The box score is lying on Carson Wentz as he's not to blame for Eagles’ underwhelming start

By Anthony Treash

If you looked at the basic box score statistics of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz through Week 6, you’d find him ranked 26th in completion percentage, 26th in yards per attempt and 18th in passer rating. Then you’d notice the Eagles’ 3-3 record, and would likely assume Wentz was the primary reason for the early struggles in Philly.

This, however, is not even close to the case.

Through PFF’s player grades and advanced database that is utilized by all 32 NFL teams, we can see the game clearer and cut the b.s. out. With that said, the Eagles entered the season as co-favorites with the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears to come out of the NFC (via Westgate SuperBook) – and if Wentz isn’t to blame for their mediocre start, who is?

We’ll answer that question, but first, let’s address how great Wentz has been in 2019.

A cursory perusal of the box score hints that Carson Wentz is the reason the Eagles are struggling. A deeper dive doesn't back that up whatsoever. (Getty)
A cursory perusal of the box score hints that Carson Wentz is the reason the Eagles are struggling. A deeper dive doesn't back that up whatsoever. (Getty)

Carson Wentz is a top-three QB

Through six weeks, Carson Wentz is PFF’s second highest-graded quarterback at 90.6 (one-tenth behind Seattle’s Russell Wilson). By limiting the turnover-worthy plays (2.8 percent rate, ninth of 32 qualifying quarterbacks) and by making jaw-dropping, big-time throws (6.1 percent rate, seventh of 32), Wentz had been nothing short of elite to start the year.

Moreover, Wentz is working with one of the league’s top play-callers in Doug Pederson, who comes straight from the Andy Reid coaching tree. In this system, you’ll see a lot of run-pass options (RPOs), a balanced 2x2 attack, personnel packages that’ll almost always have just one running back on the field, and a decent amount of play-action.

When running out of play-action, the Eagles’ offense ranks third in expected points added (EPA) per pass play and Wentz has recorded the second-highest passing grade at 91.5. (For the layman, EPA puts yards gained on a play into context like down, distance and field position to best measure per-play efficiency.) Nonetheless, Wentz is thriving in one of the league’s most efficient offenses.

When PFF studies quarterback play, one of the biggest indicators of how good an individual really is as a passer is their performance on throws of 10-plus yards. In Wentz’s case in 2019, he has been as precise as they come on downfield throws, ranking second only to Aaron Rodgers in PFF passing grade. Along with that, Wentz has the fourth-lowest rate of uncatchable passes thrown 10-plus yards and has thrown the fifth-most big-time throws with 13. Safe to say, Wentz is a sharp passer.

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While passing performance under duress is a volatile area as opposed to passing from a clean pocket, it’s a great metric to consider when examining if a quarterback can create outside of structure. Wentz’s passing grade from a clean pocket is still very good relative to his counterparts, ranking sixth overall. However, his best play is in situations when hit with pressure. Currently, there are only three quarterbacks to record a passing grade above 70 when under pressure: Wilson at 87.5, Wentz at 83.0 and Rodgers at 76.7. That’s pretty good company.

When examining the dropbacks when his first read wasn’t there and he was forced to look elsewhere, the great results still held for Wentz. On those plays, Wentz’s 85.2 passing grade ranks third, his five big-time throws rank tied for second (with Tom Brady), his 11.4 percent uncatchable pass rate ranks first, and his 77.6 percent of yards being in air ranks first.

PFF metrics put Carson Wentz in elite status among NFL quarterbacks.
PFF metrics put Carson Wentz in elite status among NFL quarterbacks.

Eagles’ once-touted receivers have hindered offense

Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

“Sunday Night Football,” Week 2. Falcons 24, Eagles 20. Fourth quarter, one minute and 58 seconds left on the clock. Philadelphia’s ball on its 42, second-and 2.

Wentz, operating out of shotgun in a 2x2 set with a running back to his left, hikes the ball and immediately looks to his left to Nelson Agholor who is out wide, face-to-face with Atlanta’s Isaiah Oliver in press coverage. Agholor toasts Oliver with an outside go route, obtaining wide-open separation down the sideline and looks clear for the go-ahead touchdown. But Agholor subsequently drops the pass and forces the Eagles to keep driving in a game they’d ultimately lose.

This is one of several prime examples of Philadelphia’s receiving unit coming up short in a game-changing situation. Overall on the year, this Eagles receiving corps is responsible for the most drops among all offenses with 17 and most fumbles lost with three. The case of the butterfingers didn’t just hit one receiver, either. Every single Eagle to receive a target in 2019 has dropped at least one ball, and the five wide receivers/tight ends to get at least 10 catchable targets from Wentz each have multiple drops.

Nelson Agholor and the Eagles' receivers have had a case of the drops this season. (AP)
Nelson Agholor and the Eagles' receivers have had a case of the drops this season. (AP)

These drops haven’t just been in tight separation or contested catch situations either. Nine of the 17 Philadelphia drops have come when the receiver has a step or more of separation from the nearest coverage defender. On those targets, the unit as a whole ranks 27th in PFF receiving grade. On the targets with a tight window for Wentz to throw into (less than a step of separation), the Eagles’ receivers are 30th and have caught an abysmal 68.4 percent of their catchable targets (28th among offenses).

All in all, these receiving woes are spread throughout the skill positions. Wentz is dealing with a group of receivers that ranks 29th in percentage of catchable targets caught, 27th in contested catch rate and 29th in yards after catch per reception generated.

The box score will never tell you that.

Eagles’ secondary is a liability

This Eagles secondary wasn’t looking good entering the season (PFF ranked the unit 21st in the league), but after injuries ransacked the group during the first few weeks of 2019, it’s stamping its mark as one of the worst in the NFL. No disrespect to Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, but this Eagles secondary got lit up in Week 6 by a quarterback who had to publicly apologize to his star receiver for his poor play – partly due to his league-worst 0.627 EPA per pass attempt.

Last week was the worst of it for the Eagles. They have been giving up big play after big play throughout the 2019 season. Let’s exclude all the shallow, underneath passes and take into account only the deep throws of 20-plus yards. On those throws, the Eagles rank 27th in team coverage grade and have given up the third-most touchdowns with six. Teams recognize Philly’s weakness and attack them with vertical routes, resulting in the fifth-most yards (438) given up on those routes.

As a result of their inability to cover downfield, Philly’s opponents are passing the ball far more than running it. Henceforth, the Eagles’ coverage on receivers in the slot and out wide is crucial to defensive success. Once again, Philadelphia comes up short in this category. On targets to the slot or out wide, the Eagles have given 0.376 EPA per pass attempt, ranking 26th among defenses. Along with that, they’ve given up an absurdly high passer rating of 101.7 (22nd) on slot or wide targets, and also 11 touchdowns (tied for second-most) and 14.1 yards per catch (tied for 27th).

Led by interior defensive lineman Fletcher Cox and edge rusher Brandon Graham, the Eagles’ pass rush has been one of the best in the league, generating the highest rate of pressure in the NFL by over 2 percent.

A defense’s coverage when the pass rush is unable to get pressure on the quarterback can make or break a team. In Philadelphia’s case, it’s a massive cause for concern. Against opposing quarterbacks with clean pockets, the Eagles have allowed a 116.7 passer rating (26th) and 0.442 EPA per pass attempt (28th).

The Eagles’ coverage as a team has been effective in defending the quick pass game. It’s their coverage on the longer-developing plays that is ultimately holding this team back. On plays when the time to throw is 2.6 seconds or longer, Philadelphia ranks 29th in coverage grade while giving up a 117.2 passer rating (26th). Also, their nine touchdowns on these plays are tied for 30th-worst in the NFL, and their 4.8 percent forced incompletion rate ranks dead last.

Final thoughts on Carson Wentz, Eagles

The Eagles have certainly been one of the more underwhelming teams of 2019. They head to Dallas in Week 7 for Sunday night sitting at .500, and it won’t get any easier for them as they’ll face Buffalo, Chicago, New England and Seattle in the weeks following. The box score will point to Wentz being the issue, but PFF data says the complete opposite.

Right now in PFF grade, Philadelphia ranks second in pass offense, sixth in pass-blocking, first in run-blocking and sixth in pass rush. In the other two phases that are vital to team success in receiving and coverage, Philly ranks among the league’s worst (28th in receiving and 20th in coverage).

Carson Wentz is not the problem. In fact, if he keeps up this elite level of play, it’d be inane for him to not be considered for MVP at the end of the season.

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