Wentz, Rivera pleased with QB's debut, but there is room to grow originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The beginning of the Carson Wentz era in Washington looked far too similar to years past.
The Commanders' first offensive drive during Saturday's preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers resulted in a three-and-out. Washington's second possession lasted just four plays, too, as running back Antonio Gibson -- who led non-QBs with six fumbles in 2021 -- coughed up the football.
Neither of those drive failures should be pinned on Wentz, though. And on the Commanders' third offensive series, the 29-year-old led Washington on a 14-play, 82-yard drive -- albeit against Carolina's second-team defense -- that was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by rookie Brian Robinson Jr.
That type of drive was exactly what head coach Ron Rivera wanted to see from his new quarterback, as Wentz's day was done following Robinson's touchdown run.
"I thought he threw the ball well. I thought he threw where he was supposed to," Rivera said postgame. "He threw a very catchable ball and delivered it on time. I thought he went through his progressions the way he needed to. I thought he handled the huddle well. I thought he got the calls out. He did the things we hoped he would do."
Rivera praised the Commanders' starting offensive line for their performance protecting Wentz. Washington's new QB1 did not get sacked once. Behind a clean pocket, Rivera said Wentz "threw the ball effectively."
Speaking with reporters postgame, Wentz was still a bit bothered by the team's first two drives -- which should only be taken as a good sign. Wentz expects more out of the unit, even if it was just the first preseason game. Wentz was pleased with his final drive of the day, though, and he should be.
"It wasn’t perfect, but it was good to get our feet wet offensively for one," Wentz said. "[It was a] slower start unfortunately but I thought that third drive was good for us to get out there and stay on the field and convert some third downs and finish in the end zone."
During that 14-play touchdown drive, Wentz connected with four different receivers -- Robinson, Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and J.D. McKissic. Wentz spread the ball well throughout the day and looked confident throwing it, too.
"I thought it was good," Wentz said on the scoring drive. "Just coming out and moving the ball, whether we were calling plays down the field -- there's a couple down the field that maybe I want back -- but even though we were calling the plays down the field, we were finding guys underneath and we were moving the chains. I thought that was important for us and there's a lot we can learn from it. I’m sure we’ll go back and watch the tape. I thought that third drive was important for us to sustain a drive and pick up some third downs."
Perhaps the most promising part of the touchdown drive Wentz led was just how comfortable he looked. After all, Wentz is still in a new offensive system and Saturday was his first time trying to execute Scott Turner's offense in a game setting.
So even though Wentz's first two drives were quick, that final possession allowed both the QB and his offensive coordinator to get in a rhythm, convert some third downs and ultimately finish the drive with six points.
"There are definitely things you can get from each of these games to go against another opponent," Wentz said. "You see your guys over and over and over from OTAs to training camp, it’s good to come out and get a little pedometer to see where you’re at offensively but also, see some new plays and concepts against not the same coverages over and over. I thought that was good for us."
When assessing Wentz's overall play, Rivera was pleased in another area besides the overall offensive execution during the QB's final drive. Rivera felt Wentz had excellent command of the huddle during all three drives, which is a promising sign considering, once again, that it was his first time in live-action running Turner's system.
"They got into a really good rhythm as far as Scott play calling," Rivera said. "You can almost see Carson anticipating it as he was getting the call, step right into the huddle and really just take command of it, spit it out, and then get to the line. We weren't close to [any] delay of games, we weren't running out of play clock time and that told me that we had a really good day."
Wentz's performance Saturday afternoon was a promising sign for all parties, but both the quarterback and his coaches know there's still plenty of room for improvement. Rivera saw what he needed to see from Wentz in the preseason opener. Now, they have just under a month to continue making strides before the games actually count.
"It was fun, no doubt," Wentz said. "I feel like it's been forever since I’ve played in a preseason game. So, that was good to just get my feet wet as well kind of get the first time out there jitters out of the way -- whatever you want to call them. I think that was important. We’ll be ready once Week 1 rolls around here.”