Now that the Eagles have an elite quarterback again, they would surely like to keep him on the field for all 16 games this season, not to mention three more after that. The best way to do that, of course, is by keeping Carson Wentz clean, a challenge that became even more difficult when star left tackle Jason Peters was lost for the season Monday night to a knee injury.
Even with Peters protecting his blind side, however, Wentz was taking his share of shots this season because that’s just the type of quarterback he is. He’ll fearlessly remain in the pocket if that’s the place he thinks he needs to be to make a big play. That predictably leads to sacks or hits even after he has released the football. Despite instructions from the coaching staff to slide or get down before he takes a hit in the open field, his competitive side often gets the best of Wentz. He’ll lower his shoulder and take on a tackler in the hope of picking up extra yards.
That’s what he did in the second quarter against Carolina when he was stopped at the 1-yard line by safety Mike Adams and defensive end Charles Johnson. Early in the third quarter of Monday’s win over Washington, Wentz again opted for a juke over a slide and picked up an additional seven yards on a 21-yard run.
“You look at his college tape, and he was doing that on a weekly basis,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said recently. “That was part of their plan in college that he would run people over. That’s not part of the game plan here. And I think when you look at his whole body of work, he’s done a really good job with that.”
Perhaps, but the numbers indicate he still takes a licking. Given his size and strength, he undoubtedly delivers his fair share of punishment, too. According to ESPN Stats Info, Carolina’s Cam Newton had been hit a league-high 922 times since 2011 before this season, with Seattle’s Russell Wilson a distant second at 615 hits.
According to the weekly NFL game sheets, Newton has been hit 40 times this season. He has also run the ball 49 more times, a league high among quarterbacks. Wentz has been hit 47 times and run the ball 40 times, the second most among quarterbacks. Wilson, in one fewer game, has been hit 51 times and run it 37 times.
That means Wentz is in the same danger zone as the two most-often-hit quarterbacks in the league, which is obviously a cause for concern but also a source of inspiration, according to Reich.
“We had one little outlier incident (against Carolina) that hopefully remains an outlier,” Reich said. “But that’s one of the things we love about this guy. Man, he’s tough and not just tough doing that kind of thing. He’s tough standing in the pocket. I think he knows the responsibility he has to the club, but I do think the team responds to his toughness.”
Wentz understands he has to be smart when he’s in the open field and the voices from the coaching staff are in his head.
“I’m always being reminded,” he said. “Shoot, sometimes I bring it up. I could have done better there. Sometimes it’s the elephant in the room and I’ll break the ice on it. It’s something that I’m continually learning and something that I think for the most part I’ve done a pretty good job of finding a way to get out of harm’s way, whether I’m sliding or diving.”
But sometimes those extra yards look too appetizing and Wentz puts his head down and goes after them.
“It’s definitely a fine line,” the quarterback said. “You have to know when to be smart about it. Again, I feel like I’m learning every time out there and I’ve been pretty effective with what I’ve done.”
No one in his or her right mind would argue that point. But keeping Wentz healthy is paramount among the list of things the Eagles need to happen if this is truly to be a special season.
Get hit often enough and you’re bound to get hurt. Newton had off-season shoulder surgery after also suffering a concussion last year. Wilson has never missed a game, but an assortment of injuries last season seriously hindered his effectiveness.
Still, those guys want to continue to play the game the way they always have.
“That’s my edge,” Newton said in training camp. “You going to expect a lion not to roar?”
Like Newton, Wentz roars, and the Eagles feed off the way he plays. Ask him to play it safe all the time, and you will not have the same player.
With a victory over the winless Cleveland Browns on Sunday in London, the Minnesota Vikings would reach the season’s halfway point with a 6-2 record, which would be a testament to one of the league’s best defenses. If — and it’s a big if — Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater can return from injury before the end of the season, they will be a definite contender for the NFC title.
This was going to go to Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict, arguably the league’s dirtiest player, for kicking Pittsburgh fullback Roosevelt Nix in the neck at the end of a play Sunday. But that bit of unnecessary roughness was trumped Thursday night when Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso sent Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco into concussion protocol with the cheapest of shots late in the first half. Referee John Parry deserves a downward thumb, too, for not ejecting Alonso, who is sure to be fined a significant amount.
And here’s a retroactive thumbs down to Chip Kelly for trading LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for Alonso. Still can’t believe that happened.
This week’s best
Sunday 1 p.m.
Oakland at Buffalo
At 3-4, the Raiders have been one of the league’s most disappointing teams this season, and at 4-2, the Bills have been one of the league’s most surprising teams. Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, and LeSean McCoy is averaging just 3.4 per carry for the Bills.
Dallas at Washington
With two wins already over the Redskins this season, the Eagles definitely want Washington to win this one because it would send the 3-3 Cowboys back under .500. Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott is in the midst of another great season with 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. In two seasons, he has 37 TD passes and eight interceptions and has rushed for nine scores.
Pittsburgh at Detroit
Despite a stunning lopsided home loss to Jacksonville a couple of weeks ago, the Steelers still look like a Super Bowl contender because of their defense, which is allowing just 16.6 points per game. Le’Veon Bell has 504 yards rushing and 662 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers’ last four games.
Denver at Kansas City
The Chiefs have lost two in a row since a 5-0 start, and the Broncos have lost three of four and have scored just 42 points in their last four games after putting up 42 in a Week 2 win over Dallas. Broncos QB Trevor Siemian has two TD passes and five interceptions in that four-game stretch. These are the only teams to win the AFC West since the 2010 season.