You’d be hard-pressed to find a single Eagles fan right now who feels the decision last year to trade up for Carson Wentz and wave bye-bye to Sam Bradford was a mistake.
Wentz is a rock star in this town, while Bradford was an ice cream flavor that just never caught on during his one season here. Wentz is Game of Thrones. Bradford was McSpaghetti.
Wentz is the shiny, new toy. Bradford was the boring old one that twice needed to be put back together with duct tape.
Wentz had his ups and downs as a rookie, but just about everyone who has watched him play, including myself, believes he’s the real deal.
Bradford, meanwhile, is prospering in Minnesota. Last year, he took the worst beating I’ve seen a quarterback take since Ron Jaworski behind a decimated Vikings offensive line, yet still managed to complete an NFL-record 71.6 percent of his passes and had a plus-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If you want to suggest that completion percentage was inflated by a lot of checkdown throws, well, he still managed to finish 19th in yards per attempt (7.02).
Last Monday, in the Vikings’ season-opening 29-19 win over the Saints, Bradford put on one of the most impressive displays of accuracy I’ve seen in years, completing 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Now, I’m not foolish enough to sit here and tell you Howie Roseman made a mistake last year when he decided to gamble the future on Wentz. I like the kid. I think he can be a franchise quarterback.
My reservation at the time was that I didn’t think the move was necessary. They went fishing for a franchise quarterback, and I felt they already had one in Bradford, who, at 28, still had eight-plus years of high-level football left in him. After watching him play since he left, I believe that more strongly than ever.
At the time, I thought the Eagles’ decision to draft Wentz was driven by arrogance. I thought Roseman was trying to purge the organization of everything that had Chip Kelly’s fingerprints on it, including the quarterback Chip traded for.
I was mistaken. Maybe there was some of that. But I’ve come to realize that the decision to go up and get Wentz and part ways with Bradford was motivated mostly by other factors.
There were lingering concerns about Bradford’s injury history (two ACL tears), even though he had made 14 starts in 2015.
The Eagles were intrigued by Wentz’s athleticism and his Aaron Rodgers-like ability to extend plays, which he displayed last week on his impressive 58-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor and his 23-yard fourth-quarter throw to Zach Ertz, both of which came after he escaped the Redskins’ rush and got outside.
Bradford is in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks in accuracy, decision-making and ball-protection, but not mobility.
While Bradford was still young, Wentz was younger. The bigger the Super Bowl window of opportunity the better for the Eagles.
Assuming they were right about him, Wentz gives them a guy who could be their starting quarterback for the next 15-plus years, as opposed to Bradford’s eight or nine.
Perhaps most important of all, Wentz gave them a quarterback who wouldn’t be taking up a lot of salary-cap space for a while, which would allow the Eagles to address other needs.
Wentz’s salary-cap numbers over the next three seasons are $6.1 million, $7.3 million and $8.5 million. Bradford’s cap number this year is $18 million. And he’s eligible to become a free agent next March.
Bradford played well for the Eagles two years ago once he regained confidence in his surgically-repaired left knee and got in sync with his receivers. In his last seven starts in 2015, he had a 97.4 passer rating, which was the eighth best in the league in the second half of the season.
He set single-season franchise records for completions (which was broken last year by Wentz) and completion percentage (65.0), despite the fact that his receivers had a league-high 50 drops.
And he became one of the team’s locker room leaders.
The Eagles gave up a lot to get Wentz. While they got back the 2017 first-round pick they included in the trade-up deal with Cleveland when they moved Bradford to the Vikings, they lost their first- third- and fourth-round picks in the ’16 draft and a second-rounder next year. Those are a lot of building blocks that theoretically would’ve helped improve the cast around Bradford.
Again, I’m not suggesting the Eagles made a mistake last year when they traded up for Wentz and parted ways with Bradford. If the kid leads them to a Super Bowl in the next few years, well, no one will remember what they gave up to get him.
If Bradford ends up leading the Vikings or some other team to a Super Bowl before then, well, at the very least, it’ll make for some interesting conversation.
13 not unlucky for Eagles
Three-tight end sets typically are used in short-yardage and goal-line situations to give the offense an extra run-blocker. But because of the versatility of their three tight ends – Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Trey Burton – the Eagles have had extraordinary success throwing out of “13’’ personnel (1 RB, 3 TEs, 1 WR) since Doug Pederson’s arrival.
Last year, the Eagles used “13’’ personnel on 115 of 1,080 offensive plays (10.6%). Ran out of it 75 times, but threw out of it 40 times.
Carson Wentz had a 120.8 passer rating in “13’’ personnel last season, completing 30 of 39 passes for 291 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and just one sack.
The Eagles used “13’’ personnel eight times in Sunday’s 30-17 win over the Redskins. Ran the ball just twice out of it and threw six times. Wentz was 5-for-6 for 45 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
His 1-yard scoring toss to running back LeGarrette Blount came with “13’’ personnel on the field. So did his second-quarter interception that Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan returned for a touchdown.
Defenses usually stay in their base package against “13’’ personnel, which creates mismatches in the passing game for a team like the Eagles that can trot out Ertz, Celek, Burton, running back Darren Sproles and a wideout (Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor or Torrey Smith) against a base look.
“We have three really good tight ends and are very effective with that personnel,’’ Ertz said. “[Wentz’s passing numbers in ‘13’ personnel] speaks to the type of players we have in the tight end room. It’s a deep room. We take a lot of pride in that personnel [package] in particular.’’
On Sunday, Ertz had a team-high eight catches for 93 yards against the Redskins. Interestingly, none of them came in “13’’ personnel. Four, including the 23-yard scramble-drill catch on third-and-10 in the fourth quarter, were with “11’’ personnel [1 RB, 1TE, 3WRs], three were with “12’’ [1RB, 2TEs] and one was with “21’’ [2RBs, 1TE].
Three of Wentz’s five completions in “13’’ Sunday were to running backs (the TD to Blount and two to Sproles; his interception, which was deflected at the line of scrimmage, also was intended for Sproles). A fourth was to wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Just one actually went to a tight end (Celek).
Figuring the Eagles
— Carson Wentz attempted six passes of 20 or more yards against the Redskins, completing just one – the 58-yard scramble-drill touchdown throw to a wide-open Nelson Agholor. The targets on the five incompletions: Torrey Smith (2), Alshon Jeffery (2) and Agholor (1). Last year, Wentz had six or more attempts of 20-plus yards in just three games – Week 9 vs. the Giants (4-for-12), Week 11 vs. Seattle (1-for-6) and Week 13 vs. Cincinnati (1-for-6). Wentz attempted a total of 67 passes of 20 yards or more last season, completing 21 (31.3%). He had six TDs and seven INTs on deep balls.
— While he threw long a lot Sunday, he also threw short a lot. Wentz attempted nine passes behind the line of scrimmage (completed seven, including the 1-yard TD to LeGarrette Blount). He had that many last year in just three games (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, the first Dallas game).
— The Eagles blitzed on 13 of 44 pass plays Sunday (29.5%). That’s considerably higher than their 2016 season average (21.1%), but considerably lower than the previous time they faced Kirk Cousins and the Redskins in Week 14 of the 2016 season, when they blitzed on 13 of 23 pass plays (56.5%). Four of the Eagles’ 13 blitzes were with either seven (2) or eight (2) rushers. Last year, Jim Schwartz rushed seven or eight a total of 11 times the entire season.
— LeGarrette Blount ran the ball four times Sunday in 3-yards-or-less-to-go situations. He converted just one of them. Lost 2 yards on a third-and-1. Gained 4 yards and the Eagles’ only rushing first down on a second-and-4 in the first quarter. Gained two yards on a first-and-goal at the three. And gained 2 yards on a third-and-3 late in the fourth quarter that forced the Eagles to settle for Caleb Sturgis’ third field goal.
— That one rushing first down the Eagles had on Sunday was their fewest in a game since 2014, when they also had only one in a 26-21 loss to the 49ers. The Eagles ran the ball just 12 times in that game. They ran it 24 times against the Redskins.
— Last year, the only quarterbacks in the league with a worse third-down passer rating than Carson Wentz (67.0) were Blake Bortles (57.5) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (55.9). Through the first week of his second season, Wentz finds himself leading the league in third-down passing (158.3) after completing nine of 11 passes for 148 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and one sack against the Redskins. Eight of the Eagles’ 14 third-down situations against Washington were 8 yards or more. But they managed to convert four of them into first downs. Wentz completed five of seven passes for 123 yards and a TD on third-and-8-plus. Last year, he was 42-for-80 for 561 yards, one TD, three interceptions, seven sacks and just 19 first downs in third-and-8-plus situations.
Added role for Big V
Before he replaced injured Jason Peters at left tackle late in the second quarter Sunday, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, played seven snaps as the second tight end in some “12’’ personnel (1RB, 2TEs, 2WRs) packages, and an eighth as the fourth tight end in a goal-line package.
Last year, the Eagles often used guard Isaac Seumalo as a third tight end in some “13’’ personnel (3 TEs) packages. Seumalo is the starting left guard this season. Vaitai is being groomed to be the starting right tackle when Jason Peters eventually hangs up his cleats and Lane Johnson moves to left tackle.
“Being the tight end helps me a lot [in learning how] to set the edge,’’ said Vaitai, who started six games as a rookie at right tackle during Johnson’s 10-game PED suspension. “It also helps me to understand more of the offense in terms of personnel.
“When I was at right tackle, I didn’t even know what some of the formations were. But now, I’m starting to understand more and more details. It’s great for me [in helping] to train my eyes. So that when I go to left tackle or right tackle, it’ll be easier.’’
From the lip
— “We’ll bounce back. We just need to slow down. Everybody take a breath.’’ – Giants QB Eli Manning on the widespread fan and media panic after his team managed to score just three points in their season-opening loss to the Cowboys
— “There’s a strong, strong case of self-selection bias there. And that cannot be ignored. I can’t say that I know that for certain that it’s self-selection bias. But my instincts tell me that it’s extremely, extremely likely.’’ – Retired NFL offensive lineman and MIT PhD student John Urschel questioning the veracity of a recent study that suggested 99 percent of the players in the NFL will get CTE
— “Every time I see my wife, I try to kiss her like it’s the first time we ever met. Every time I play with my daughters, I try to hold them like they were just born. Because I don’t know. And the situation right there just made it a reality for me that. . . it could happen at any moment.’’ – Seahawks DE Michael Bennett on how his encounter with Las Vegas police, which he said included having a gun pointed at his head, has affected him
By the numbers
— Lions QB Matthew Stafford, who led his team back from a two-point deficit in the fourth quarter Sunday to beat Arizona, has 27 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since 2011. That’s the most by any QB in the league during that period.
— Browns LT Joe Thomas not only has started every game in his career. He also hasn’t missed a single snap. Thomas has started 161 straight games and has played 9,996 straight snaps since the Browns selected him with the third overall pick in the 2007 draft.
— Last week, 10 of the league’s 15 games were played in less than three hours. It’s the first time that many games got done in less than three hours since Week 17 of the ’09 season.
— The Jaguars, who had 10 sacks and a defensive touchdown in their 29-7 Week 1 win over Houston, are just the second team in NFL history with at least 10 sacks and a defensive touchdown in a season-opening game. The Los Angeles Raiders did it in 1985.
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