For the first 13 weeks of the 2017 NFL Season, Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles were on top of the football world. The team was 11-2 and Wentz was the frontrunner for league MVP.
Fast forward to today, a little over a year later, and Wentz has been overshadowed by his Super Bowl-winning backup quarterback Nick Foles and is reportedly under scrutiny from over half-a-dozen anonymous players and team sources. A portion of Eagles fans don’t even want him anymore.
What a difference one year makes, huh?
How did Wentz go from being looked at as probably the next best young QB for the next decade and the savior of the franchise to being the scapegoat for the team’s struggles in the 2018 season?
If you ask me, I think it’s ridiculous that the narrative of him has changed so drastically. And let me be clear, it’s not all or even a majority of fans and sports media members that are saying these things. Most of them that I’ve come across agree with me that Wentz has been, still is, and always will be the franchise quarterback, and that he’s always shown to be a phenomenal leader, teammate, and person of high character. He has the potential to be an elite, or even a generational, talent for a long time. But there’s still a large group of them out there that have done a complete 180 on the 3rd year quarterback since last season.
The root of it all started when the Eagles won their first Super Bowl in franchise history, and doing so with backup Nick Foles leading them, not Wentz. So put yourself in Wentz’s shoes. You were drafted 2nd overall in 2016 with the expectation of being the team’s next great franchise quarterback, and in only your second year you’re already having an MVP-caliber season. Then in a flash, it’s over. Your season is finished on one play as you tear your ACL attempting to dive for a touchdown.
But even with you gone, the team is still able to rally and go on a Cinderella type of run in the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. The teammate in you is overjoyed and ecstatic, of course. Your team just won it all, and in large part because of what you were able to do during the regular season. However, the competitor in you hates that you couldn’t be on the field being the one to lead them to victory. If you try to tell me or anyone that you wouldn’t be bothered at all by not being able to play in the Super Bowl, you’re either a liar or just naïve.
And let’s not forget that Wentz was nothing but supportive to the rest of his teammates during that stretch, especially to Foles. The moment he was able to, Wentz was seen back at the Eagles practice facility watching tape and helping with the game plan; first one in, last one out as always. You saw him during games helping Foles go over plays and cheering everyone on as if he were another coach on the sideline. He never stirred up any drama or made it about himself.
But that’s when the whispers started. There weren’t many, but they were there. Fans started talking about how the Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles had to be considered the greatest QB in Eagles franchise history for the simple fact that he’s the first QB to ever lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl win. Some even started to consider the team playing the whole 2018 season with Foles as the starter and letting Wentz sit out a year.
During that offseason, Wentz worked his tail off to rehab from his ACL injury. No one knew for sure when his return to the field would be. Some speculated that he’d be ready for Week 1, while others said maybe not until after the bye week. But only 9 ½ weeks removed from tearing his ACL, Carson Wentz was able to make his return in Week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts.
Considering the fact that he was back so quickly from that type of injury, Wentz played an amazing game. Sure there were some obvious signs of rust and all that, but he showed no signs of being hesitant or uncomfortable playing with the knee. He even made a few highlight worthy plays with his legs, just like he’s been known to do in the past.
But the excitement and optimism didn’t last for too long. Wentz’s 2018 season wasn’t going to be like his 2017 season. Things were a lot harder this time around.
Was he horrible? Not at all. If you look at his stats for the season, they’re pretty impressive.
69.6 Completion Percentage
3,074 Passing Yards
Those numbers aren’t necessarily telling of a player who played badly, but that’s just further proof as to why numbers and stats don’t always tell the complete story.
As I watched and studied Wentz over the course of his 11 games, one of the first flaws I noticed was his overall movement. The mobility we saw in 2017 and even in Week 3 against the Colts wasn’t the same as we saw in the rest of the games. He could still move well but I would notice that he wouldn’t slide up into the pocket to avoid edge rushers coming around corner which led to some costly negative plays. Also, the elusiveness and ability to wiggle his way out of tackles and run away from the pursuit just wasn’t there the way it was in the past.
Wentz also wasn’t seeing the field post-snap as well as he was before. Part of that was definitely the difference in play designs with new offensive coordinator Mike Groh, but he also threw some interceptions where he simply failed to see a zone defender. It happened late in the Carolina Panthers game when he tried to force the ball to Alshon Jeffery in the end zone even though he was double covered. It happened the week after against the Jacksonville Jaguars when he was picked off by Jalen Ramsey who was playing a deep zone that he didn’t see. It happened in the following game against the Dallas Cowboys when Wentz didn’t see Leighton Vander Esch drop into a hook zone and threw the ball almost right to him. And it happened the following week against the New Orleans Saints when he didn’t see Marcus Lattimore play the post route by Agholor.
Finally, I felt as though Wentz would just try too hard to make a big play instead of just killing it and living to play the next down. This is a tough aspect to criticize him over because part of what makes him so great is his ability to be a playmaker and make something out of nothing, and that’s something we shouldn’t take away from him. But at the same time, he needs to have that awareness of when it’s the right time to hold onto the ball for a potential big play and when it’s the right time to just check the ball down to a running back or throw it away. It’s something that will come with experience. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson used to have the same issue, but look at them now.
There were also reports that came out here and there concerning Wentz. Jocina Anderson reported that he was favoring Ertz too much and that he would check out of run plays too often. Another report talked about the offensive line having to block for an extended amount of time because he was holding onto the ball for too long. Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan talked about arguments that he would have with Mike Groh. Ian Rapoport talked about how he was still not 100% and that was resulting in him throwing from his arm and shoulder as opposed to his legs.
All that being said, there were plenty of other factors that played a role in the Eagles’ losses, and that’s something the harshest Wentz critics out there fail to acknowledge. We all know about the injuries to key players at numerous positions, the lack of turnovers the defense forced, and the blown leads given up by the defense. Week after week it seemed as though another player would go down for the year, and the offense and the defense never seemed to be clicking at the same time over the course of a game. There were some very frustrating losses the team suffered as a result.
But we also know that when a team wins the quarterback and coach get the most credit, and on the flip side when a team loses the quarterback and coach get the most blame. In both cases there are plenty of times when the credit/blame is unwarranted (I’d actually say most of the time). Just because the quarterback position is the most important position in football doesn’t mean they should be the only ones to revel in the glory of victory or get the finger pointed at in defeat. But that’s how some fans in general and the media look at it. And with the Eagles going through a very disappointing season as defending Super Bowl Champions, Carson Wentz was the face to blame.
After the Eagles lost to the Dallas Cowboys in overtime it was announced that Wentz had a fractured back that he’s been dealing with for weeks and that it was time to sit him out. Nick Foles would take his place for the rest of the season.
And low and behold “Foles magic” would strike again. The team was able to win their final 3 games of the regular season, sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team, and even pull out a win against the Chicago Bears in the wild card round of the playoffs.
This is when the whispers transformed to loud roars. Everywhere you turned to on social media, TV, and radio you would here the media and fans talk about how Foles is a winner and should be the Eagles franchise quarterback moving forward. Fans wanted Wentz to be traded, and the sports media world would entertain the idea of it being a definite possibility. People didn’t want someone who was injury prone and would be an injury risk for the rest of his career. They suddenly forgot about Wentz’s MVP-caliber season in 2017 and began to call him overrated. I can’t even count how many times I’d see or hear someone say “Nick Foles ran the offense better than Wentz did! The team plays better for Foles! They like him more!” (If you’d like my response to all of those criticisms, read my article from two weeks ago, “The ‘Trade Wentz’ Talk Needs To Stop”).
And then there was the Philly Voice article that came out this past Monday by Joseph Santoliquito. I’m not going to go into depth about what was said in the article because by this time I’m sure most of you have already read it over and discussed the issues with it ad nauseam. The only thing I’ll say about it is that even though the article does have some merit to it because everything it talks about pertains to things already previously reported (mentioned earlier), it takes those points and overly exaggerates them in a highly negative way. It unfairly attacks Wentz’s character and makes him out to be the cause of some locker room drama that just isn’t there. It was an article written with a clear negative agenda to it by the author. That was my biggest issue with the piece.
Malcolm on Carson
“Any great player is going to know what he likes, is going to be demanding. I’m the same way with our D coordinator. I can go say, No I don’t want to run this. I think him being assertive is what you want out of your quarterback, he’s a leader”
🎥 @JustinGranit pic.twitter.com/7erJKn1OjI
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) January 23, 2019
Carson Wentz has had to face all of that over the span of just 1 year, 1 month, and 12 days. And whether it’s fair or not, this is the situation that Wentz faces. After what Foles has accomplished, the pressure on Wentz to carry the team to another Super Bowl Championship is astronomically high. Anything less than that would probably considered a failure.
But knowing the type of person and player that Wentz is, I think it’s safe to say he’s more than up to the challenge. He possesses the type of competitiveness, work ethic, and leadership that you see in the great ones like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers. I’m not saying he’s already reached their level, I’m just saying that the intangibles are similar. There’s a reason why so many of his teammates came to his defense after the PhillyVoice article was released. Even former Eagles offensive coordinator and current Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich came out on Wednesday in support of him. If you believe that the players, coaches, and front office members on this team don’t have full belief in Carson Wentz as their franchise quarterback, you’re sadly mistaken.
So, what can Wentz do to turn things around and change the perception of him back in his favor? What’s the first step on his road back to “redemption”?
To me, it’s as simple as this: keep being himself.
Wentz will get healthy and be more prepared for this upcoming season. He will learn from his mistakes and flaws, both on the field and off. He will undoubtedly take pieces of what Foles has done well and incorporate them into his game in his own way. He will continue to grow and develop as a player. Why do I believe he’ll do all those things? Because he’s shown no reason for us to believe otherwise. Wentz needs to keep being the same unselfish, compromising, and overall great leader that he’s always been, the type of guy that made Howie Roseman trade up in the 2016 NFL draft to select him. If he does that, it will lead to wins, and winning cures everything in sports.
There was a quote from the football movie “Invincible” that has always stuck with me: “Character is tested when you’re up against it.” It means that when you face real adversity, that is when your character and fortitude really shine through. That is going to apply to Carson Wentz from here on out. He’s had to deal with a lot of adversity since going down with that ACL injury, so what is he going to do in response to it? Will he crumble and fail, or will he rise up and achieve greatness?
For Carson Wentz, what a difference one year makes. And hopefully one year from now I’ll be able to say the same thing once again.