Freshman exams continue for Eagles' Wentz
LANDOVER, Md. -- On the first play of his first game against an NFC East opponent, Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Carson Wentz was slammed hard to the field at FedEx Field.
LANDOVER, Md. - On the first play of his first game against an NFC East opponent, Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Carson Wentz was slammed hard to the field at FedEx Field.
On Wentz's last two plays, Washington pass rushers reacquainted him with the turf.
The time in between could be described as spotty at best.
Wentz, the first-year sensation from North Dakota State University, did not have that full rookie quarterback meltdown everyone has predicted he will eventually have, but his performance in the Eagles' 27-20 loss on Sunday was by far the worst of his five-game NFL career.
This was frustrating, and not just because Wentz completed only 11 of 22 passes for 179 yards and failed to lead the Eagles to a touchdown.
Washington's pass rush sacked Wentz five times, knocked him down six times and forced 11 hurries. That's a lot of disruption on a quarterback who got off 22 passes. Any quarterback would struggle in a situation like that, much less a rookie going through growing pains.
"Obviously anytime you get a negative play it affects the drive," Wentz said. "I don't think for me personally, it didn't affect the way I played. I think it was just one of those things; it hurt us.
"It was one of those things where it was no one's fault. I should have made the right protection call and could've got the ball out in time better."
Even after his worst performance, Wentz displayed again that he has the makings of a franchise quarterback - taking the heat off his beleaguered offensive line.
Filling in for the suspended Lane Johnson, rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who was activated for the first time, knows how poorly he played without his quarterback rolling him under the back end of the bus after everyone had seen Washington's pass rushers crush him with the front half.
Besides, Wentz was correct in that a couple of sacks were his fault, especially the last two on consecutive plays late in the fourth quarter when he ate the ball rather than throw it away.
Those two sacks effectively ended the game for the Eagles.
"I felt OK (in the pocket)," he said. "It was one of those things."
The second quarter might end up being one of the most bizarre Wentz will experience as a pro. A combination of Washington ball control and Eagles scores on an 86-yard kickoff return by Wendell Smallwood and a 64-yard interception return by safety Malcolm Jenkins left Wentz and the offense sidelined for more than 13 minutes.
Sure, the Eagles had overcome a 14-0 deficit without having an offensive snap, but a quarterback and offensive unit that was clearly not clicking didn't get an opportunity to establish anything positive.
"It was just tough for us to get in the groove today," Wentz said. "It didn't feel like we were in sync, especially in the first half. The flow of the game was weird. We had the three straight defensive drives with the kick return and the pick-six, so we never got into the rhythm offensively."
Wentz's numbers for the first 30 minutes were 3 for 8 for 28 yards. He was sacked three times for a loss of 16 yards and had a passer rating of 47.9 Remember, this is a quarterback who had completed 91 of 135 passes (67.4 percent) for 1,007 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. His rating coming into Washington was 103.5.
But everything was not on Wentz. The game's first play, on which safety Will Blackmon and wide linebacker Ryan Kerrigan sacked Wentz for a 4-yard loss, was the first of a series of whiffs Vaitai had trying to block defenders. Vaitai was so often abused early that the Eagles coaches had no option but to utilize tight ends and running backs to chip or straight out block defenders to relieve some of the heat on Wentz.
Now you're asking a rookie quarterback to deal with an ears-pinned-back rush without having full utilization of some of his release valves like tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek and short throws to runners out of the backfield.
Washington's defense was designed to challenge Wentz.
"I think, number one, you change up the coverage a little bit," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "You play some man-to-man and cover his first and second progressions. If he tries to get off to his third, you have to get pressure on him. I think that's what happened."
Still, despite the first-half misery, the Eagles and Wentz had opportunities to pull things together in the second.
Wentz completed the job halfway, but that isn't often enough in the NFL. He took the Eagles on two drives for field goals in the fourth quarter when they needed touchdowns.
While Wentz made some big throws, like a 54-yard completion to Jordan Matthews on third-and-14, he also missed some opportunities by sailing balls.
Wentz's biggest mistake was taking the sacks in the fourth quarter. They were coverage sacks where he should have thrown the ball away.
Facing a fourth-and-24 on their own 40 with 1:44 remaining after the sacks, the Eagles had no choice but to punt and hope to use two timeouts on defense.
"We thought we were going to get the ball back and have some time and Washington picked up the first down," Wentz said. "But it's on me because I took the sack and put us in a really bad fourth-and-long. I have to do better.
"I have to be better, especially late in the game. Anytime the offense has a chance to win at the end of the game and you come up short, it's frustrating. I put that on myself. It's one of those things I have to go back, watch tape and really critique. We'll be back. We'll be better."
Wentz and the Eagles offense will try to get better Sunday with a home game against the unbeaten Minnesota Vikings - which arguably has one of the best defenses in the NFL.
For Wentz, the freshman exams continue.