From the moment Carson Wentz tore his ACL last December, the big question has been when he would return. Wentz wanted to be back for the season opener, but that didn't happen. The Eagles were thinking big picture and not arbitrary timelines. They wanted Wentz to be healthy for the whole year and the future. It took a lot of discipline on the part of the Eagles, as well as Wentz, but they did the right thing and made it a medical decision and not a football decision. All of that is in the past now as Wentz prepares to take the field on Sunday.
The franchise quarterback has returned.
It's a good thing Wentz is back. The Eagles are 1-1 and have a beat-up offense. The passing game has been erratic through two weeks. Now they prepare to play a Colts team that easily could be 2-0 and has looked good this year.
At this point, the Eagles don't want Wentz. They need him.
It will be fun to see how he handles the situation. Wentz has been desperate to get back on the field so you know his adrenaline will be through the roof early in the game. He has to try and control that. He also has to figure out who some of the guys in the huddle are.
Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles are out. Alshon Jeffery is still at least a week away. Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins are on Injured Reserve. That's not ideal.
Wentz is expected Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood to run the ball for him, although Clement appeared on the injury report Friday and is questionable for the game. Josh Adams could make his NFL debut. Wentz will have a trio of talented tight ends. Maybe this is the week that Dallas Goedert gets more involved and makes an impact.
Nelson Agholor will be the key receiver. Kamar Aiken and Shelton Gibson will play a lot. The team signed old friend Jordan Matthews this week. We'll have to wait and see if he's going to play. Matthews dealt with a nagging hamstring injury over the summer. He's healthy now, but is he ready for a real game?
Doug Pederson and the offensive coaches are going to have to come up with a creative game plan. They won't have a full arsenal. The good news is that Wentz gives the team an X-factor. He can make plays. That was missing from the offense in the first couple of weeks.
We obviously can't expect Wentz to get on the field and instantly become a magician. That's silly. What he can do is use his feet to extend a play here and there. He can run for a first down. He can elude a rusher and find an open receiver down the field. This set of skill players needs a boost like that.
One of the fascinating angles to Wentz's return is to see if his time as a spectator changed his game at all. Watching Nick Foles run the offense had to give Foles a different perspective. Wentz started the first 29 games of his career. He never saw anyone else run the offense. Now he has. Was he able to learn anything that can help him grow as a quarterback?
The offensive line needs to come up big on Sunday. They need to protect Wentz and open holes for the run game. Every person in Eagles Nation will hold their breath every time a defender comes anywhere close to Wentz. It would be great if the big guys up front did us all a favor and kept him clean.
The Colts brought in a coach from Dallas to run their defense so this is a scheme the Eagles will be familiar with. That defense will attack at the snap, looking to shoot gaps. End Jabaal Sheard is the team's best pass rusher. Veteran Margus Hunt is huge (6-8, 298 pounds) and playing some of the best football of his career.
Rookie Darius Leonard is the team's leading tackler and star linebacker. He flies all over the field and is a playmaker. Leonard is a terrific young player.
The secondary is young. Safety Malik Hooker is the biggest name back there. He was a ballhawk at Ohio State and picked off three passes as a rookie last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Clayton Geathers is the safety who will come up and pound you.
The challenge for the Eagles will be trying to attack that young secondary without a full complement of wide receivers. Pederson is a smart, creative coach so I'm looking forward to seeing what he does. It wouldn't surprise me if Josh Perkins was more of a key than many expect. He's listed as a tight end, but is athletic and versatile so the coaches can move him around, as they did last week.
Jim Schwartz and the Eagles' defense will be looking to rebound from a tough outing last week. Giving up multiple 75-yard touchdowns and more than 400 yards of offense will certainly get everyone's attention. The coaches and players know they must do a better job this week. Now they face Frank Reich, who knows the scheme well from going against it every day in practice for two years.
The Colts will be without their starting left tackle. That means Derek Barnett and Michael Bennett will be facing Le'Raven Clark. He struggles as a pass blocker so this is a matchup the Eagles absolutely must take advantage of.
Fletcher Cox has been outstanding in both games this year and the defense needs him to continue collapsing the pocket. Brandon Graham has been disruptive but has yet to get a sack. You know he's dying to get to the quarterback.
Andrew Luck is back for the Colts and playing well. He looks pretty good physically. He's completing more than 71 percent of his passes so the Colts are working in a lot of short, quick throws. That means defenders must tackle well in space. Luck can still throw downfield, but they aren't doing a lot of that right now. The offensive line is still a work in progress so quick throws make sense.
T.Y. Hilton is the big weapon at receiver. He can catch a screen and go off to the races. He can also go deep and run by cornerbacks. You can bet the Colts studied what DeSean Jackson did to the Eagles last week and they will mix in a couple of deep balls.
The Eagles must be disciplined on the back end. Schwartz talked about his linebackers and defensive backs using poor technique. They also fell into the trap of trying to make plays and that led to mistakes. This is a week to remember the mantra of "Do your job."
Indy has a pair of talented rookie running backs who will get the ball. Jordan Wilkins is more of a workhorse, while Nyheim Hines is the explosive playmaker. Both of them are good receivers so Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham will need to cover well.
This is a big game for the Eagles. If they lose, they would fall to 1-2. The team never had a losing record last year. They were .500 or better all year long. Life is so much easier when you don't dig yourself a hole.
Wentz is back and this is a home game. This is a game you really want to win. If the Eagles can do that and then get some players back from injury next week, they could build some momentum and get this rolling.
I'm excited to see Wentz back in action. I'm excited to see what Pederson and the offensive coaches do in this game. I'm also excited to see the defense try to bounce back from a tough game. Colts at Eagles didn't seem like a compelling game when the schedule came out in April, but there really are a lot of fascinating angles here. This is a big game.