have had in those that were catching passes from him in 2020.

This was just pure panic. This is bad and I don’t want to minimize this because it is a serious problem but we saw a lot of very similar plays early on in another Colts quarterback’s career and those issues were largely fixed by Frank Reich when he came to town. The question is, can Wentz have similar results moving forward?

Both players were somewhat at fault on this play, but Wentz has to live to fight another down here. Throw this one away and make sure your team walks away with points.

Like the tweet says, just throw this away. He sat in the pocket for a long time, his line gave him time while his receivers proved that left to their own devices they couldn’t get open. Wentz moved well, extended the play, and instead of just throwing it away, took the sack and fumbled the ball away. The Cowboys took possession at the Eagles' 25-yard line.

Wentz absolutely made bad decisions a year ago and it’s something he’ll have to correct going forward if he hopes to be the Indianapolis Colts long-term starting quarterback.


The Ugly

He had the look he wanted to his left. The 49ers were in man coverage and his receiving options were bunched to create traffic. Wentz started his throwing motion, got spooked by a pass rusher, failed to throw the ball, made another defender miss, and threw a ball late and behind his receiver over the middle that almost got picked off.

Wentz should have trusted that his tight end would come open due to the play design, he should have been willing to stand in and take the hit after the throw.

This was bad. No way around that. The Ravens fooled Wentz and the only thing that saved him is the fact that if Patrick Queen could catch he’d probably play offense. Wentz either lost track of Queen all together or believed he would be somewhere else.

Queen might have just made a great play, it could be he was supposed to be somewhere else, and instead, he saw the route combination and jumped the underneath route instead of being where he “should” have been. This is mostly wishful thinking if I’m being honest. Most likely Wentz just didn’t account for the linebacker.

I didn’t see things like this happen often but it did happen. Even still this isn’t a massive concern, even great quarterbacks (guys far better than Wentz) get fooled by a complex defense from time to time.

Here Carson Wentz made up his mind he was throwing the slant and he threw it even though he had a better option come open. He didn’t work his progressions on this pass and the result was bad.

The hesitation Wentz shows in this clip can be seen countless times in his tape from 2020. This hesitation often resulted in a major disruption of his throwing mechanics. Not to mention the multiple pumps often gave defenders ample opportunity to take away throwing lanes that might have been there had the ball come out on time.

This hesitation is ugly because it shows how little Carson Wentz trusted his receivers. Most often his read was correct, but his pass was late and or off-target because he didn’t trust his teammates enough to do their jobs, which include running routes, catching the ball, blocking, etc.

Carson Wentz put some ugly plays on tape in 2020 but most of them were due to his lack of trust and the bad decisions that followed rather than pure bewilderment of what he was seeing. You can decide how that information sits with you, but like everything else with Wentz, you have to take the good with the bad.


How can the Colts ensure Carson Wentz makes good decisions?

Carson Wentz didn’t trust anyone but himself in 2020 and it resulted in a lot of ugly plays. This lack of trust falls into the mental processing box, but his ability to process the game seems to be as good as it gets. If Wentz trusts his receivers to run the correct routes and catch the ball when it comes to them, the Colts will already be halfway to making sure Wentz minimizes his bad decisions.

Like I’ve said in every other article, the easiest thing the team can do is surround him with talent that he can and will trust.

The other thing they can do, and this might be the most difficult thing of all, is getting Carson Wentz to trust Frank Reich enough to play within his system regardless of everything else. Wentz can’t hesitate to throw a ball to a receiver who has a step on his man over the middle, even if that receiver has dropped the last 3 passes that have been thrown his way. Wentz has to trust the process and Frank Reich has to convince him that it’s a process worth following.

If the Colts can convince Carson Wentz to trust everyone around him, we could see him play some really good football in 2021. If they can’t convince him to do that, well, I don’t really want to think about that.

Week 7: https://twitter.com/NFLscheme/status/1360224114926104577

Week 6: https://twitter.com/NFLscheme/status/1359605536019406857

Week 4: https://twitter.com/NFLscheme/status/1359567721655058434

Week 1: https://twitter.com/NFLscheme/status/1359250390538211329

Week 8: https://twitter.com/NFLscheme/status/1361435950551863302