Carson Wentz played the best game of his young NFL career on Sunday. He threw four touchdown passes, a career high. He finished the game with a rating of 128.3, also a career high. He averaged 10.13 yards per pass attempt, yet another career high. Are you sensing a trend?
There are times when statistics can be deceiving, but Sunday wasn't one of them. Wentz's performance went beyond just numbers. One of the areas where he needed to make the most improvement was deep accuracy. Wentz hit Nelson Agholor for a 72-yard touchdown and Torrey Smith for a 59-yard score. Those were deep throws that were on the money. Neither receiver had to break stride to catch the ball, which helped them. NFL defenses are just too good to methodically march the ball and score touchdowns on a regular basis. You need big plays.
Wentz was outstanding at situational football. Two of his touchdowns came in the red zone. One was a touch throw to Trey Burton on a fade route. You have to love the fact Wentz saw the pre-snap matchup and realized his number three tight end should be the primary target on that play. You see some young quarterbacks really force the ball to star players, especially in the red zone. Wentz got the ball to the right guy, putting it where only Burton could make a play. You must score touchdowns when you get into the red zone.
Wentz was unbelievable on third down. He was 11-of-12 for 225 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers are crazy good. Wentz threw short and deep, right and left. He threw to a variety of receivers. There was a third-and-1 play late in the first half where Wentz hit backup receiver Marcus Johnson for a gain of 6 yards and a first down. Wentz had a lot of confidence in himself and his teammates. He was going to find the open man, not force it to the biggest name.
The offensive line did a good job of protecting Wentz and he took advantage of that. He was patient in the pocket when he had time. That helped on the two successful deep balls. Wentz was able to go through his progressions and find the open receiver. He got the ball out quickly when he needed to.
There were only two plays that really bugged me. The biggest mistake came late in the half when Wentz threw into the end zone and the pass was intercepted. He tried to give tight end Zach Ertz a chance to make a play, but the free safety picked it off. The Eagles were already in field goal range and had a comfortable lead. There was no reason to force that ball. There was also a third-down pass to Ertz where he was wide open and the ball was just off target.
The Eagles are 4-1 after blasting the Cardinals 34-7. In case you missed it, check out these exciting shots from Sunday's win.
When you only come away with two bad plays, that means the quarterback had a darned good game. One of the best things Wentz did was make smart decisions. There were a couple of plays where he took a sack rather than forcing a bad throw. Wentz did a good job with pre-snap reads, adjusting run and pass plays based on what the defense was showing. There was a good moment late in the game when Kenjon Barner lined up out wide to the right. A linebacker went out to cover him, which gave the Eagles an advantage. Wentz threw the ball to Barner. It was incomplete, but Barner had cleanly beaten the linebacker and drew a pass interference penalty. The stat sheet won't show anything for that play, but Wentz helped the team get 16 yards simply by making a good pre-snap read.
Wentz doesn't have much time to celebrate. The Eagles go to Carolina to take on the Panthers on Thursday night. This will be a huge challenge, with the Panthers being 4-1 and having the No. 3 defense in the league.
That sounds very impressive on its own but is even better in context. The Panthers have played Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady on the way to that high ranking. Most teams that face a gauntlet of star passers like that won't be ranked very high. Carolina did allow 29 points per game to those teams, so the Panthers are beatable if you have the right players.
This game will be tough for Wentz and company because the Panthers are good, but also different than what the Eagles have faced this year. Carolina runs a 4-3 defense that loves to rush four and play zone behind that. They have great linebackers who can cover and make plays all over the field.
You can look at this as a measuring stick game. The game against the Chiefs was similar, but that was just Week 2 and the Eagles were still coming together. This team is in a groove now, as are the Panthers.
The Eagles haven't faced a defense anywhere close to as good as the Panthers' unit. We've seen the Eagles pile up yards and points this season, but this will be a chance to see how they perform against an outstanding opponent.
Wentz will also go head-to-head with Cam Newton, who has been red-hot the last couple of weeks. It is fun to see how the stars on your team measure up to the best guys around the league. Wentz has taken a major step forward this year and is playing the best football of his young career.
I think one of the big improvements for Wentz this year is understanding when to be aggressive and when to be safe. It helps that he has legitimate weapons this season, but we've seen other quarterbacks over the years who developed bad habits as a rookie that never went away.
Wentz threw 14 interceptions last season. He's on pace to throw 10 this year. Wentz only averaged 6.2 yards per pass attempt last season. That's not a good figure and tells you he threw a lot of short passes. This season he's up at 7.7 yards per attempt, an outstanding figure. That shows you Wentz is getting the ball downfield. He's taking chances but isn't forcing the ball.
Thursday night will be a terrific opportunity for Wentz and the Eagles. He can show the league how good he is when going up against a top-notch defense. People can also watch him and Newton on the same field. They can judge how Wentz stacks up to Newton.
The Eagles have a chance to advance to 5-1 and beat a good NFC team. The Eagles have to put the blowout win over the Cardinals behind them and focus on beating the Panthers. This will require a big-time performance from the Eagles on offense, defense, and special teams.