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The truth about Carson Wentz

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

My first favorite player was Marshall Faulk. I remember watching the Pro Bowl his rookie year. He rushed for a record 180 yards, including a fake punt that was snapped directly to him. I was hyped. It wasn’t long after that I was sporting a number 28 jersey to school.

I was 9 years old.

I’ve been following the Colts for a long, long time and in all my years I have never encountered a player so wildly polarizing as Carson Wentz.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened but somewhere between 9 and 19 (ballpark) years old I developed a serious distain for the polarization of almost everything. I see the world as mostly gray, there’s some black, some white but most of it is made up of millions of different shades of gray and the way I see it, Carson Wentz is no different. So if you have strong feelings either way about Wentz, sorry about your luck, you’re going to hate and then love or love and then hate what I’m about to say.

Truth Number One

Carson Wentz isn’t that bad.

No really.

I could throw numbers at you all day long but I know you can just throw numbers back at me and ask T. Troy Russell how I feel about numbers and pretty quickly you’ll understand why I’m not going to talk (much) about stats.

The fact of the matter is, he played really well against the Rams, Dolphins, Ravens, Texans (twice) Jets, Bucs and Cardinals. There are various reasons the Colts lost to the Rams, Ravens and Bucs and while an elite quarterback might have been able to elevate the team around them into getting those wins, Carson Wentz put the team in a position to win and they couldn’t do it.

In week 11 against the Bills he went 11-20 but had four smart throwaways. Not to mention he made plays like this one:

And this perfect throw:

And this one too:

Yeah, his numbers looked bad but are we really going to punish the guy for the rest of his team dominating when he consistently made big plays when the team needed him to? The Colts just didn’t need a big day from their QB to win the game by 26 points, that’s not Wentz’s fault.

Now let’s look at another Colts win that Wentz’s numbers looked bad in; week 15 against the Patriots. He went 5-12 for 57 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. But was he really that bad?

Mo Alie-Cox didn’t do him any favors:

He only completed five passes but he was out there dropping dimes like this one:

Once again the Colts jumped out to an early lead and the Patriots offense couldn’t crack the Colts defense and the Patriots defense couldn’t stop an absolute grinding rushing attack in the first half. Sure Wentz went 5-12 but he didn’t lose them the game and he did enough to win.

Against the Patriots, Wentz threw a really bad interception which is the only reason I left this game out of the initial list of games he played really well in.

The fact of the matter is, Carson Wentz, at his best is a pretty good quarterback. Which brings us to fact number two.

Fact Number Two

Carson Wentz is bad sometimes.

And when he’s bad, boy is he bad.

Here’s what I mean:

It’s first and 10. Sure it worked but why do this?

I could go on, but you watched it when it happened, you probably don’t need more reminders.

So if we’re going to talk about Carson Wentz playing poorly in 2021, the first thing I want to do is get a couple things out of the way:

First, he wasn’t bad in week one against the Seahawks. He didn’t do enough to win in his first game with a new team, with very little actual time spent with said team. It wasn’t great but if there was ever a pass to be given, this is a good one to give.

Second, I’m giving him a half of a pass in week three against the Titans. Not because he was any good- he wasn’t. But he was playing on two sprained ankles and had Sam Ehlinger not been on IR at that time, I don’t think he would have played. The reason I’m giving him half a pass is because he gutted out a tough injury that limited his mobility which is a big part of his game, that’s the good half. The bad half is the fact that on two healthy ankles five weeks later he went out and did this:

It’s first and ten. You have almost six minutes. If you drive down the field methodically and get into field goal range, you win. There are multiple options open underneath, Jonathan Taylor might have even scored if he dumps it off to him. Instead he does this. Most of his positive plays from the week eight game were just underthrown balls to receivers who then got pass interference calls.

Clearly the Titans just had Wentz’s number, healthy ankles or not- so half-a-pass.

Third, the Colts have exactly zero (0) pass catchers that scare anyone. Michael Pittman Jr. is a good young receiver and a great teammate but he isn’t the kind of guy that is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a fact. The Colts second leading receiver was Zach Pascal and he caught 38 passes for 384 yards. The Colts don’t have any playmakers on offense that don’t play running back.

Just to give you an idea of where the Colts rank in regard to receiving corps production, I took a look at every team in the NFL and there was only one team that got fewer than 400 yards of production out of their second leading receiver and that team was the Washington Football Team. Even the Jets had five receivers crack the 400 yard mark. The Jaguars, Texans, Lions and Giants all got better production. 30 teams got more than 400 yards out of their WR2’s and the Colts were one of the two that didn’t.

Now we’re done giving out passes. The first two points, I’ll concede. New team, very little practice time, understandable. Two sprained ankles, mostly understandable. But receiver production? Not so fast my friend.

While it’s true that Carson Wentz doesn’t have great weapons around him, the Colts would have had multiple receivers crack that 400 yard mark had he just played within the system. I didn’t post every time Wentz passed up open receivers underneath trying to force something into coverage at the second or third level of the defense. Hit Zach Pascal on a couple more underneath routes and that whole way-too-simplistic measurement of receiving yards production is no longer a thing.

The fact is, Carson Wentz’s lows are much lower than his highs are ever high and the inconsistencies happen from play to play. One play he looks like Aaron Rodgers, the next two he looks like Ryan Leaf. That’s rough.

Fact Number Three

The Colts should try to upgrade Carson Wentz and they will but it’s just not likely to happen this offseason.

Now this next point isn’t a fact and I’ve said it a few times and I don’t think it’s very popular, but I have good reason to say it. Chris Ballard views Carson Wentz the same way the Chiefs viewed Alex Smith.

Why do I believe that?

In February 2021 Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported in his MMQB article that the Alex Smith trade is what Ballard based his offered compensation package on:

For the Colts, the comp for the return was the 2013 Alex Smith trade. The Chiefs got him from San Francisco for two second-rounders that March, a couple months before then new Kansas City GM John Dorsey brought Ballard aboard as his top lieutenant. Smith, like Wentz, was 28 when he was traded and fresh off of being benched.

While it’s obviously Ballard’s job to get as good of a deal as possible in trades, had Ballard viewed Wentz as his franchise QB of the future, he would have been willing to give up a lot more than what the Chiefs gave up to get Smith. And the Eagles were absolutely trying to get more (from the same article):

That left the Eagles and the Colts in something of a stalemate, where Indy had made clear how far it would go. The trust between the two sides—the Eagles obviously know Reich well, and Colts GM Chris Ballard and Roseman have a strong relationship—kept that stalemate from ever becoming contentious. Still, more than two weeks had passed since the Stafford trade, and plenty of back-and-forth had happened. That led Ballard to tell the Eagles early last week that he wasn’t willing to wait forever. His offer had an expiration date.

And thus, the trade got done.

Chris Ballard drew a line in the sand and he was not willing to give up (much) more than the Alex Smith deal. From Chris Ballard’s perspective Wentz has never been someone he was counting on to be in Indy for the next decade. I’m sure if he would have gone out and lit the world on fire, he would have been ecstatic, but I don’t think anything he saw in the 2021 season will change Ballard’s mind on his ultimate plan to move on from Wentz as soon as he has a shot at a young franchise changing quarterback.

Obviously Frank Reich and Carson Wentz have a strong bond but Reich doesn’t have final say on the roster. I imagine when the time comes there will be some serious tension in the building between Reich and Ballard but Reich wasn’t the one who made the trade, Ballard was.

So that’s why the Colts will try to upgrade Wentz, I believe that has always been the plan.

Here’s why they’re not going to do it this year:

The options suck.

We can argue over players like Jimmy Garoppolo but even if he were better (and I’m not convinced he is) Jimmy G isn’t coming to Indy and putting the team on his back when they need him the most. Jimmy G (and anyone like him) isn’t a clear upgrade. Would he play inside the offense better than Wentz? Probably. Will he be able to make the crazy plays that sometimes work out in Wentz’s favor? Probably not. Will either one of them make good decisions when the game is on the line? History tells us no.

Oh, so you think Aaron Rodgers wants to come to Indy? You think his friendship with Pat McAfee will get him here? Yeah I’m sure Aaron Rodgers wants to spend the last few years of his career hoping, like the rest of us, that Parris Campbell can finally get healthy.

The draft? Have you seen the guys available? A lot of people think Nevada’s Carson Strong is the best guy available in the draft. I saw Carson Strong in person this year. I would rather have Jacoby Brissett than Strong in 2022 if the goal is winning football games.

Brissett isn’t better than Wentz, stop it.

Other options include Liberty University’s Malik Willis. Willis is intriguing from a physical gifts standpoint but he’s going to need to sit for... a while and some desperate team is going to take him way too early, before the Colts even have a chance to trade up for the guy.

The Colts might draft someone but there is absolutely no one who would provide an immediate upgrade over the quarterback they already have under contract and owe money to.

The fact of the matter is, unless Chris Ballard pulls off some miracle, Carson Wentz is going to be the Colts starting quarterback in 2022.

Just The Facts

When you look at Wentz as a whole, he isn’t a bad quarterback. His play on the field averages out to, well, about average. The good times are good and the bad times are often much worse. He’s good enough for a good team to win games as long as he’s protecting the ball and that means upgrading him isn’t as easy as some people would have you believe. The Colts likely don’t have the draft capital to go after anyone you think might be available and any big named free agent probably isn’t coming to Indy. If you’re hoping for a drafted QB to come in and take over for Wentz, this year, I also have bad news for you.

The most likely scenario is that Carson Wentz is the Indianapolis Colts starting quarterback heading into the 2022 season and the sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be this September.

Having said all of that Jim Irsay did Tweet this out:

The owner of the Colts obviously isn’t happy with the current QB situation. At first these Tweets made me question everything I had written here. I finished writing this article, scrolled through Twitter and saw these. It’s almost like he wanted to ruin my article. Thanks Jim.

But after sleeping on it, the facts remain the same. No matter what Jim Irsay wants to do, it’s very unlikely his team will be able to upgrade Carson Wentz this year. Short of a Chris Ballard miracle, it’s just not happening.

Just remember, when it comes to quarterback play, it could always be worse. There is no floor.