Each week this season, we’ll have an oral history of a play, trend or scheme from the Eagles’ previous game using the coaches all-22 film. This week, we spotlight Carson Wentz, who has been his own weekly highlight show. But the quarterback took his exploit – which often require elite athleticism — to a higher plane in Monday night’s 34-24 win over the Redskins.
The Eagles have spoken in hushed tones about Wentz’s athleticism dating all the way back to the Senior Bowl before the 2016 draft. But they weren’t sure — even after they mortgaged part of the franchise to acquire him — that he would replicate the freakish plays he made in college. There were moments in his rookie season, but as the game has slowed for him in Year 2, Wentz has increasingly used his strength, speed, agility and peripheral vision to supplement a keen mind.
When asked to explain how he pulls off the remarkable, he often has the same initial response.
Wentz: I’m not really sure.
You would think that maybe his teammates are no longer amazed.
Center Jason Kelce: I’m still very much surprised.
In the third quarter, the Eagles, ahead 17-10, faced a third down on the 9-yard line. Several plays later, they lost left tackle Jason Peters. The Redskins blitzed off the edge and defensive end Terrell McClain got behind Kelce.
Kelce: We got an edge pressure. We didn’t really handle it right. We gave up some leakage in the middle.
Redskins linebacker Mason Foster rushed late and jumped toward Wentz as the pocket collapsed.
Foster: He stepped up in the pocket – we were all in his face – but he threw it up there.
Kelce: He steps left and throws off of his back foot.
Running back Corey Clement ran a quick out, but went into scramble mode and circled toward the end zone.
Wentz: [Clement] was kind of like No. 3 in the progression. He was actually just supposed to be in the flat but it was kind of a broken play at that point when I stepped up.
Clement: I just turned my head and somehow I saw the ball coming towards me.
Receiver Alshon Jeffery: I don’t know how [Wentz] saw him. He must have Spiderman vision.
Clement made a leaping grab and somehow kept his feet inbounds for a touchdown. From the end zone view, it’s clear how much Wentz had to throw across his body – like a shortstop must sometimes do when turning a double play.
Coach Doug Pederson: It’s hard to simulate [in practice] some of the throws he made from off-balance positions or not in a perfect throwing posture.
Wentz: You step up and at that point it comes into make-a-play mode. There are a lot of bodies in the middle of the field so I knew he was one-on-one with a linebacker.
Clement: You got to always be on your toes because you might think he’s down, you might have to turn your head one more time to make sure he’s down to make sure you stay out there in your progression. … He makes sure he gives his last ounce before a play’s over.
Pederson: One of the best plays I’ve seen in a long, long time.
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said during the game that it was a play that Wentz liked at North Dakota State and had asked Eagles coaches to install.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich: Sometimes plays have a good mojo for you. … Even in practice when we run the versions of that play, you can just see Carson work the progressions and get to every receiver in the progression. Literally, all five receivers have caught that ball in practice.
Wentz may have topped himself a few series later. The Redskins had just scored to trim the lead to 24-17. The Eagles faced third and 8 on their own 27. Washington blitzed again and the pocket collapsed again.
Running back Wendell Smallwood: I was on the linebacker.
Redskins linebacker pushed Smallwood back and into Wentz, who stepped up in the pocket and got sandwiched in between Brown and Foster. Redskins linebacker Junior Galette was also in the scrum after he got around left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Vaitai: I just looked up on the screen because I thought [Wentz] got sacked and I saw him running down the field.
Wentz squirted out.
Wentz: I think the pocket just collapsed. I think everyone was still engaged with their guy so I knew I just had to get away. And no one really I don’t think ever got their hands on me.
Tight end Zach Ertz: I had a corner route and I was kind of expecting the ball. And then I see him about to get sacked. I think the play’s over. And then I see this guy take off for 17 yards.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins: I literally grabbed my helmet, and then somehow I looked up at the screen and he was still running. That’s the magic of Carson Wentz.
Kelce: Our third down conversion rate is through the roof right now [an NFL-best 50.5 percent] and a lot of that has to do with him keeping plays alive, scrambling, and making yards with his feet.
Defenders often have a difficult time bringing Wentz down from below.
Kelce: He’s a big guy – a strong guy. I think that’s huge.
Foster: With a quarterback who’s athletic like that … he just knows how to make you miss.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden: He was just in a ball. I was hoping that they’d blow the whistle because he doesn’t ever seem to get tackled in there.
Ertz: Just to keep that drive alive and then we go down and score a touchdown. Big turning point in the game.
Wentz’s size and strength come in handy whenever the Eagles need to convert on short-yardage plays. He has been successful on four fourth and ones and one third and ones – like this conversion in the second quarter.
Wentz is fast – he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.77 seconds at the NFL combine – but he isn’t Michael Vick fast. Like Vick, he likes to extend plays with his feet. Unlike Vick, he’s willing to slide as he did on this second quarter two-yard scramble.
Wentz: I think I did have the one slide early. There is a time and place to go out of bounds, all those things. You just have to be smart.
But he’s also more than willing to push for extra yards, either by dodging would-be tacklers or even sometimes lowering his shoulder. On this zone read keep, Wentz could have slid for a first down, but he cut inside past the safety and dove ahead for an additional seven yards.
Wentz: I slid kind of. Like a slide, dive, thing.
Pederson: I’m okay with the dives because they are normally full steam ahead and he’s usually about to be tackled and he kind of goes down underneath or at least gets hit sort of on the back of the pads.
Jenkins: A lot of the times I’m on the sideline telling him to slide, because sometimes he just goes for the extra two yards.
Pederson: We try to have conversations with him to just protect himself when he’s in the open field, and he did a nice job a couple times scrambling, getting himself out of bounds, too, protecting himself there. But by no means do you want to hinder any of his aggressiveness when he runs.
Wentz also has an above average arm. His 68-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mack Hollins in the second quarter covered more than 65 yards in the air.
Because Hollins added a double move to his deep route, Wentz needed enough time in the pocket for the play to develop. He got it from the offensive line and when his receiver was even with Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger, he let the ball fly.
Swearinger: The seven route is already tough but to run a seven and go, that’s a darn good play. Adding in a strong arm, it takes a strong arm to make that play.
Hollins: I never question Carson’s arm. I know if he was 30 yards backed up he’ll still be able to hit me from the same distance.
The Eagles struggled with the deep ball in the first three weeks. Wentz completed only 25 percent of passes over 20 yards during that span. But he’s 10 of 19 (52.6 pct.) in his last four games.
Pederson: His deep ball accuracy right now is also something that he’s worked on. You can see it with all the guys down the field.
Wentz is a “gamer.” It’s something his coaches will often call him. His refusal to give up on plays, however, can sometimes be detrimental. The Redskins pressured Wentz early. He sometimes made an initial defender miss, but rather than throw the ball away – as he probably should have on the below examples – he tried to extend the plays and ultimately took sacks.
But the Eagles are willing to accept his holding onto the ball – at times – because he often stays in the pocket with his eyes downfield. And when he does have to escape or scramble, he’s athletic enough to make something out of nothing.
Pederson: A lot of guys would probably duck and run or throw the ball away and that’s just not in him. That’s just not his demeanor. He’s going to continue to shoot the ball down the field.
And who doesn’t love a quarterback, after he’s forcefully pushed out of bounds, who gives a defender a little “accidental” tap on his way back onto the field?
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