Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were the top two picks in the 2016 NFL Draft. They will be linked together for years because of that. Right now, they seem worlds apart. Goff is the backup quarterback for the Rams, a team that was shut out in their opener and looked dreadful. Wentz played lights out, was named Rookie of the Week and led the Eagles to a big win on opening day.
Teams had the two players rated similarly. Why have things been so different for them up to this point?
Part of success in the NFL is going to the right place at the right time. Goff went first overall, which made him very happy. He got to stay in his native California, which made him very happy. Unfortunately for Goff, those are far less important details than who the coaching staff is, who his teammates are and the overall circumstances of the team. The Rams were last in the NFL last year in yards and finished 29th in points. They retained offensive coordinator Rob Boras. The team is run by Jeff Fisher, known as a a defensive-minded head coach. He hasn't had a top 10 offense in points or yards since 2003. Fisher believes in feeding workhorse running backs and has a strong track record with Eddie George, Chris Johnson, LenDale White, Steven Jackson and now Todd Gurley. Quarterback play is a different story. The Rams also have the youngest team in the league, which has been the case for the last five seasons.
Goff played in a spread offense at Cal and averaged 42 pass attempts per game for his career. He is at his best playing in a wide-open attack system that lets him throw the ball a lot. The Rams' coaches want him to line up under center and feed the ball to Gurley. Goff has an offensive line that is built for run blocking. He doesn't have any workhorse receivers. There aren't a lot of veterans on the offense who can show Goff the ropes. Mix into all of this that the team just moved to a new city and there is a lot of change for everyone to deal with.
Now think about Wentz and his surroundings in Philadelphia. He is playing for an offensive head coach in Doug Pederson. Beyond that, Pederson is a former NFL quarterback. So is offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Pederson and Reich both came from an era when quarterbacks were allowed a lot of freedom at the line of scrimmage and they both believe in the value of that. Wentz played in a pro-style offense in college. He has experience under center, running a huddle and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Wentz is the ideal fit for what Pederson wanted in a young quarterback.
Wentz also has a strong supporting cast. He's protected by a set of stud tackles in Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. He has a terrific workhorse receiver in Jordan Matthews. Wentz has a pair of outstanding tight ends and a trio of talented backs who can run and catch. Off the field is important too. Wentz has some great team leaders to help him out. Connor Barwin, Malcolm Jenkins, Brent Celek and Peters are all older players and strong leaders. Chase Daniel is hugely important as Wentz's mentor. Daniel can help teach him the offense and provide tips on how to handle things, on and off the field.
Philadelphia was a perfect landing place for Wentz. He is the player the Eagles coveted. They have the coaches, players and scheme to bring out the best in him. Players don't fail or succeed on their own. Circumstances matter.
Last Sunday showed why Wentz is a great fit for the Eagles. He was terrific in his first NFL game. The challenge now is to build on that. One game is just one game. Playing well on a consistent basis is how you establish yourself as a good NFL player or team. Wentz gets an interesting test this week. He will be on the road in Chicago. He is also playing on Monday night. That means the rest of the NFL will be watching. Sometimes prime-time games bring out the best in you (remember Nate Wayne?) and sometimes they bring out the worst (think about the Bengals in recent years). It will be interesting to see how Wentz responds.
One benefit for Wentz is that the Bears run a 3-4 defense, which is what the Browns ran last week. The 3-4 is complex so he won't be seeing the exact same looks, but there will be some similarities. The Bears should be a tougher test. They are a more veteran unit. They also have better outside linebackers, which is the key position in the 3-4. Last year, the Bears' defense finished 14th in the league in yards allowed so they know how to play good defense.
Making matters tougher, Zach Ertz is going to be out for the game. He caught six passes last week and played the most snaps of any tight end. Brent Celek will play a lot more than he did in the opener and Trey Burton is set to be in a key role. He was hurt last week, but will now be the No. 2 tight end. Ertz caught several passes last week as a checkdown option. This could be an area where Burton will be better than Ertz. Burton has played running back in his past. He is dangerous with the ball in his hands. Ertz is more skilled as a receiver, but Burton is more likely to make a play after the catch.
If you watched the Bears-Texans game from last week, Houston receiver Will Fuller stood out. He has big-time speed and is dangerous after the catch. He caught five passes for 107 yards and a score. That makes me think the Eagles will try to get the ball to Josh Huff, who is the Eagles' receiver most likely to make plays with the ball in his hands. I also wonder if rookie Bryce Treggs will be active. He is the fastest Eagles receiver. He probably doesn't have a full grasp of the playbook at this point, but Pederson can mix in a few plays to take advantage of his speed.
The Eagles offensive line gave Wentz good protection last week. That allowed him to make good decisions and get the ball to his weapons. Chicago has dangerous outside linebackers in Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, but it also have a talented defensive line. There were multiple plays last week where the linemen got pressure. The Eagles interior blockers were sloppy on a few pass plays last week, which led to sacks. They need to clean that up.
I think Wentz is going to have another good game. I don't think being on the road or playing on Monday Night Football is going to have much of an effect on him. Wentz is one of those rare players who stays grounded and doesn't seem to be affected by outside factors. It will make his job a lot easier if the Eagles' run game can be a bit better than last week. Neither Ryan Mathews nor Darren Sproles had a run of more than 7 yards. The Eagles were methodical on the ground. They will need a run or two (or more) that goes for 10 or more yards. There were a handful of plays last week where Mathews was very close to breaking a long run, but just never could.
The Eagles' defense gets the challenge of stopping Alshon Jeffery, the Bears' huge and talented receiver. Jeffery caught four passes for 105 yards last week. He is one of those receivers who can drive defensive backs nuts. They can have perfect coverage on Jeffery, but because he is 6-3 and has long arms, he can still catch the ball and deliver a big play. Dealing with him will be even more challenging because Leodis McKelvin is out for Monday. Ron Brooks will start in his place and then Jalen Mills will play when Brooks slides inside in the nickel. Neither Brooks nor Mills has the size to handle Jeffery, but few corners do.
The guys up front will have to get regular pressure on Jay Cutler so he can't sit back and sling the ball to Jeffery all night long. The Bears have a talented, but flawed offensive line. They just signed guard Josh Sitton before the opener, and he didn't have his best game against Houston. Rookie Cody Whitehair is starting at center and struggled last week. He lacks ideal strength and got pushed around at times. You can bet Jim Schwartz will attack him with Fletcher Cox more than a few times. Right tackle Bobby Massie is not a strong pass blocker. All of the Eagles' ends will have a chance to get the best of him in passing situations.
There was a lot of talk this past week that Wentz and the Eagles did well in the opener, but Monday night offers a chance for Wentz and the Eagles to show the rest of the league they are for real. Getting to 2-0 would send a message that this team is better than what many experts expected and that Wentz is on his way to becoming a franchise quarterback.
Luckily for Wentz, he's on the right team to do that.