At some point, you can’t unsee it.
Maybe it happened for you in early 2018, around the time Carson Wentz came back from knee surgery without the same fluid athleticism and get-away-from-trouble ability. Maybe it was sometime in the middle of 2019, when accuracy issues continued to persist. Or maybe it was in Week 1 of the 2020 season, when we watched a fifth-year quarterback display pocket awareness unfit for a rookie.
Wentz isn’t an elite quarterback. Let’s put that word away for a while and stop lying to ourselves. During Sunday’s season-opening loss to Washington, he wasn’t even good. He was sometimes brilliant (14-for-18, 182 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT over the first 28 minutes) and sometimes awful (10-for-24, 88 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INT over the final 32). Do you know what that kind of up-and-down, roller coaster performances equals?
Mediocrity, which is a perfect summation of Wentz and the Eagles since the nine-game win streak that put this quarterback and franchise on the map in 2017. The Eagles won nine consecutive Wentz starts from Sept. 24-Nov. 26 of that season. Since the end of that run, Philadelphia is 15-16 in games started by Wentz.
Think about that for a minute.
In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-league, the Eagles have effectively been a middling team for two seasons of Wentz-led football. Sure, there’s flashes of brilliance and clutch play (Dec. 2019), but that’s accompanied by atrocious, bottom-of-the-league performances like this Washington game, home losses to Seattle and New England in 2019 and throwing them out of New Orleans in 2018.
And before we cue up the Wentz excuse-making machine, let’s put this out there: We’re talking a quarterback in his fifth season. One that gets yearly MVP buzz.
One who signed (at the time) the most lucrative contract in NFL history. This isn’t a first or second-year player learning the position. This isn’t a backup trying to get the team through for a couple weeks. This is supposed to be a star player.
Except stars don’t play like Wentz did on Sunday. Stars don’t take eight sacks (blame the offensive line or Doug Pederson for some or many, but not all), including a backbreaking thirteen-yard loss to push the team from manageable to difficult field-goal range. Stars don't refuse to throw the ball away in a game where some throwaways would have been the wise move. Stars don’t throw off their back foot, sail passes high on the regular and go from brilliant to unable to complete passes in the blink of an eye.
Here’s what Wentz is: The big league pitcher with a 99 MPH fastball and nasty hook that dazzles for a game here or there or few innings at a time. Strikeouts are racked up. Social media goes ablaze. But he’s the same pitcher that will totally lose command, walk batters, allow back-to-back home runs and end seasons with an 11-11 record and ERA close to 4.00. That’s mediocrity.
Of Wentz’s last 31 starts, seven have come with completion percentages under 60. That’s almost unheard of in the modern, easy-completion NFL. Of those last 31 starts, 12 have resulted in 20-or-less points on the scoreboard. That’s not going to cut it. No one has fumbled the football more than the Eagles quarterback since he entered the league. That includes 19 fumbles in 17 games since the start of 2019, an alarming sign of a weakness not getting any better as maturity supposedly arrives.
That inaccuracy showed up on Sunday. As did the fumbles. The only surprise was our (collective) surprise. This is what Wentz has been for a long time. We and (more importantly) the Eagles need to recognize that.
There’s a way to win games with Wentz under center, and that involves a top-tier offensive line, good running game and an opportunistic defense backing him up.
Chew the clock, get Wentz short fields to score and don’t ask him to win the game with heroics on a week-by-week basis. Consistent, top-tier quarterbacks can be tasked with that. Wentz is not one of them.
Perhaps that’s not possible with the 2020 iteration of the Eagles. Holes persist across the roster. Depth is an issue. Pederson can’t coach like he did in 2017 because he doesn’t have the 2017 roster at his disposal. Wentz doesn’t have the league-breaking athleticism to get away from sacks and make play after play on the run anymore. He’s never been the same athlete since the knee injury, and deep down we all know it.
I’m truly not sure where the Eagles go from here, but I do know this: Nothing that happens this year is more important than seeing if Wentz can change what’s been clear for a while.
This team is mediocre with him under center. With a contract that’s about to balloon in 2020 and the presence of second-round pick Jalen Hurts on the roster, finding out if Wentz can change this franchise’s course with him as the quarterback matters more than any offensive line iteration or off-the-street left tackle Howie Roseman scrambles to sign this week.
Elite? Laughable. Great? Not close. Very good? Not consistent enough. Good? Should be. Mediocre? Five years into this quarterback’s career, that’s what this team is with him under center.