What Should We Take Away From Carson Wentz's NFL Debut?
Week 1 is always exciting in the NFL because of the new beginnings. We wait eight long months between the end Super Bowl and the start of the regular season for any game that matters.
That feeling is intensified when those new beginnings involve a rookie -- especially a rookie quarterback.
At this point, we all know how the Eagles got to this place -- first the trade up to draft Wentz, then the trade away of Sam Bradford to cement the North Dakota State product as the starter. So there he was at 1:00 pm ready to make the start for the Eagles after appearing in only one preseason game due to a rib injury.
But experience -- whether it be from limited competition at the FCS level in college or little time to prepare in the NFL -- didn’t seem to matter as Wentz put together an impressive performance.
Philadelphia fans are ecstatic, while some in Ohio -- at least the media -- are already wondering if the Cleveland Browns made the wrong decision passing on the quarterback. Now that we’re two days removed from the game, let’s take a closer look at the rookie’s debut and what we should take away from his play.
By the Numbers
By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Wentz shouldn’t be crowned with savior status just yet.
Wentz’s Passing NEP per drop back on Sunday was 0.26, which certainly isn’t bad (the league average was 0.11 last season) but was also only tied for 11th among quarterbacks in Week 1. The reaction coming out of Wentz’s game would make one think he was the leading passer of the day, but that wasn’t the case.
Wentz had a day that was statistically similar to Andy Dalton’s, who was 23 of 30 for 366 yards with a touchdown and an interception. However Wentz’s Success Rate -- the percentage of plays yielding positive NEP -- was 46.2 percent, which was just 21st among quarterbacks in Week 1.
Wentz did significantly outplay fellow rookie Dak Prescott, who had 0.16 Passing NEP per drop back for the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants. He also appeared in a game, which placed him well ahead of number-one overall pick Jared Goff.
The Eagles didn’t try to gimmick around their rookie quarterback, but they did try to get him in a favorable position. Early on, they did this by trying to establish the run. On four of Philadelphia’s six first half drives, the Eagles opened with a run on first down. That shifted late in the game as Wentz got more comfortable -- four of the six drives in the second half opened with a pass. It’s a small factor, but it plays a role in setting the tone for the series.
It’s also fair to mention this game should probably be graded on a slight curve against the Cleveland defense, which might be this year’s worst in the league. Last season, the Browns' defense ranked 24th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, but it’s a unit that has lost players such as Tashaun Gipson and Karlos Dansby.
They have been replaced by young players, which fits Cleveland’s rebuilding plan, but does not favor performance early in 2016. But just because the Browns are bad doesn’t mean everything Wentz did should be discounted.
There were some hiccups that might prove to be problems against tougher defenses, but there were plays that should inspire confidence in the future.
To the Tape
The two best throws of Wentz’s day came on his two touchdown passes, which aren’t the worst places to make the best throws. Philadelphia’s first drive of the game was capped off with a 19-yard touchdown to Jordan Matthews. Matthews ran a fade from the slot on the left side of the formation and Wentz had perfect ball placement over cornerback Tramon Williams. This was a great play, basically won at the snap. (Video courtesy NFL Game Pass.)
While the first score was exciting because it came so early in the game, Wentz’s second touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor should be what brings the most hope for the future.
The Eagles lined up three wide with a running back and tight end in the backfield. Agholor was against Joe Haden wide on the right side of the field. At the snap Agholor, took one stutter step inside before sprinting to the outside and down the field. He had the advantage, and Wentz knew, as he started to release the ball when his receiver and the defender were still about even before crossing the 25-yard line.
It’s another perfect throw where only Agholor could get the ball, and it shows an early trust the quarterback has in him to get open.
Where Wentz really wins that play, though, is his initial process when the ball is snapped. Wentz kept his eyes down the middle of the field, which drew the safety toward the middle and away from Agholor and Haden. By the time Wentz turned his head to release the ball, the safety had already drifted too far away -- single coverage was guaranteed on the outside.
Even on some of Wentz’s great throws, there were either causes for concern or areas for improvement -- depending on how you want to look at them. The following play is on a third down early in the third quarter.
The Browns send five rushers, but the Eagles do a good job of pass protection. Wentz waited for Jordan Matthews to cross the middle of the field and delivered a heck of a strike into a small window.
The concern here is Wentz’s position in the pocket. While the Eagles picked up the rush, the quarterback stooed pretty flat-footed with no movement before releasing the ball. Ideally, a quarterback would step up in this situation, especially with no defenders in front of him.
Wentz, instead, stayed close to the nearest defender, and it’s possible a better pass rusher could have gotten to him before releasing the ball. As it was, Wentz took a hit after he got the pass off when he didn’t have to be in that position.
One of the concerns with Wentz coming into the NFL was his ability to handle pressure. He didn’t get tested much against the Browns, but he did occasionally miss passes long when a pass rusher was getting close.
Starting Monday, we’ll learn more about Wentz and how he handles tougher NFL defenses, but the early returns on his first start were promising.