Week 3 fantasy football metrics notebook: Carson Wentz has been a problem — but there are signs of hope
1 - Eagles are crazy pass-heavy at 63 percent on early downs in positive scripts (4+ point lead)
Philadelphia is in turmoil after an injury-riddled 0-2 start. Losing to the Washington Football Team and getting completely outclassed by the Rams to start your season is not what you want to see.
The worst part about it is that the Eagles have set up an offense that should be conducive to success in the modern NFL. Philadelphia throws the ball at a 63-percent rate on early downs in positive situations when they’re playing with a lead. If you throw out the Giants (who registered just one play in the qualifying situation), no team has been more pass-heavy on early downs. It’s clear they want to kick teams around through the air. That makes sense considering they played without their starting running back in Week 1 but it’s also how you win in today’s league.
Such an approach also creates efficient passing opportunities for your quarterback. That’s been the case so far in Philly. Carson Wentz boasts the ninth-highest expected completion percentage, per Next Gen Stats. Making life easier on your quarterback is the name of the game.
Yet, the results have been horrific.
The team sports a hideous seven percent success rate on early down passes in positive situations. That represents a complete and total failure. Philadelphia can certainly claim some bad injury luck. Their first-round pick, Jalen Reagor, was meant to fill a big hole at wide receiver but he was hurt in camp and is now an IR candidate after his latest injury (a UCL tear). The offensive line is now down multiple starters.
However, that would be letting the biggest issue off the hook. The Eagles problem so far here in 2020 is their quarterback playing well below his own standards. You can see it in just about every metric. His completion percentage is 8.8 percentage points below expectations (NGS), which is higher than only Dwayne Haskins among quarterbacks this year.
And it gets worse.
The Eagles starter ranks 32nd in adjusted yards per attempt. Just a reminder: There are 32 starting quarterback spots in the NFL. While I think adjusted yards per attempt is a great way to evaluate quarterback play from a metrics perspective, you can argue teammates influence some of the raw stats that go into it. To make it more clear, Wentz ranks 27th in “on-target throw rate” per SportsRadar.
That’s just it. Wentz isn’t making the throws he should. He’s stacking bad habits onto an already problematic situation behind a banged-up offensive line. When asked about why his quarterback was regressing this deep into his career, coach Doug Pederson offered an ... interesting response:
Doug Pederson when asked why Carson Wentz is regressing in Year 5.
"It's a good question."
Yes, it is.
— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) September 21, 2020
Pederson’s response is essentially an admission of reality; Wentz’s play through two weeks does represent a regression of what we expect out of this one-time MVP-level player.
Does that mean we should panic? Not yet.
We know Wentz is a good quarterback. He has enough on his resume to cut him some slack two games coming on the tail of the weirdest offseason of a generation. Wentz could easily turn things around at any point, perhaps starting here in Week 3 in a cake matchup against a miserable Bengals defense. He could absolutely leave the “adjusted yards per attempt basement” by this time next week.
[Week 3 Fantasy Rankings: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | FLEX | DST | Kickers]
With all that said and true, we can still admit he’s been the biggest reason they sit at 0-2 and have pessimism running through their halls. Both things can be true. Franchise quarterbacks at Wentz’s level are supposed to elevate the conditions around them, not consistently fall victim to a decline in said conditions.
What’s also true is that, given how Philadelphia is calling pass-first, modern football gameplans for the high-end talent on the roster like Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, and Miles Sanders, if and when Wentz does reroute his season, the Eagles could be set up as one of the most productive offenses in the league.
They just need their quarterback to get there.
2 - Bottom-5 teams in passing rate on early downs
28) Cleveland Browns - 43%
29) New Orleans Saints - 42%
30) Baltimore Ravens - 41%
31) Los Angeles Chargers - 38%
32) Los Angeles Rams - 36%
Several of these teams are surprising. We know that the Ravens are going to build their entire offense around the foundation brought on by their mobile quarterback. The team has also received strong contributions from their trio of backs in Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, and yes, even Gus Edwards. They have 4.4 yards per carry on those plays.
The Chargers and Browns are also not unexpected names here but this is good news. Cleveland might legitimately have two top-10 NFL backs on their roster. We’ve seen both extremes with this duo. In a game where the Browns were wrecked by Baltimore, they split a minuscule pie. In Week 2, their team controlled the action, and Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt both shined. The Browns can win a lot of games playing on script No. 2.
The Chargers would like to boast that they have an ascending duo, as well. Los Angeles’ success rate of 54 percent on early down run plays actually bests both Baltimore and Cleveland. Austin Ekeler and rookie Joshua Kelly are both averaging 17.5 carries per game and saw some targets with Justin Herbert under center. Ekeler, however, has run far more routes (44 to 13). The electric Ekeler remains the superior all-around player and lead back but with this type of play-calling, both should receive plenty of work.
The Rams as the most run-heavy team are interesting here because, on balance, it looks like their offense is back to functioning at peak efficiency. While most of us have been losers here in 2020, Sean McVay looks like he’s one of the clear winners. The Rams are the third-ranked offense in the league by Football Outsiders’ DVOA and much of it is based on what they’re doing as a ground attack combined with re-introducing layup throws for Jared Goff. This is a reminder that while it’s tough, we need to try to solve this backfield committee on a weekly basis. There is too much value here to pass up.
3 - Is Drew Brees cooked?
The fifth team on the above list really caught my attention, because it made me wonder: Are the Saints having the same conversation internally about Drew Brees as we are on the outside?
It’s hard to deny that, based on the eye test, Brees certainly appears to have lost a step. It’s showing up in the data, as well. We know he finished 2019 white-hot from an efficiency perspective. According to SportRadar, he was the most accurate passer of last year with an 81 percent rate. He’s not a total disaster in 2020 but we’ve seen a drop to 14th in the NFL. This accuracy dropoff remains the case despite Brees ranking dead last in air yards per attempt. It’s not exactly like he’s being asked to push the ball downfield.
So far, the Brees decline has been good news for Alvin Kamara’s production, as he leads all running backs in both catches (14) and yards (146). Still, given that the Saints rank 13th in offensive DVOA, they’ll need their defense to step up if they want to make one last Brees-led run to the Super Bowl.
4 - Momentum in Washington for players we want
From purely a fantasy perspective, it’s been so far, so good for the players we care about in Washington’s pass-friendly offense. You might just have to dig for the signals.
Logan Thomas was the star of Week 1 and while he didn’t smash in the box score against the Cardinals, the role was still there. Right now, Thomas trails only Darren Waller and Travis Kelce in targets among tight ends. He’s also one of nine tight ends to run 30-plus routes per game with 19.5 per game coming in the slot.
Terry McLaurin, on the other hand, did smash against the Cardinals with over 120 yards and a score. All the numbers are there for this to continue. He holds a 27 percent share of Washington’s targets and has run 34.5 routes per game. With a healthy 10.6 air yards per target figure, he’s getting used in all areas of the field.
It’s been much quieter for Antonio Gibson than his biggest backers may have hoped but keep the candle lit. Gibson saw a boost in his snaps and routes run last week. Most importantly, he’s shining with his chances. Only Josh Jacobs has broken more tackles than Gibson (11) so far this season. It’s coming.
5 - Periphery metrics for Allen Robinson are strong
The results have been middling for Allen Robinson so far with just eight catches for 107 yards through two games. I’d argue that you shouldn’t be so quick to whine over 53.5 yards per game with a wide receiver through just two weeks but hey, let’s indulge it.
Nothing in Robinson’s profile suggests you should panic. Robinson has nine targets in back-to-back games, good for a 28.1 percent share of Mitchell Trubisky’s throws. Only 10 pass catchers have handled more than that. He’s also been involved in scoring areas with a 21.4 percent share of the team’s red-zone targets. Lastly, he ranks eighth in the NFL in air yards. All of that usage speaks to a top-end wideout in fantasy once variance swings back his way.
Go trade for him in fantasy before watching him smash this week.