The throw that best exemplifies the potential that lurks within Carson Wentz's arm isn't the 35-yard rainbow he lobbed over Nelson Agholor's right shoulder in the third quarter of his NFL debut, nor is it the 19-yard fade he spotted to Jordan Matthews in the first. As impressive as those two touchdown tosses might have been, they were tosses that plenty of other quarterbacks - good, bad and mediocre - can make. You don't get to the NFL without having thrown a pretty-looking touch pass or two over the top of coverage. Maybe this is a better way to put it: When Bears defensive backs watch the tape of the Eagles' Week 1 win over the Browns, they aren't going to look at either one of those plays and think, "Well, looks like I'm gonna have to cover those kinds of routes this week."
Now, think about what those same defensive backs might say to themselves when they arrive at the throw Wentz made with 1:18 left in the second quarter. This one was also to Agholor, but it only went for an 11-yard gain, and it probably didn't make many highlight packages. The Eagles had a first-and-10 on the Browns' 45-yard line, with Wentz lined up in the shotgun just inside the right hashmark. Agholor was split out wide left, with Browns fourth-year cornerback Jamar Taylor lined up opposite him, 7 yards off the ball. On the snap, Agholor sprints full speed down the sideline as if he is running a go route, which is how Taylor plays him, turning his hips outside and downfield as Agholor crosses the 38-yard line. By the time Agholor arrives at the first-down marker, Taylor has completely sold out on the go route, playing his man over the top with inside leverage. As he crosses the 35, Agholor slams on the brakes and turns back toward the inside, leaving the defensive back turned around 4 yards up field. By the time Taylor recovers, the ball is hitting the receiver's hands, thanks to a pass that has traveled roughly 32 yards on a rope from Point A to Point B.
On the CBS telecast, former Rams and Chiefs quarterback Trent Green immediately understood the implications of such a throw.
"That's just the arm strength right there," Green marveled during the replay of the throw. "You're throwing from the right hash to the left sideline, and he just rips it on a rope."
When we hear a quarterback praised for his ability to "make all of the throws," it is throws such as this one that those doing the praising have in mind. Ever since they drafted Wentz at No. 2 overall in April, the Eagles have focused most of their praise on his intangibles. His intelligence, his toughness, his personality. But NFL rosters are full of quarterbacks who possess all those traits. The dividing line between the Alex Smiths and Kirk Cousinses and the realm of the Andrew Lucks and Aaron Rodgerses and Ben Roethlisbergers is that throw. You can't will a ball to fly with that kind of force. In Newton's formulas, the G does not stand for gumption. Force does not equal mass times acceleration times the haters. A noodle arm is a noodle arm. You don't like that? The universe don't care.
Kevin Kolb goes bass fishing and doesn't shave, but he can't make that throw. Cousins is a leader of men, but he can't make that throw. Jared Goff is in street clothes, plus he can't make that throw.
Granted, the throws are not the only things that matter. Joe Flacco can make that throw, but can he recognize it and time it and execute it without getting sacked? Colin Kaepernick can make that throw, but can he hit the receiver in the hands instead of hitting a fan in the head?
There are plenty of similar questions that Wentz still must answer. Most of the memorable throws we saw him make against the Browns came against man coverage. One exception was a 22-yard pass to Jordan Matthews in the middle of the field in the third quarter. Again, this was a throw on which his remarkable upper-body strength was on display, a throw he made with both feet rooted to the ground as the top right side of an otherwise clean pocket swelled into him. Given the traffic at his side and the position of his body, the dart he unleashed was remarkable. Yet he did not slide with the pocket into a throwing lane, and he barely used his lower half, and his release was long, and his receiver was bracketed by a couple of defenders, one of them an underneath man who, with a little more closing speed or a little poorer throw location, could have made a play on the ball. In short, it was a throw that can easily end in disaster when it is made against any team outside of the Missouri Valley Conference or Cleveland (no offense to the MVC).
Yet the fact that Wentz has the physical ability to execute that throw in that situation puts him squarely in the small set of quarterbacks who have the potential to someday do the things that Rodgers and Luck do with regularity. Moving from potentiality to actuality is far more difficult than the Browns might have made it seem. By the time those players took their first NFL snap, they were seasons ahead of where Wentz is with their ability to navigate the pocket and optimize the amount of time they have to find someone open downfield. It is going to take a lot of reps, a lot of coaching, and a lot of mind-body synergy.
The one thing we do know: Wentz has the part that a coach can't teach and a player can't learn, the part that opposing defenders must account for in their technique. The next time Agholor explodes off the line of scrimmage the way he did against Taylor, his defender will be a little more focused on the comeback route, and little less focused downfield. It won't be because of Wentz's gumption.