COs must demand more from Carson Wentz than he gave against Eagles
Those throaty laughs emanating from the lower bowl of FedEx Field on Sunday afternoon? They came from the mouths of all the Eagles fans who populated it. They could laugh at a result that left their team undefeated and looking like a contender in the NFC. But more than that, those green-clad fans might downright laugh that their quarterback is the dynamic and dangerous Jalen Hurts and it was once Wentz, who sometimes holds football so long it’s like putting on a baby in bed.
(Except, of course, on the occasions when he drops the baby — which we’ll get to.)
Carson Wentz, sacked nine times, and the commanders fail against the Eagles
An NFL game can feel like a referendum on a team’s or player’s standing, and the weight given to a single week is often unwarranted. But Sunday felt meaningful. It was an NFC East game, of course. More than that, it pitted the team that traded to get Wentz against one of the teams that traded to get rid of him. In a three-hour snapshot, there was a clear winner.
“Not good enough,” Wentz said. “Definitely not good enough.”
Give him this: he doesn’t ignore or dismiss criticism. Which is good, because it’s coming.
Take Wentz’s last stat line — 25 for 43 for 211 yards without a touchdown or interception — and dump it straight in the trash. It means nothing. What tells the story of this game — and left Eagles fans in stitches — are the first eight times Wentz has backed off. They went like this: batted pass, five-yard completion, sack to force a punt, sack on first down, sack on second down, 16-yard gain, sack to force a punt, sack to force a fumble that the Eagles recovered.
Related: At halftime, Philadelphia led 24-0. Also related: At halftime, the Eagles — the team that essentially replaced Wentz with Hurts in 2021 — had 276 net passing yards. The commanders, because of six bags of Wentz, had minus-16.
“Any time there’s a number like that,” Wentz said, almost as if there were numbers like that frequently, “it’s not on the O line. It’s not all on the O line. I have to be better. I have to get the ball out in these situations.
The last time a Washington quarterback was fired this many times: October 2011, when the immortal John Beck lost 10 times to Buffalo.
The season is of course not lost. “We still have 14 games left,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. Still, there’s a lot of swirl here around a character Philadelphia (3-0) knows and Washington (1-2) is learning. More than a few Eagles fans arrived Sunday wearing old Wentz jerseys; they had used tape to cover the “WEN” on the back and scribbled “HUR” to make them read “HURTZ,” then applied the rest of the roll to change Wentz’s old No. 11 to Hurts’ No. 1.
There were pregame meetings between Wentz and his old buddies. Throw in a pregame report from ESPN that the Commanders originally pursued a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo from San Francisco before ending up with Wentz, and the whole environment looked set to shake up Washington’s new quarterback.
“That was a bullshit report,” Rivera said afterward, clearly feeling the need to make Wentz look wanted. “I haven’t told anyone about it. … I’m disappointed that he came out. I haven’t told anyone about Jimmy Garoppolo.
Rivera said he also didn’t think about benching Wentz against his former team, even as he took a beating. At halftime – by then the game had been decided – Wentz had twice as many sacks (six) as he had completed (three). He had thrown for 24 meters. He had lost 40 on sacks.
“They chased us,” Wentz said, “and I didn’t play to my standards.”
What should those standards be? In Philadelphia, they saw this film. If Wentz has a clock in his head that tells him when he’s held the ball too long, he constantly needs a new battery. This contributed to the bags, and the bags will rightly be the focus. The Commanders played their first game of the season without starting center Chase Roullier, injured in last week’s loss to Detroit. The Eagles have a formidable defensive front led by lifelong veterans Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox. There were a lot of ingredients in this stew.
“They beat us,” McLaurin said – not to state the obvious, but to make sure there was no quibble about “a few plays here and there”.
But take this sequence from the end of the first half. On first down, Wentz looked for receiver Curtis Samuel in the flat. Given where he threw the ball, he must have thought Samuel had a pair of stilts stuffed into his pads. On second down, Wentz tried to find running back JD McKissic – and he threw the ball not where McKissic was standing, but to a spot he had left, far behind the target. And on the third try, Wentz found rookie Jahan Dotson. A modest gain of three yards felt like a victory.
That would recap one of Wentz’s best records of the first two quarters. He didn’t absorb a bag, which he did on several occasions. He didn’t fumble, which he did twice.
“I have to protect the ball,” Wentz said. “Every time the pocket collapses around me and I try to make a play, I have to keep both hands on it.”
He clearly knows what to say. He doesn’t always do what he says.
Carson Wentz’s path from Philadelphia to DC speaks volumes about the modern NFL
Whatever happened with Garoppolo, the COs decided to trade draft picks to Indianapolis for Wentz just a year after the Eagles traded him to the Colts. Rivera and others went out of their way to say they wanted him and welcomed him. For a player who has been dismissed twice, that matters.
But if the franchise is going to argue that they have the quarterback they’re going to lean on, they need to demand more of him. That means more consistency from week to week and half to half and drive to drive. It also means eliminating the kinds of plays that, as a quarterback who made his 88th NFL start on Sunday, Wentz should have minimized now.
Sunday must not be a referendum, because the season has only just begun. But it can’t happen every two weeks either. The commanders ask Wentz to get out of the kind of mistakes that left his former employers looking for new solutions. It’s up to Wentz to reward their faith – something he can’t do when he’s holding the ball, collapsing to the ground.