Of everything that is happening with the Eagles amid this 3-6-1 season to date, the overarching question is: What is happening with quarterback Carson Wentz? How does a quarterback who was a Most Valuable Player candidate in 2017 and who rallied the Eagles and saved the season to win the NFC East in 2019 struggle as he is now? How does an offense that has adapted through the years to injuries and inconsistency convert just 2 of 21 third downs in the last two games, both losses?
Doug Pederson is working at it. He's starting with the plan to stay with Wentz, and he's making that emphatically clear to anyone who asks. Pederson believes in the art of hard work, and in team chemistry, and he is banking on those two principles to turn the season back in the right direction.
With six games to go, Pederson knows the sand is running out of the season's hourglass. It is time to play ball.
"The approach is to get back on the practice field and put a great game plan together and start working and executing again," Pederson said on Monday afternoon. "That's the only way you can get better. Get back on the field and flush the previous game and focus on one day at a time and continue to play and continue to motivate and rally and challenge the football team. Do the best you can each week to continue to prepare and go play."
It isn't all on Wentz, of course. The team had a great drive going in the first quarter on Sunday until running back Miles Sanders fumbled at Cleveland's 4-yard line. There are far too many penalties committed throughout the offense. The offensive line, mired by injuries, has started different combinations throughout the season, reminding us all of the importance of stability in the trenches. The third downs have been a sore spot for much of the season.
When Pederson watches the film and shares it with the players, he points out the missed opportunities. There are plays to be made out there, Pederson insists. But a missed block here, or a dropped pass there, or an errant throw, or a giveaway – all of them have contributed to the offense's poor numbers.
"That's the thing we keep showing the players, like, this is what we're capable of doing," Pederson said. "These are the routes, these are the runs – everything that we present to the players is in a positive manner where we show them the good, the bad, and the ugly and say, 'This is how poorly we're playing. If we can just take care of these areas, this is how good we can play.'"
On Wentz, the picture is just as beguiling. He has 18 turnovers in 10 games and, as Pederson says, "sometimes you go through these peaks and valleys. Right now, we're in a valley." With all of that, Pederson is sticking with his quarterback. The two have been joined at the football hip since Pederson was a first-year head coach and Wentz was his first draft pick. Pederson firmly believes that, in time, the two will climb from the valley and stand together at the peak.
The work continues.
"He is the leader of our team and I think there is stability there," Pederson said. "He knows he needs to play better and the team around him needs to play better. We all need to elevate our game a little bit. We haven't had quite the consistency I would like or anybody would like."
Pederson is staying with what he has. Wentz is his quarterback. Jason Peters is his left tackle. Tight end Zach Ertz, with a good week of practice, may be on the field on Monday night against Seattle. The Eagles reported to the NovaCare Complex on Monday with work to do. That's the way it goes in this league. Nobody is turning away from the tough times, and these are, indeed, tough times for the Eagles.
"We're in it together and we're going to fight through this and come out of it together," Pederson said. "That's the only way I know to do things."