Four Downs: Carson Wentz’s Debut
The Eagles beat the Buccaneers, 17-9, in their preseason opener at the Linc. Here’s what we saw.
It’s only one game, against some defenders who won’t even make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster, in a simple scheme that shouldn’t be too difficult to diagnose, but Doug Pederson has to be happy with most of what he saw from Carson Wentz tonight. The rookie quarterback had some expected rough patches — passes sailing high, inconsistent ball placement and a small dose of questionable decision-making — but he showed flashes of talent not everyone possesses.
His mobility is what initially stood out, as he consistently escaped pressure and displayed the ability to throw accurate darts on the run. On one play when the snap was way too low and the ball went through Wentz’s legs, he ran backward, picked up the ball and turned a drive-killing loss of 10 or 15 yards into a simple incompletion by eluding a defender. It won’t show up on his highlight tape, but it is a play that would have been much more difficult for Sam Bradford or Chase Daniel.
On the other hand, Wentz had a pair of long throws that even Ben Simmons isn’t tall enough to catch, and he made some passes unnecessarily difficult to catch for his receivers. When he threw his interception, he jumped in the face of pressure and gave the Buccaneers an easy pick. But he also seemed to show improved recognition in his limited playing time.
Early on, it appeared Wentz may not have recognized a corner blitz, which led to him taking a big hit on an incompletion. A little later, however, he clearly saw a cornerback blitzing and quickly threw an easy 8-yard pass to Paul Turner on a slant route.
Wentz’s night was up and down, but even on plays that weren’t his best, he displayed impressive arm strength. There were plenty of mistakes for Wentz to learn from, but there were also more than enough plays for Pederson to be excited about.
MOST-TELLING STAT: 40%
Chase Daniel completed just four of his 10 pass attempts as the second-team offensive line struggled to protect him, but Daniel’s completion percentage clearly suffered because of his lack of arm strength. We’ll see if Daniel’s play improves in the next three preseason games, and it’s way too soon to make sweeping judgments, but his arm won’t magically get that much better.
Wentz still has much to learn, and only the coaches will know when the rookie can enter a regular season game and not have his head spin, but I’d be surprised if Daniel deserves to be the No. 2 quarterback ahead of Wentz for the entire season. Pederson is (rightfully) planning to be very cautious with not putting too much on Wentz’s plate too soon, but if the object is to win games, Wentz will probably be able to do that better than Daniel at some point this year.
The rookie will most likely be more durable as well with his 6-5, 237-pound frame, which could really come in handy behind a patchwork offensive line.
DID YOU NOTICE?
Jalen Mills showed how much room he has to grow. The rookie did have an impressive play in coverage when he perfectly anticipated a deep post route, breaking on the expected cut before it was ever made, but he had more negative plays than positive ones tonight.
On special teams, Mills was beaten inside on one punt return, a notable mistake that led to the gunner getting a quick hit on the return man. On defense, he had some lapses in coverage, including when he was badly beaten deep to start off one drive in the second quarter — although the Buccaneers’ backup quarterback couldn’t connect on the throw.
Mills’ lack of speed was well-documented during the draft process (he ran a 4.61 40-yard-dash at the combine), and it’s been apparent at times during training camp. While that could very well limit his ceiling, he’s still shown impressive talent and could be an absolute steal as a seventh-round pick. He projects as a good contributor in nickel situations, but it will be interesting to see how much he can learn to make up for his lack of speed.
Some final, disparate observations from tonight:
- Jaylen Watkins still can’t tackle very well, but his coverage was good tonight and it has stood out compared to the Eagles’ other backup safeties throughout training camp. The more I see of him, the more I think he’ll make the 53-man roster.
- I’m not sure how much to read into Isaac Seumalo’s questionable performance. The Eagles’ second-team offense went up against the Buccaneers’ first-team defense across multiple drives, but there were some plays where Seumalo didn’t look good at all. I only saw one replay for this snap, but at one point, he appeared to turn around mid-block and go in the opposite direction, leading to a sack. He also gave up other pressures and quarterback hits.
- I like what I saw out of the Eagles’ third and fourth tight ends. On Ryan Mathews’ 5-yard touchdown run, Trey Burton did a great job on his combo block with Zach Ertz to move the edge defender down the line of scrimmage, before getting to the second level and walling off a linebacker. As for Chris Pantale, he seems to be finding his niche as a fullback, and he made a few key blocks to help the Eagles’ running backs pick up chunks of yards.