Following the loss in Cincinnati in Week 13, there were media analysts who soured on Carson Wentz.
Wentz threw the ball 60 times and struggled to produce despite missing a large chunk of his offensive weaponry. This past Sunday, Wentz had to drop back 50 times against the Washington Redskins. But with the return of some of those missing pieces, Wentz bounced back in a big way.
As Eagles video editor Ben Fennell pointed out in the tweet above, Wentz's numbers on third down have improved dramatically. In the last two games, he's been exceptional on the most important down in football. Do you ultimately want more in the win column from this Eagles team? Absolutely. But watching the young quarterback continue to develop, especially considering all of the moving parts around him, it was a lot of fun to see him throw the ball against the Redskins. Here I want to focus on some of the rookie's best plays from the game in (almost) chronological order to get a full scope of the things that impressed the most.
It's third-and-six on the first third down of the game for the Eagles' offense. Wentz is going to get pressure both up the middle and from his blind side on this play. The rookie does a great job escaping the pressure with his eyes downfield, sliding to his right to hit wide receiver Jordan Matthews in stride for a 10-yard gain and a first down. Wentz's pocket movement (his ability to shuffle, slide and maneuver inside the confines of the pocket with his eyes downfield) was the best it's looked all season. He showed poise under pressure. He didn't make any poor decisions. He threw with anticipation and got the ball out quickly. His mechanics weren't always clean, but he was accurate for most of the afternoon.
Shot 2 - Great display of 'play strength' from Wentz here, absorbing contact, staying alive, and having the awareness to hit Burton for 3yds pic.twitter.com/hXu7A71WX8 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
One of the traits you look for in a quarterback, and really any position in the NFL, is "play strength." There's a difference between what a player does in the weight room on the bench press and what he does between the lines. At the quarterback position, you want a passer who can deal with taking contact and continue through his progressions. Can he make a throw with a defender draped over him? Can he absorb a hit in his lower body and shake off contact? Do arm tackles bring him to the ground? How will his body hold up to the beatings that come with playing the position over a prolonged period of time in the NFL? Whenever you deal with smaller quarterbacks coming out in the NFL Draft, these questions are brought up. Plays like this are examples of why. Sure, this was only a 3-yard gain, but instead of second-and-18 the Eagles have second-and-7 to keep the drive in a manageable situation.
Shot 3 - Wentz puts this ball on Matthews' facemask on 3rd-and-5 for the 1st. He was 10-13 for 116 yds w/ 8 conversions throwing on 3rd down pic.twitter.com/Te7Focz3Dj — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
Two plays after the completion to Burton, the Eagles have the ball on third-and-5 down in the red zone. Wentz sits by himself in an empty set, and the Eagles are running All Slants to his right. The Redskins play a form of zone coverage, and Wentz fires this ball quickly to Matthews for a 10-yard gain and a first down. Wentz puts the throw right on his receiver's face mask for the conversion.
Shot 4 - Costly play in 1Q. Beautiful throw from Wentz is incomplete in the corner of the end zone. Should've been 6. Two plays later? INT. pic.twitter.com/CT57Kw3Mph — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
On the very next play, Wentz went to Matthews again, this time throwing a beauty of a pass on a corner route from the veteran receiver. Wentz drops the ball over the flat defender where only his man could get it. Unfortunately, Matthews was unable to get both feet in bounds to secure the catch, and the throw is ruled incomplete.
Shot 5 - Wentz's 1st career RZ INT. Slant vs Cover 0 DB w/ inside leverage. Ertz has to cross his face. He thought throw would be back shldr pic.twitter.com/H92X9Csava — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
Two plays later, Wentz throws his first career red zone interception. There's a good amount going on with this play. The Eagles are in a bunch formation with Zach Ertz lined up as the X receiver to the back side in a tight split, meaning he's got the ability to go inside or outside. Washington sends an All Out blitz here, meaning the defensive back over Ertz (Deshazor Everett) is by himself on an island. Wentz senses the pressure, so he knows the ball must come out quick.
After the game, Wentz and Ertz both talked about the miscommunication on the throw. Ertz expected the throw on his back shoulder, while Wentz threw it to the front (inside) shoulder. The problem with throwing it inside? Everett was playing with what is called inside leverage. This means he was lined up inside of Ertz and was forcing him outside. If Ertz is going to run an in-breaking route, he has to "cross the defender's face" to prevent him from undercutting the throw. Ertz is trying to sell a route upfield or outside at the top of his stem, but Everett doesn't bite. In Ertz's mind, that's not the worst thing in the world because this pass is going to his back shoulder anyway. But the pass is thrown out in front, right where the defender is sitting. The Eagles turn the ball over, keeping valuable points off the board.
Shot 6 - Later in the game, similar type situation. Ertz and Wentz on same page; TE crosses defender's face on 4th down conversion #Eagles pic.twitter.com/zqKdhmaJ0y — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
Later in the game, the Eagles are in a tight situation and Ertz runs a similar route, this time as the No. 2 receiver at the bottom of the screen. He's not going up against a safety over top of him. Instead, he runs a slant against a linebacker who is already close to the line of scrimmage. You see how quickly Ertz makes sure to cross the defender's face on that throw, making himself more clearly available for Wentz on this fourth-down conversion late in the game. But back to the first quarter ...
Shot 7 - Great job on 'Fade Stop' route by Agholor to get third drive going. Gets great separation at the top of the route #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/bnwHdj6uLp — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
The Eagles got the ball on their third possession up 3-0, and Wentz hits wide receiver Nelson Agholor for a 9-yard gain. You get a really good idea of Agholor's separation quickness on this fade stop route. He throws the defender a stutter step before breaking upfield and, just short of the sticks, slams on the brakes. He gets great separation, climbs the ladder for a catch near the sideline and puts the Eagles in great position on second down.
Shot 8 - 3 plays later Wentz hits Ertz for 29yds on 3-level stretch off play-action. Wide void created thx to play fake and RB to the flat pic.twitter.com/GTEh1DCjXw — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
Three plays later on first down, the Eagles went to their go-to vertical concept - the three-level stretch. They come out in a 12 personnel grouping with two tight ends up on the line of scrimmage. This looks like a run play on first down. The Eagles use play-action to pull the linebackers up close to the line of scrimmage. On Ertz's side, Ryan Kerrigan attacks the run, then sees it's a pass and flies back to his landmark, only to attack the line of scrimmage again when Ryan Mathews leaks out of the backfield. With the cornerback to that side of the field removed with a go route on the outside, Ertz has nothing but room on the outside for this big 29-yard catch and a first down (which should've been more with a penalty on the back end of Wentz's throw that was not called). This would help set up a field goal to put the Eagles up 6-0.
Shot 9 - Similar concept on next drive. Great blitz pickup by Kelce and love the subtle pocket movement from Wentz on 16yd catch by Burton pic.twitter.com/KJtXvVeROj — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
On the next drive, the Eagles went back to the same exact play concept out of a different formation. This time, it's a 3x1 set with Trey Burton in the slot. He will be the target on this intermediate sail route. Wentz gets good protection on this play thanks to a great blitz pickup by Jason Kelce. Wentz slides slightly to his right. This was very good pocket movement from the rookie passer, with a very subtle move into a clearer throwing lane to create a clean look on this throw to Burton for a first down. There's a lot to like with the entire offense on this play.
Shot 10 - Wentz w/ a magic act in the pocket, eluding a sack and rolling left for a near strike for a TD. Great design on Post Wheel concept pic.twitter.com/eKRI7F199x — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
Wentz went to Burton on the very next play, just not as early as he would've liked. The Eagles are running a Post Wheel concept to the boundary. Bryce Treggs runs a deep post route into the middle of the field and Burton goes out on a wheel route from the slot. Burton is breaking open for what very well may have been a 43-yard touchdown throw, but Wentz is not able to deliver this ball. Instead, Wentz pulls off a magic act in the pocket as he eludes Trent Murphy's hit from the blind side and rolls to his left. He knows he still has Burton deep and when he's in the clear he releases the ball. However, he's throwing off balance and across his body so his feet are unable to get clearly set. He just barely skips this pass in.
Two plays after the Post Wheel concept, the Eagles face third-and-3 at the 36-yard line. Washington sends an All Out blitz at Wentz. He gets the ball out quickly to his hot read, slot receiver Paul Turner, for a 16-yard gain and a first down.
Shot 12 - 4 plays later, great call by Doug Pederson in red zone. Defense is confused by pre-snap motion. CB caught in no-man's land for TD pic.twitter.com/tzGjTG4q53 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
Just four plays after that third-down conversion against the blitz, the Eagles faced first-and-goal from the 4-yard line. The Eagles come out in their 13 personnel package with three tight ends on the field, and start the play out of a run look - all three tight ends are on the line of scrimmage and Darren Sproles is in the backfield.
Before the snap, Wentz sends everyone in motion with a pre-designed change of the formation. Sproles goes out wide to the left, Burton lines up as the No. 2 receiver to the slot inside of him and Ertz is lined up as the No. 3. You can see the Redskins are confused on defense, and no one lines up over Burton. The ball is snapped, and instead of Burton running his route, he sees that he's uncovered so he just takes a few steps and turns to find the ball. Wentz looks in his direction, but keeps his vision open. He sees the cornerback on the outside splitting the difference between both Burton and Sproles. Wentz decides to go over the top to Sproles on a fade route for a 4-yard touchdown to put the Eagles ahead just before halftime.
Shot 13 - More good movement from Wentz, this time on the 'Mesh' concept. Good job by Isaac Seumalo as well looking for work in pass pro pic.twitter.com/Uc4FJnF6TE — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
Midway through the third quarter, the Eagles have the ball on third-and-2 at their own 26-yard line. Pederson calls a play that should be familiar to Eagles fans who have followed this piece for the last couple of years. The Eagles have run it a handful of times every game the last three years. This is the Mesh concept, with two shallow crossing routes and a receiver settling in right over the ball. Wentz hits the third receiver square in the chest for a first down, but not before stepping up in the pocket and sliding into a throwing lane. This was a great example of Wentz's pocket movement, creating room for himself on this 8-yard pass to Burton.
Love the effort here from rookie Isaac Seumalo as well. The rookie lineman got his second start of the season on short notice Sunday, and you could make the argument he was the Eagles' best lineman on the day from start to finish. Whether it was his toughness and willingness to finish blocks in the run game or his headiness in the passing game, I was once again impressed by the first-year player out of Oregon State. Watch Seumalo pass his man off to Allen Barbre before looking for more work back inside, helping keep Wentz clean on this first-down throw.
Shot 14 - 3rd & long on go-ahead drive in 4th Quarter. Wentz takes a shot from unblocked blitzer but delivers to Burton for 1st down #Eagles pic.twitter.com/UpFKBvvxxg — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
Let's fast forward now to the fourth quarter. These last few shots are from the team's final two drives on offense. Here, it's third-and-too long with just over eight minutes left in the game. The Eagles are down by two points. Washington sits back in zone coverage, and the Eagles' receivers are all getting to the sticks for a first down. Wentz stands tall in the pocket and delivers this pass to Burton over the middle just beyond the first-down marker, but watch the shot he takes as he throws. This is great poise and a big-time throw from the rookie in a big spot in what ultimately was a "must have" for the Eagles' offense in that situation. It helped set up the Eagles' go-ahead field goal with a few minutes left.
The Eagles get the ball back with less than two minutes left and one timeout, and Wentz begins to march them down the field. After a completion to Matthews on first down, he goes back to him here on a Curl Flat concept, where all Wentz has to do is read the flat defender to that side (No. 54, linebacker Mason Foster). When he sees Foster expand toward the sideline, he knows he has a window for Matthews. He fits this throw in for 16 yards and a first down.
Shot 16 - 3 plays later; Wentz shows good anticipation, velocity & touch on this 1st down throw to J-Matt. Puts #Eagles in striking distance pic.twitter.com/e1sETkUPaP — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
Three plays later, Wentz hits Matthews again down the left sideline. This time, watch him get the ball out before Matthews exits his break. This is an opposite-hash throw with an underneath defender still potentially in the window for a first down on second-and-10. This was another big-time throw from Wentz on a potential go-ahead touchdown drive.
Three plays later, Wentz converts on third-and-10 to get the Eagles inside the red zone with 35 seconds left on the clock. This is a great route from Ertz on a corner stop route. The veteran tight end gets great separation, and Wentz has a clean pocket to deliver the ball for a first down at the 14-yard line.
Shot 18 - Final play. 0:21 left. Slid protection right; Mathews cross-keys across formation and releases. No time for Wentz. Sack fumble. pic.twitter.com/hAnazsxspJ — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2016
On the final play of the game, the Eagles come out on second-and-10 with the intent to run a quick version of their three-level stretch play, which essentially becomes a high-low read of the flat defender to the left. Before we get to the design of the pass play, let's first start with the protection.
The Eagles call a slide protection to right tackle Matt Tobin's side. This means that Tobin, who apparently had already suffered his MCL sprain by this point, doesn't need to worry about any defender on his inside gap. He is solely responsible for the most dangerous defender in his outside gap, which is ultimately Ryan Kerrigan. Ryan Mathews "cross keys" in protection, meaning he comes from across the formation to pick up the most dangerous blitzer on the "man side" of the protection scheme. Since no blitzer comes, Mathews releases into the flat. If Wentz had time to throw the ball, he likely would've been the target on this play based on the coverage.
Washington is in Cover 2 here, and Ertz runs his route right in the direction of the Cover 2 corner in the flat. That means that if Wentz was able to deliver the ball, it would've either gone to Mathews or it would've gone out of bounds. Unfortunately, Tobin is unable to block his outside gap.
As this team learns how to win tight games, it's important to gauge the development of the young talent on the team. When head coach Doug Pederson was hired in the spring, his goal was not (only) to win a Super Bowl in 2016, but to build something with lasting power. You do that by infusing your program with young talent, and it starts at quarterback.
I thought Wentz had arguably his best overall game of the season based off of film study. Would it have been special to see him finish that drive with a touchdown pass? Absolutely. But given the circumstances of everything going on around Wentz, I still walk away from this game really excited about the future of this team with him at the helm.
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.