Wentz’s early success is nothing short of remarkable, even vs. lowly Bears, Browns
So, it wasn’t just the Browns.
The reaction to Carson Wentz’s impressive Week 1 performance—278 yards passing, two touchdowns and a 19-point win—was tempered with the always applicable “Yeah, but he was playing against Cleveland” caveat. The Bears’ mediocre defense might cause some folks to pump the brakes again after Week 2, but there is no denying right now that Wentz looks good.
Playing on the road, on a Monday night, the Eagles could have rolled out a conservative game plan to protect their rookie QB. Instead, they emptied the backfield and threw on their first six plays. Wentz connected on all of them, the sixth being a nine-yard completion to Dorial Green-Beckham on 4th-and-2.
Only later, after Philadelphia’s swarming defense had taken control, did coach Doug Pederson turn things over to his rushing attack en route to a dominant 29–14 win.
Wentz finished the night 21 of 34 for 190 yards, hardly eye-popping numbers. But over the course of two games, through a total of 71 attempts, he still hasn't thrown an interception And on Monday night, his stat line and the final score, would have been more impressive had a couple of Wentz’s best efforts not been erased by no fault of his own.
On one, the North Dakota State product stood in and delivered a 19-yard completion to Brent Celek despite being clobbered by a blitzing Jerrell Freeman; that play was called back by a hold. Later, Wentz dropped a perfect thrown right into Jordan Matthews’s hands for what should have been a touchdown—a pass reminiscent of Wentz’s first career TD, also to Matthews, in Week 1. But Matthews dropped it Monday.
That’s not to say everything was perfect for Wentz. He underthrew Nelson Agholor on what should have been a touchdown up the sideline (although, Agholor should have caught the ball for a 40-yard gain anyway). Several impressive Eagles drives also stalled out in Chicago territory, leaving Caleb Sturgis to kick three field goals.
Overall, though, any criticisms of Wentz’s work on Monday night are nitpicks. Which is why the next several weeks should be very interesting.
The question no longer is “Can Wentz do this?”, but rather “Can Wentz continue to play this well?” Next Sunday, the 2–0 Eagles host the 2–0 Steelers in what may be the marquee game of Week 3. After a Week 4 bye, the Eagles then face four road games in five weeks, including trips to Dallas, New York and Washington. The lone home stop during that stretch? Against Minnesota and its vaunted defense.
The tests are going to come fast and furious from here for Wentz, as well as for this Eagles team that suddenly and rather unexpectedly appears to a legitimate NFC East contender. Somewhere along the line, there are going to be a few bumps for Wentz—and not just the physical bumps he’ll continue to rack up if he doesn’t start sliding or stepping out of bounds when he runs.
But if Wentz was going to be truly rattled or look out of place, odds are it would have happened during these first two weeks of the season. Remember, he barely played at all during the preseason. When he did, it mostly was as a third-team QB, behind potential Minnesota savior Sam Bradford and free-agent pickup Chase Daniel.
Because of a broken wrist, Wentz also started just one of his final nine college games—a national title victory over Jacksonville State. Between Oct. 29, 2015 and Sept. 10, 2016, he threw a grand total of 53 passes, 24 of those against an NFL defense.
That he has been able to succeed early, and do so while being entrusted with all the pre-snap responsibilities of a longtime veteran, is nothing short of remarkable.
An abundance of credit is due to Pederson and his staff. Wentz clearly has a firm understanding of the game, as Pederson promised when naming him the starter, but the Eagles also have accomplished on an accelerated timetable what it can take weeks, even years to do with a brand new quarterback: they’ve made him comfortable.
“Was it perfect? By no means was it perfect,” Pederson said of Wentz's effort after the game. “But he's seeing things really well and commanding the huddle and the dialogue on the sidelines … is something that a nine-, 10-year vet would do. It's just showing his maturity and the ability that he has to play quarterback.”
Without a doubt, Wentz’s career always will be compared to Jared Goff’s, the QB taken one spot ahead of him in this year’s draft by the Rams. Goff is, according to the Rams, nowhere near ready to start, a reality that speaks poorly both of the No. 1 pick and his coaches.
If Wentz can look this steady and this seasoned so soon, given both the injury and depth-chart-related obstacles he faced in the preseason, then why can’t Goff find his footing, or even get a chance to?
It’s still far too soon to make any grand declaration about which team won the 2016 draft’s QB derby. That Goff has yet to start does not mean he’s a career bust. That Wentz is 2–0 after knocking off Chicago and Cleveland does not mean he’s the next Tom Brady.
What Wentz’s play thus far does tell us, though, is that Philadelphia has a quarterback it can put its faith in. That’s still going to be the case even if the Eagles’ upcoming schedule gauntlet drags Wentz and his teammates back to earth a bit.