Eagles-Browns, Day After: Wentz Is ‘Special’
The rumblings were there in the days — and weeks, even — leading up to the rookie’s debut. Teammates had a never-ending stream of rave reviews about their new quarterback. Sometimes players even offered unsolicited takes about how impressive the 23-year-old was.
Yesterday, their predictions became reality. Carson Wentz tossed a pair of beautiful touchdown passes as the Eagles topped the Browns, 29-10, in front of a roaring Lincoln Financial Field crowd. Wentz added 278 passing yards on 22 completions and a 101 passer rating, effortlessly placing the ball in hard-to-believe spots like a point guard or pitcher.
Whether it was Wentz’s 19-yard touchdown toss to Jordan Matthews, his 35-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor or his handful of other throws he showed impressive patience on, the moment clearly wasn’t too big for the North Dakota State product, which is what the Eagles were trying to convey all along.
But even Wentz’s teammates were quick to point out the team’s sub-par opposition. They referenced how it will be easier for others game plan for the rookie now, and how you can’t put too much stock into a single performance. Still, the Birds were all smiles in the locker room after Wentz’s debut.
“He was unbelievable. The thing that everyone doubted us on was whether or not he was a good quarterback, but we knew what we had in the building all along with Carson,” Zach Ertz said. “He is a special, special player. He didn’t play like a rookie today by any means. To go out there in your first start with pretty much eight days’ notice and to not have any turnovers speaks volumes about his play.”
For most players, their confidence in Wentz grew as soon as he walked in the door. They point to how he believes he can do anything, though his confidence isn’t elevated to the point of cockiness, Lane Johnson adds. They point to how well he commands a huddle, though he still knows his place and doesn’t step on veterans’ toes, Ertz adds. And they point to how he sometimes gets in the NovaCare Complex around 5 a.m., though he still takes the time to build relationships and take a leadership role, Matthews adds.
“It is hard for any rookie at any position to come in in this league and play right away. The quarterback position is, without a doubt, the hardest position to play in this league,” Connor Barwin said. “He showed a lot of poise and leadership.”
For other players, like Brandon Graham, their confidence in Wentz elevated during “the Sam Bradford stuff.” After Bradford responded to the Eagles trading up in the draft for Wentz by skipping several voluntary workouts and demanding a trade, there was little tension between the two – at least none that was apparent to others. Players took notice of how Wentz interacted with Bradford and the other quarterbacks, and how the kid from North Dakota State just put his head down and went to work.
“Being around him for so long now, and just knowing the maturity level that he has and the things that I was trying to get across to the fans, to the media,” Doug Pederson said, “this is who he is. This is his DNA.”
Matthews, an already optimistic guy who sees the best in people, gained even more confidence in Wentz after their time together in the preseason. Matthews invested a lot of time and effort into building his relationship with Bradford during the offseason, and he wasn’t thrilled after the Eagles traded the veteran quarterback.
But Matthews and Wentz worked out together while neither was cleared from their preseason injuries. They also bonded over music, because after Wentz told Matthews his favorite album was Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” the receiver took a break from the field and put on his headphones.
“I thought if I’m going to learn this guy’s mindset, I have to listen to his music,” Matthews said. “There’s a song on there called ‘Fly Over States,’ and it made sense because where he lives is a fly-over state. I’ve never been to North Dakota, so I got a feel for who he is. He’s a humble guy from North Dakota and I’m a humble guy from Alabama. The bottom line is that I got to know him a little bit through that. I told him that if I listen to Jason Aldean, he has to listen to a Kanye [West] album. You have to know who I am. We’re trying to grow off the field as well as get better on the field.”
As for Wentz, he didn’t need a boost in confidence. He doesn’t get nervous, he says, because he listens to Christian worship music before games to calm himself. But his expectations elevated anyway after the Eagles’ opening drive against the Browns. The Eagles ran the ball a lot, and Pederson moved the pocket to get Wentz closer to his nearby targets in the flat.
Wentz completed four of his five pass attempts in the initial drive for 57 yards, including five first downs. The only incompletion was a Matthews drop, and it was the first time the Eagles scored a touchdown on a season-opening drive since 2008. But just a few hours after that series, and after soaking up the experience he’s dreamt about for years, he was already prepared to move on and build off his initial success.
“I came out pretty early when there weren’t fans out there, and I just took it all in. I realized how truly blessed I am and to have this opportunity and to make the most of it. I have to remember it’s just a game. I came out here and had fun today. It was a great team win,” Wentz said.
“Jordan already said, ‘Let’s get back to work.’ That’s exactly the mentality we need. We’re going to learn from this game, and we are going to build on it. It was a great first team win, but we’re going to head into Chicago next week right away and it’s on to the next.”
The All-22 coaches film typically isn’t released until two days after the game, so here are my additional thoughts after re-watching the broadcast version:
- Overall, the offensive line was solid. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson did a nice job of protecting Carson Wentz, and although Wentz took some shots after releasing the ball, many of them appeared to be because Wentz didn’t adjust the protection or hit his hot route in time. The weak link appeared to be Jason Kelce in run situations, as he was quickly pushed back off the ball several times.
- The Eagles led the NFL in drops last year with 37, according to CBS, and they continued their catching woes against the Browns. A couple of the drops appeared to be due to slight timing issues or inadequate placement by Wentz, but the receivers and running backs must be better.
- After his initial drop, Jordan Matthews played well. He made a few impressive catches, and his route running gave Wentz some easy throws because of how wide open he was.
- Ryan Mathews only averaged 3.5 yards per carry, but he played better than his numbers indicate. He created a lot of his own yards, and he finished his runs to often pick up an extra yard or two. (The stats confirm this. According to Pro Football Focus, 61 of Mathews’ 82 yards came after contact, and his four broken tackles ranked second among running backs yesterday.)
- Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox looked good against the run. It’s going to be tough to run the ball up the middle against this defense, unless teams can find success running a lot of trap plays.
- Not only did Jim Schwartz rotate his defensive linemen, but he varied where defenders rushed the passer from. For example, he once switched Cox and Vinny Curry, leaving Cox on the edge and Curry inside. Although the Eagles didn’t get a ton of pressure, much of it was due to how many Browns Hue Jackson kept in to block. It wasn’t unusual for Cleveland to have seven people block four Eagles.
- Still, I’d be interested in how many pressures the Eagles were credited with. They made Robert Griffin III throw the ball before he wanted to several times, particularly Curry. Speaking of Curry, he had bad luck with the referees yesterday. Once, he was held (read: tackled) on what should’ve been a sack, but no penalty was called. Later, when Curry jumped offsides, he was called for a penalty, even though the play clock expired three seconds before the ball was snapped.
- The Browns had a couple of huge plays, and although Schwartz will have some corrections for his guys, I doubt he’s losing too much sleep. On Terrelle Pryor’s 44-yard catch, Nolan Carroll was in perfect position. Pryor simply caught the ball because he made a great play, and he may have gotten away with a push off. The more concerning one — Corey Coleman’s 58-yard reception — was a product of the Eagles not locating the ball well deep down the field, and a bit of luck because Griffin III under-threw the ball, giving Coleman enough space to make the catch.
- One less-than-impressive defensive sequence: Carroll, Mychal Kendricks and Curry missed tackles on three consecutive plays. Both Carroll and Kendricks allowed a first down, while Curry missed out on a tackle-for-loss opportunity.
Here are the three Carson Wentz throws I was most impressed by, in chronological order:
1. Wentz’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews on second-and-9 with 9:50 left in the first quarter.
2. Wentz’s 22-yard completion to Matthews on third-and-9 with 13:15 left in the third quarter.
3. Wentz’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor on first-and-10 with 6:17 left in the third quarter.
— Beau Allen (@Beau_Allen) September 11, 2016
— Beau Allen (@Beau_Allen) September 11, 2016
Sam Bradford has two career games with at least 275 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT and 100+ QB rating.
Carson Wentz just did that in his first start.
— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) September 11, 2016
Best thing about Carson Wentz? Was 8/8 against the blitz. Last season Eagles QBs completed 51% vs blitz. T-3rd worst in NFL
— trey wingo (@wingoz) September 12, 2016
Since 2014, the Eagles have the NFL’s best winning percentage in interconference games, going 8-1 vs. AFC teams.
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) September 11, 2016
Career touchdown passes by Eagles quarterbacks:
2 … Carson Wentz [1 game]
1 … Chase Daniel [7 seasons]
— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) September 12, 2016
Jordan Matthews has 50+ receiving yards and 1+ TD in 4 straight games, the longest streak by an Eagles player since Terrell Owens.
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) September 11, 2016
There have been 14 NFL games so far this weekend. Only 1 has been decided by 10 points or more. Yep, the #Eagles
— Martin Frank (@Mfranknfl) September 12, 2016
Rookie QBs with 100+ rating on opening day:
— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) September 11, 2016
Didn't realize Jason Peters saved Ryan Mathews' life until re-watching the game. pic.twitter.com/FAtDlLiftK
— Josh Paunil (@JoshPaunil) September 12, 2016
“That was a hell of a time. That was a lot of fun. It was funny. We practiced that a little bit, and it’s every d-lineman’s dream — or every offensive lineman’s dream — to get that skill position and feel like an athlete, so that was a lot of fun. … It was a dream come true.”
—Beau Allen, who played some fullback in college and high school, on lining up in the backfield for a few snaps on the goal line. Doug Pederson, who had defensive linemen play fullback in Kansas City, first tried Allen out at the position a couple of weeks ago.
“We run our punt team on except for four offensive linemen, and then the snapper or the punter is on the back side staying out of harm’s way. What you’re trying to do is not fake a punt by snapping to the upback. You’re just trying to catch them in their punt return. We’re thinking, ‘We have four offensive linemen to the play-side. We’re going to be able to outmatch their punt return which is a bunch of skinny defensive backs, and we’re going to have no problem picking up 5 yards because it’s me, a tight end, and three other offensive linemen smashing their punt returners out there.’ It’s not meant to have a punter make them think you’re actually punting; you’re just trying to catch them and either make them call a time out or run the play when they’re physically unmatched by our big guys. We ran the play a number of years ago and it worked, but it didn’t work today.”
—Browns left tackle Joe Thomas on his team’s fourth-down attempt with the punter on the field.
“I think he did a really good job. He was more advanced than I expected him to be. He is a good quarterback. He stands in the pocket, he is able to make all the throws, very patient, and does not take off running all the time. He looks down the field and picks his receiver that he wants to throw to.”
—Browns cornerback Joe Haden on Carson Wentz.
“I think he took the team by the reins and it’s his team now. He did a good job for the first week. I am proud of him and it is onto the next one. It feels good to get the first win of the season.”
—Lane Johnson on Wentz.
“All of a sudden we had a ball snapped over the quarterback’s head [which turned into a safety]. I thought that’s when it kind of tilted and started going the other way. I thought momentum was kind of coming our way.”
—Browns head coach Hue Jackson on the turning point of the game.
*Note: I left out the six Eagles who technically recorded one defensive snap on the fake punt/fourth-down attempt. That play is also why Nigel Bradham, Nolan Carroll, Jordan Hicks and Malcolm Jenkins didn’t technically participate in 100 percent of the snaps.
|Allen Barbre, 77 (100%)||Nigel Bradham, 51 (98%)|
|Brandon Brooks, 77 (100%)||Nolan Carroll, 51 (98%)|
|Lane Johnson, 77 (100%)||Jordan Hicks, 51 (98%)|
|Jason Kelce, 77 (100%)||Malcolm Jenkins, 51 (98%)|
|Jason Peters, 77 (100%)||Rodney McLeod, 50 (96%)|
|Carson Wentz, 77 (100%)||Ron Brooks, 38 (73%)|
|Jordan Matthews, 71 (92%)||Fletcher Cox, 38 (73%)|
|Nelson Agholor, 67 (87%)||Connor Barwin, 36 (69%)|
|Zach Ertz, 60 (78%)||Brandon Graham, 36 (69%)|
|Darren Sproles, 38 (49%)||Bennie Logan, 36 (69%)|
|Brent Celek, 38 (49%)||Leodis McKelvin, 36 (69%)|
|Ryan Mathews, 37 (48%)||Vinny Curry, 24 (46%)|
|Josh Huff, 28 (36%)||Mychal Kendricks, 19 (37%)|
|Dorial Green-Beckham, 25 (32%)||Beau Allen, 17 (33%)|
|Matt Tobin, 9 (12%)||Jalen Mills, 12 (23%)|
|Kenjon Barner, 6 (8%)||Destiny Vaeao, 12 (23%)|
|Beau Allen, 4 (5%)||Marcus Smith, 6 (12%)|
|Wendell Smallwood, 2 (3%)|
- Perhaps the most important number on the offensive side of the ball? Jason Peters played every snap.
- Because Jordan Matthews isn’t relegated to only playing in the slot, he played 92 percent of the offensive snaps and rarely left the field.
- Darren Sproles played one more snap than Ryan Mathews, but Mathews still had the huge edge in carries — 22 to 5.
- Matt Tobin was on the field for 12 percent of the offensive snaps as a sixth offensive lineman/third tight end. Once Trey Burton returns, however, I imagine that will disappear.
- Beau Allen played twice as many offensive snaps as Wendell Smallwood. Who saw that coming?
- Mychal Kendricks played just 37 percent of the snaps, whereas the other two starting linebackers — Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham — never came off of the field.
- Jim Schwartz’s Week 1 defensive end rotation: Both Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham played 69 percent of the snaps, while Vinny Curry played 46 percent.
- Destiny Vaeao played twice as many snaps as Marcus Smith, which is somewhat of a surprise.