Eagles Wake-Up Call: Carson Wentz Needs More Weapons
There’s been a lot of talk about how Carson Wentz has struggled recently, and rightfully so. The rookie quarterback has completed 54% of his passes for 317 yards (6.3 yards per attempt), one touchdown, two interceptions, a fumble lost, and a 63.5 passer rating in his last two starts.
Wentz has struggled with accuracy issues that were present during spring and summer practices. He’s failed to see open receivers at times, including a moment on Sunday when he had Brent Celek running wide open down the middle.
But while Wentz has struggled, it’s not all his fault.
The 23-year-old can’t be expected to carry the Eagles’ offense every week. Fortunately for him, the Eagles’ defense stepped up against Minnesota. Jim Schwartz’s unit, while playing very well, won’t always be able to bail him out, though. Wentz needs some of his offensive players to contribute their fair share.
Right now, Wentz isn’t getting much help from the Eagles’ skill players. Just take a look at the numbers. The Eagles rank 30th in receiving yards. Here’s an individual player breakdown.
Jordan Matthews – 41 targets, 25 receptions, 354 yards, 2 touchdowns
Nelson Agholor – 32 targets, 18 receptions, 191 yards, 1 touchdown
Dorial Green-Beckham – 22 targets, 13 receptions, 139 yards, 1 touchdown
Darren Sproles – 21 targets, 17 receptions, 210 yards, 1 touchdown
Trey Burton – 17 targets, 9 receptions, 80 yards, 1 touchdown
Zach Ertz – 16 targets, 11 receptions, 131 yards, 0 touchdowns
Josh Huff – 16 targets, 12 receptions, 63 yards, 1 touchdown
There’s a lot of issues with this group. First, Matthews is the Eagles’ leading receiver and he ranks 42nd overall in receiving yards. The Eagles player with the second most receiving yards on the team is Sproles, who turns 34 after this season. He ranks 98th in receiving yards. 2015 first-round pick Agholor ranks tied for 108th.
Drops have been a big problem. Matthews and Agholor each dropped a touchdown in the Eagles-Bears game. Green-Beckham has dropped two touchdown passes this year.
When asked if the Eagles were getting enough out of the wide receiver position, Doug Pederson took a long pause before finally answering.
“I don’t know,” said Pederson. “I mean, I think we need more from everybody, quite honestly: tight ends, running backs, wide receivers, quarterbacks, the O-line; we need everybody. We had opportunities yesterday. Again, we kind of kept ourselves in some third-and-long situations, even though it was 11 attempts that we had, half of them were long-yardage situations there and we’ve got to eliminate that. We had some penalties early in the game and the turnovers. But we all need to step up.”
“The one thing I will say is this: It’s a very unselfish group. This group is very unselfish. They don’t fight for the ball. They don’t ask for the ball. Whenever the ball comes their way, they do the best they can to make the play. That’s what we need. That’s what we need in order to win tough games like we did yesterday.”
In other words: yes. Yes, the Eagles do need more out of their receivers. And, as Pederson said, everybody.
Having players who are currently on the roster step up would be ideal. No need to give up any assets in that case. But that’s probably not the realistic solution. The Eagles simply lack talent at their skill positions.
And so it’s not a surprise to see the Eagles linked to wide receivers in trade rumors. Philadelphia has recently been linked to both Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffrey.
Whether a deal gets done before next year’s trade deadline remains to be seen. What we do know is that Howie Roseman is never shy to make a move. As Tim McManus notes, the Eagles have made more trades than any other team since 2010. The next closest team hasn’t even traded half as frequently as Philadelphia.
One could argue the Eagles don’t need to put an emphasis on getting Wentz a new weapon before the trade deadline. It could be said that the Eagles aren’t true contenders right now and overpaying for a receiver would be short-sighted.
But there’s also an argument that having better skill players could assist Wentz’s development. And, conversely, not having better weapons could stunt his growth.
And maybe the 4-2 Eagles are closer to contending than some might believe. The Birds have the second best point differential in the league. They’ve beaten two legitimate teams in the Steelers and Vikings by a combined score of 55 to 13. Philadelphia ranks No. 1 overall in DVOA as determined by Football Outsiders.
In any case, there’s no question getting Wentz more weapons has to be a priority for the Eagles at some point moving forward. His current supporting cast just isn’t good enough. He doesn’t have a player who can get open down the field. This lack of long speed means the Eagles can’t use one of Wentz’s best attributes: his deep ball.
Again, receiver isn’t the only need for the Eagles. Their ground game needs to be better; it’s currently tied for 17th in yards per attempt. Ryan Mathews can’t be fumbling the ball late in games. Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner deserve more playing time but they might not ever be true lead backs.
The offensive line could also use improvement. Wentz failed to receive adequate protection in Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s first start in Washington. To the line’s credit, though, they played much better against a top-ranked Vikings pass rush last week. The concern with the big blockers up front lies beyond this year. The likes of Jason Peters (35 in January) and Allen Barbre (33 in June) will likely need to be replaced eventually.
With so many needs present, Roseman will have to be creative and efficient when it comes to maximizing his resources.
Though these issues might all seem problematic, the good news for the Eagles is that they have a franchise quarterback in place. Despite his lack of weapons, he’s still on pace to have a special rookie season. Wentz has looked like the real deal — a cornerstone player worth building around. Now it’s up to Roseman and his staff to put the right pieces around Wentz.
WHAT YOU MISSED
“It’s going to be sort of a running back by committee design.” Doug Pederson is concerned with Ryan Mathews‘ late fumbles.
How far do the Eagles move up in this week’s Power Rankings?
“Throw in a lackluster wideout group, and it’s a lot for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz to deal with.” What They’re Saying.
“He continues to manage the game extremely well and puts our team in good situations, and the run game specifically.” Pederson explains Wentz’s recent struggles on offense.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The Eagles are in need of an outside receiver that can increase the production of the entire group of wide receivers, opines the Inquirer’s Jeff McLane.
The Eagles currently aren’t getting anywhere near that level of production from the two players that were supposed to offset their dearth of talented outside receivers. Slot receiver Jordan Matthews started off strong, catching 13 of 23 targets for 185 yards and a touchdown in the first two games, but he has pulled in just 12 of 18 targets for 169 yards and a touchdown over the last four.
Tight end Zach Ertz caught six passes for 58 yards in the opener, but after missing two games with a displaced rib, he has caught only 5 of 9 targets for 73 yards over the last three. He doesn’t have a touchdown this season.
Their recent struggles are likely a product of the overall state of the Eagles offense than of anything related to their efforts. Matthews and Ertz have had sustained periods of success over the previous two seasons. Six games aren’t enough to judge their 2016, although the clock is ticking.
[Nelson] Agholor and [Dorial] Green-Beckham, both 23, are younger and haven’t had as many opportunities, but they have yet to offer a glimpse that suggests they could be top-tier receivers. Huff has a skill set, as evidenced by Sunday’s performance against the Vikings, but he is limited downfield.
Unless they have had the opposite evaluation, the Eagles are likely looking around for better options. But are they ready to give up on Agholor and Green-Beckham? Green-Beckham has been here for only two months, although Agholor was drafted by the previous regime.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins is ready to fill in for Ron Brooks as the slot cornerback if need be, pens Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.
“I played 60 percent of my snaps last year in the slot so it’s a position that I’m very, very comfortable with and that I prefer as opposed to playing deep,” Jenkins said. “So I’m comfortable in that role.”
With Brooks out, the Eagles are thin at cornerback, with only Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin and rookies Jalen Mills and recently activated C.J. Smith.
Carroll can play in the slot, but Doug Pederson indicated Monday that he’s leaning toward using Jenkins to cover the opposing slot receiver, like he did Sunday, after Brooks got hurt.
“Yeah, I would think that it would be very similar to what we’ve seen with Jalen on the outside and then Malcolm coming down inside and playing the nickel spot, and Jaylen Watkins being back there a little bit.
“And with Leo being healthy now, (it) gives you a little more depth. But we’ve got to continue to look at getting C.J. some more reps probably during the week to have a full complement of secondary help.”
Doug Pederson will speak with the media at 10:50.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.