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Lawlor: The Education Of A QB

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Doug Pederson is trying to win games this year, but he's also developing a young quarterback. Some coaches prefer to limit what a quarterback does. With Pederson, it feels like he has thrown Wentz into the deep end of the pool. Pederson has only done that because he believes so much in Wentz, both physically and mentally. He thinks Wentz is talented enough to help the team compete when throwing a lot of passes and also thinks Wentz is tough enough not to get down on himself when things don't go so well. 

I am a firm believer that quarterbacks need to struggle to become great. Some quarterbacks don't handle the struggles and have short careers. Those who do come out the other side learn valuable lessons that help them to accomplish great things. Joe Montana was on a couple of bad Niners teams before the breakthrough season of 1981. Terry Bradshaw was on bad Steelers teams. He also had to fight for his job. Each of them won four Super Bowls. People forget that Troy Aikman had to really fight for his job in Dallas. He had to battle Steve Walsh for the job in 1989 and 1990 and then sat in the 1991 playoffs and Steve Beuerlein started. Aikman then won three of the next four Super Bowls. 

Wentz has made some key mistakes in the last two weeks, but he also had some very good moments. Think big picture for a moment. He just went up against the two highest rated passers in the history of pro football, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. If not for a formation penalty on a wide receiver, the Eagles had a chance to have the lead at halftime in Seattle. Wentz and the Eagles were down 17-13 heading into the fourth quarter on Monday night. The Eagles played both Rodgers and Wilson back in 2014 with a more veteran team and a veteran coach and neither game was very competitive. 

The results aren't good right now, but Wentz is learning valuable lessons. There were times on Monday night when Wentz was waiting for rookies Paul Turner and Bryce Treggs to get open while being protected by rookie Isaac Seumalo at right guard. That's not an ideal scenario for Wentz. He's the rookie quarterback and in theory you would like to have veteran players helping him out. Due to injuries, illness and the Lane Johnson suspension, that's just not the case right now. Wentz can't lean on the offensive line to dominate for him. He can't lean on a stud running back to be the foundation of the offense. He can't feed the ball to great receivers and expect them to make plays. 

Think about how good Wentz looked on the opening drive. Jordan Matthews was healthy and the team was running scripted plays. Wentz got the ball to his receivers and they did make plays for him. The line gave him enough time in the pocket. The offense was crisp and confident. Wentz finished the drive by running for his first touchdown of the season. Unfortunately the offense could not keep up that kind of efficiency. They only scored six points the rest of the game. 

Wentz has already had quite the season. He got pounded in the Washington  game. He had to overcome early interceptions in the Vikings game. There were red zone struggles against the Giants. Facing the Seattle defense for a whole game was a major challenge. Wentz has been hurt by penalties, dropped passes and missed blocks. Still, he keeps right on battling. You don't see him getting overwhelmed or overly frustrated. One of the toughest tests for players is how they handle adversity. So far Wentz is doing a great job of that.

I'm sure Wentz is tired of learning lessons the hard way and would like to get back to winning and having some success. He does need the defense to play better than they did on Monday night.  The Eagles didn't give up a bunch of explosive plays, but they couldn't get Green Bay off the field on third downs. You have to give Rodgers and the Packers a lot of credit for their execution, but the Eagles didn't always help matters.

Fletcher Cox got a costly roughing the passer penalty that extended a touchdown drive. Brandon Graham failed to keep Rodgers in the pocket multiple times. He also had a costly offside penalty. Connor Barwin lost contain at least once. Rodney McLeod missed a tackle-for-loss that might have disrupted a scoring drive. Eagles corners seemed to be playing too soft, although that might have been a coach's decision. The Eagles were called for 12 men on defense late in the game and that basically sealed the deal.

You aren't going to stop a great quarterback like Aaron Rodgers when you help him out. The Eagles didn't have a sack or takeaway. They only broke up two passes and only had three tackles-for-loss. The whole point of Jim Schwartz's scheme is to attack and make plays. Rodgers was getting the ball out very quickly, but the Eagles should have then covered tighter and gotten to those receivers quicker to make tackles.

Green Bay was a desperate team and they played like it. Their playoff hopes were on the line and they pulled out all the stops to win. Green Bay isn't building for the future. They have a veteran team and expect to win now. Anything less than a playoff berth will be a major disappointment.

The loss means the Eagles now find themselves up against it in terms of trying to make the playoffs. Pederson might have an eye to the future, but he still wants to win now as well. The Eagles have to put Monday night's disappointment behind them quickly and get their eyes focused on Cincinnati.

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