Back in the spring, I took a pretty big step in my life, purchasing my first house with my wife. I remember going through the home inspection and getting very nervous when I saw a crack in the concrete wall in the basement. I was scared to death that something was wrong with the foundation of the house. The home inspector assured me that there was nothing to worry about.
"Cracks outside or inside the house are very common," he said, "every house sustains minor cracks as the structure settles in. Trust me, that's nothing to worry about."
I thought about those words this week as I continued to read all of the criticism of Carson Wentz after Sunday's loss to Cincinnati. Whether it's people questioning his willingness to attack downfield, breaking down his mechanics, fretting over his decision-making or wondering why the offense has struggled during this stretch of two wins in just seven games. Everyone wants to find someone or something to blame in a season where games seemed just within the team's grasp and, for one reason or another, the Eagles were not able to hold on.
Lost in all of that is the fact that Wentz is a rookie quarterback, making a huge jump in competition from North Dakota State to the NFL, playing in an offense with a lot of moving parts thanks to injuries and suspension. These aren't excuses for Wentz, these are facts of where the team is at this stage of the season.
This week, head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich were asked about the rookie quarterback's lower-body mechanics, primarily his footwork. Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young once famously said that if you put a camera on his feet during the course of the game, and only his feet, that he'd be able to tell you the kind of game he had. Lower-body mechanics are extremely important at the quarterback position. It's something that, like every quarterback coming from college to the NFL, Wentz has to work on. This isn't news to the coaching staff, however. It was at the forefront of their minds when the No. 2 pick arrived in Philadelphia this spring and all the way up through Training Camp this summer.
After Wentz's first OTA session in May, Pederson told reporters that he was working with Wentz on how to "slow his drop down (and) be more methodical with it." A couple of weeks later, during minicamp practices, Pederson reiterated that point. "(I think where) where he needs to improve, is a little bit in his fundamentals: his lower body and footwork. He gets a little long in his stride."
At the start of Training Camp, Reich explained that "it all starts from the ground up."
"Our emphasis is footwork. ... You really don't mess too much with the upper-body mechanics ... so you start with the feet, and if your feet are right, most of the time everything else is going to be right."
If the staff has been working on Wentz's lower-body mechanics and footwork since the quarterback's arrival, why are they not perfect yet? The answer to that is simple. Every quarterback is always cleaning up everything he does mechanically, from the lowest-quality starter all the way up to Pro Bowl passers, as Reich reiterated on Tuesday. There's a notion that Wentz's mechanics are awful and need to be completely reworked. That couldn't be further from the truth. For every bad play, there are so many examples of good when it comes to his footwork as a passer.
Shot 1 - I've seen this throw all over the internet talking about Wentz's feet. Shuffles 4th/5th step, overstrides and overthrows DGB pic.twitter.com/xGZ8EGBoqS — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
This play was all over social media after Sunday's game as analysts looking to critique Wentz pointed to the fact that he missed Dorial Green-Beckham badly on this throw where his receiver was open. On this five-step drop, Wentz's feet shuffle a bit on his fourth and fifth step in the drop.
A lot of times when this happens late in the drop, the quarterback can be off-balance in his delivery. As Wentz hits the top of his drop his base is narrow (what some coaches may call a "bicycle base"). When a quarterback is in the pocket, you always want to see him in a nice, athletic stance, with his knees slightly bent and his weight displaced evenly over the balls of his feet. On this play, that is not the case as Wentz prepares to throw. He then overstrides, taking a huge step toward his target.
Your arm is obviously responsible for throwing the football, but a quarterback gets his velocity, and in a way his accuracy, from his lower body as he delivers a pass. This is where you hear terms like "weight transfer" when scouting a quarterback, as he takes a controlled step in the direction of his target. It doesn't need to be a big step. In fact, you don't need to gain much ground at all. You just need a short step forward to generate that momentum to transfer the weight from your back foot to your off leg.
Think of it like a baseball swing. When you take a huge step forward swinging a baseball bat, you often lose your balance and the bat speed suffers. When you take a nice, crisp, short step as you swing the bat, however, you get optimum bat speed and have full control of where your bat is going as you make contact with the ball. It's the same with quarterbacks, so if you see a quarterback overstride on the throw, it often means the pass will be off target. Wentz does just that on this play and the ball sails on him out of bounds for an incompletion on third down.
Shot 2 - Haven't seen this one out there though. Similar throw on different concept. In rhythm. Feet are clean. Perfect touch and placement. pic.twitter.com/4dkwBkjrg0 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
Later in the game though, Wentz takes a similar drop and makes an identical throw (albeit on a different play design). This time, the rookie delivers the pass perfectly because his feet are clean, he's in rhythm and watch his "lead step." He doesn't overstride here, instead taking a controlled step in the direction of his target and displaying proper bend in his knees out of his athletic stance. That stance and first step allow him to drive the ball through his hips from a nice balanced position. Wentz steps into this throw and drops a pass over an underneath zone defender with the proper touch and placement, and it should be a completion for a first down. Unfortunately, tight end Trey Burton is unable to complete the catch with both feet in-bounds.
There are many examples of Wentz delivering throws with proper mechanics. Are there some where his feet are scattered or his "stance arrow" is off? Absolutely. But there are also plenty of plays where the opposite is true and he is clean from the ground up as he drops throws in for completions at every level of the field.
Shot 4 - Some good and bad on this. Disguised coverage from CIN. Throwing arrow is off but Wentz puts ball high for DGB, right thru hands pic.twitter.com/VKXpP2yb4y — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
The "stance arrow" refers to the quarterback's step as he delivers the football. Before we get into that, let's first look at the play. It's third down and the Bengals are running a cleverly disguised Cover 2 Man coverage where the cornerback over Green-Beckham drops as a safety and the slot corner drops in man coverage underneath of him. He will be Wentz's second progression on the play, as he works inside out to the second-year receiver. You can see Wentz step to his first read, tight end Brent Celek, but decided not to throw it against the tight coverage. He eats that throw then decides to throw it outside to Green-Beckham, and delivers the ball high where only his 6-5 wideout can get it. Was it a perfect throw? No, but it does go right through Green-Beckham's hands on the incompletion. It's not always going to be pretty, but you can see both the good and the bad on this rep.
Shot 5 - Pressure was also a huge factor on Sunday as Wentz was under duress for most of the day. Impacted a lot of throws in different ways pic.twitter.com/dW5Vq1rm9H — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
On Sunday against Cincinnati, pressure was a huge factor for Wentz. He made numerous throws with defenders bearing down on him and took multiple shots from his blind side on passes. Pass rushers were able to impact throws on a pretty consistent basis on his 63 dropbacks.
Shot 6 - Watch 2 plays here. One, Wentz gets passed knocked down at LOS. Two, he changes his arm angle to throw around defender for catch pic.twitter.com/ua76TpTVY4 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
One common way that defenders were able to impact Wentz was by clogging passing lanes. The Bengals knocked down six passes at the line of scrimmage on Sunday. Here are two examples of the defensive line getting their hands up to close passing windows. On the first, the ball falls incomplete. On the second, Wentz changes his arm angle, delivers the football through a different window to Paul Turner to complete this shallow crossing route. Wentz throws this pass with a defender bearing down in a closing pocket. Seeing him change his arm angle, especially late in the game after getting slammed throughout the afternoon, was good to see. Those types of little things are the traits you look for in a rookie quarterback trying to improve in everything he does as he becomes accustomed to the NFL game.
Shot 7 - Here's 2 more plays. 1) Wentz affected by pressure, drifts back and falls away from throw. 2) He stands tall and delivers on 4th&5 pic.twitter.com/10cAyXU8WF — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
Here are two more plays. The pressure did affect the rookie at times. On the first pass, watch the pressure from the right side cause him to drift back in the pocket and fall away from this pass, throwing it off his back foot for an incompletion. Later in the game, he faces certain pressure down in the red zone on fourth-and-5, but stands tall and delivers the ball on the money for a first down to Nelson Agholor. Poise in the pocket has always been a strength of Wentz's, as he's stood tall against blitzers all season long and executed the offense with no problems in those situations. Like any quarterback, however, pressure can take its toll during the course of the game, so it was good to see Wentz come back and make a throw under duress late.
Shot 8 - 2 examples of Wentz moving in the pocket. 1st play; off balance on the throw, incomplete. 2nd; he's clean and in rhythm, 1st down. pic.twitter.com/F55ECIEsL0 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
Here is another pair of plays from Wentz where you see some good and some bad. The rookie is slowly improving with his pocket movement. We've always seen flashes of it, going back to his days at North Dakota State, where he'd execute a subtle move to create space and time for himself to throw the ball accurately. On this first play against Cincinnati, he's getting pressure from his right side, so he steps up and to the left, but he delivers the ball off balance for an incomplete pass. On the second play, he steps up in the pocket to avoid outside pressure with both hands on the football, completely in control and balanced as a thrower. He delivers a strike to Burton for a first down.
Shot 9 - Like any rookie, Wentz can be fooled by coverage. Happened on near INT. Thought he had man cvg, Pacman peels off, disrupts route pic.twitter.com/IHZH63UgB0 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
Like every rookie quarterback, Wentz can get fooled by clever coverage concepts from NFL defensive coordinators, and that certainly seemed to be the case here on this play. Early in the down, Wentz seems to think he has man coverage on the outside with Adam Jones playing the drive route from the X receiver. Jones drops off in coverage, however, right into the window that tight end Zach Ertz is running into. Jones' presence causes Ertz to slow down his route, and Shawn Williams steps into the passing lane for a near interception.
Shot 10 - In same breath though, Wentz can manipulate coverage. Has done things like this all year, moves LB from passing lane for 1st down pic.twitter.com/25GsorB2ZQ — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
For every play that Wentz gets fooled or confused by coverage this season, there are at least two or three where he's manipulated coverage, particularly underneath defenders, with his eyes or body language. Here's an example on third-and-long from Sunday afternoon where he hits Green-Beckham for a first down by moving the linebacker from the passing lane to create a wider window.
Later in the game, Wentz sees exactly what the defense is doing. The Eagles called a Levels concept, where the first read is Paul Turner on the shallow crossing route, the second read is Ertz on the dig and the third is Darren Sproles in the flat. Wentz sees the first two routes taken away by coverage and gets to Sproles on the checkdown for an 8-yard gain on first down. I can't help but smile when I see some analysts talk about Wentz's propensity to "check down," because he checked down on that play and it was exactly the right thing to do. On the other hand, there are also times where he's too aggressive, and that happened on this fourth quarter interception against the Bengals.
Shot 12 - Wentz gets aggressive here, tries to hit vertical route vs split safety look. Over-strides and misfires to Ertz for INT #Eagles pic.twitter.com/DH8cUtkOcz — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
Cincinnati is playing Tampa 2. Ertz is running down the seam against linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Theoretically, the decision to make this throw isn't an awful one. Ertz is running into a void in the middle of the field. However, it will require a great throw behind Burfict's ear hole with enough velocity to beat the safeties to the spot of the catch to create a completion. This throw is not perfect, as Wentz overstrides and throws it far behind Ertz for an interception. Pederson talked about the play on Monday, saying Wentz was a bit too aggressive, and given the situation that may be the case. That was a bad decision, especially in hindsight. Does that make Wentz a bad decision-maker? Absolutely not.
Shot 13 - Two plays where Wentz reads coverage and doesn't force what isn't there and smartly takes what defense gives him for positive gain pic.twitter.com/uPDXsufCXp — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 6, 2016
Here are two examples of Wentz taking what the defense gives him. On the first play, the Eagles have Bryce Treggs running a deep over route to the right, and Wentz could've pulled the trigger. With a deep safety lurking between the hashes, Wentz thinks better of it on second down, instead running for a 7-yard pickup. On the next play, the Eagles run a pair of stick nod routes (double moves working outside then up the field) against Cincinnati's zone coverage scheme. Wentz throws a pump fake on the double move, but he sees that the safety in the deep part of the field does not bite, so he checks down to Green-Beckham for a short gain instead of forcing a throw that could've resulted in disaster.
What's the moral of the story here?
I go back to that home inspector from this spring. When you play a rookie quarterback and rely on him as heavily as the Eagles must, there are going to be good days and bad. This is part of the maturation process for an NFL quarterback, though. As he continues to learn on the job, there are going to be growing pains. Lower-body mechanics will continue to be a point of emphasis with him, and likely will be for the rest of his career. But Wentz is a passer with quality arm talent, poise under pressure, great decision-making skills, nimble feet and the mental processing to get through his progressions quickly. There are always going to be examples of negative plays. That's life in the NFL. But Carson Wentz has proven that he belongs in this league, and will be the starting quarterback for the Eagles for a long time.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.