Analysis

Quick Slants: Will Carson Wentz Ever Get His Groove Back?

In Quick Slants, former NFL team executive Joe Banner provides a unique perspective each week on the NFL, its players and coaches. This week, he takes on multiple topics, including:

But first, a look at a struggling quarterback in Washington who appears as if he might never get his groove back …

 

I’ve been a sports fan since before I can remember and had the opportunity to work in the NFL for 20 years, and I still find Carson Wentz’s career path to be the strangest and hardest thing to explain.

Wentz never played big-time college football, yet becomes the second pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. At the time, I actually thought it was a reasonable selection for the Eagles. I thought they traded a little too much (three top-100 picks in 2016, a first-round pick in 2017 and a second-round pick in 2018) to move up to No. 2, but I believed they were making the right move to solidify the quarterback position. 

Drafted out of North Dakota State, Wentz arrived in Philadelphia and suffered a hairline rib fracture in the Eagles’ first exhibition game. He missed almost the entire preseason and started the first real game of the year …  and immediately played well. 

Think about that. We worry about quarterbacks after two or three years in the league being ready to start and read defenses, and Wentz – the highest-drafted FCS player ever – steps right in after missing almost the entire preseason and plays really well as a rookie. He came back his second year and played so well that he was a major part of the MVP conversation before suffering an ACL injury that ended his season prematurely.

Fast forward five years and Wentz is on his third team in three seasons, just got sacked nine times on Sunday and his team was shut out until the final minutes of the fourth quarter by the club that drafted him.

Frankly, that’s the way he’s played all three games this season. He performed decently in the Commanders’ Week 1 victory against Jacksonville (27 of 41 for 313 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT), so the optics make it look like he played well. Then, he played terribly in Week 2 in Detroit until the Commanders were so far behind that it didn’t matter. And on Sunday, facing a team that plays aggressively on defense and one I thought Wentz would be highly motivated to beat, he turned in one of the worst games we’ve ever seen from an NFL quarterback (25 of 43 for 211 yards, 0 TD and 9 sacks, with more than half of the yards coming in the fourth quarter).

When you watch the film, you see how many times these sacks are on him. Now, I’m not big on blaming quarterbacks for sacks because they often avoid them and save offensive linemen almost as often as they hold onto the ball too long. But in this case, he’s repeatedly double-clutching and clearly has absolutely no feel for when the pocket is collapsing, or when a particular player is getting close to him, which are traits shared by all good quarterbacks.

He just doesn’t seem to process what the defense is doing, and it showed against the Eagles when he had enough time to decide where to throw the ball.

Carson Wentz This Season

Successful NFL quarterbacks do two things: one, they process what a defense is doing quickly, and two, they make decisive choices on where to go with the ball. As you watch the tape from Sunday, you see there are situations where, because he’s waiting for the wide receiver to finish his route, he’s allowing himself to get sacked when he doesn’t need to and missing opportunities to complete passes.

NFL offenses use so many motions and shifts before the ball is snapped in order to identify what type of coverage the defense is running on that particular play. Wentz needs to understand what the defense is trying to do as he goes through his progressions in order to anticipate where he should go with the ball.

Every play is designed to work against certain defenses, but the quarterback must anticipate who he is going to throw to before the snap. If he doesn’t, he ends up holding on to the ball too long, and the offensive line can’t sustain its blocks, leading to a sack.

You see situations with Wentz where you have open receivers down the seam or running curls, but because he’s not willing to release the ball until they actually are open, as opposed to anticipating where they will be, the pocket collapses, and he gets hit. He doesn’t have the quick processing to say, “I know where this linebacker or safety is going to be, and I’m just going to throw it to a spot and trust that the wide receiver will be there.”

He’s not doing that at all. He has not done that in five years.

You’ll also see plays where he takes the ball, looks like he’s about to throw, pulls it back down and then puts it back up again to throw. It’s like a little hitch he’s doing because at the last second, he’s seeing something that convinces him he’s better off not throwing. It is getting well beyond the ideal 2.5 seconds for the quarterback to release the ball that most plays are designed for. You see him do that repeatedly, and the Eagles’ defensive line obviously knew it going into the game, which allowed the defenders to pin their ears back on every play.

On one hand, I hate piling on Wentz. He’s been through three years of nonstop, relentless criticism. I can tell you that I’ve been around players who have gone through a similar experience, and it’s not easy on them. It feeds on itself, and that’s clearly what’s happening to Wentz here.

We have to remember that this is a player who, against all the odds as a rookie, performed extremely well and was an effective quarterback. But now – quite honestly – he shouldn’t even be starting in the NFL. I’m not even sure he should be in the NFL as a backup. You want to have somebody that you’re confident can come in for two, three, four games and hold their own and hopefully win some games. I don’t know if he can even do that right now.

The criticism here isn’t because he was sacked a career-high nine times on Sunday or has played poorly through three games. He played terribly in the last part of his career in Philadelphia. He played so badly last year the Colts chose to eat a huge amount of money after trading him, and replace him with a quarterback (Matt Ryan) who was paid a huge amount of money.

The most interesting part of all of this is the Commanders still didn’t know. Wentz has the arm talent to be a good NFL quarterback, the real question mark is whether he has the other intangibles needed to succeed. I don’t believe he does, and at this point in his career, I’m skeptical that it can be fixed.

Now, will he play better as we go forward throughout the season? Of course, he will. Probably more like he did in Week 1 or 2, which was fair at best. I don’t think he and offensive coordinator Scott Turner, both of whom I know fairly well, are a good match. I said that the day Washington traded for Wentz. Scott does not deal with players in a way that is conducive to giving Wentz the best chance of winning.

He needs a coach that can do that for him — guys like Frank Reich and Doug Pederson. Having also worked with Pederson, he and Scott are very different people and they run very different offenses.

We’ll see what happens. The Commanders are clearly committed to Wentz for the immediate future – which could only be a few more games – but there’s nothing in his history since those early years in 2016 and 2017 that signify he will actually play well or be deserving of a starting job for a team that actually thinks it has a chance to go a long way.

The Commanders’ problems are much deeper than Wentz, but without fixing their quarterback, they don’t really have a shot this year.

One-and-Done for Saints Coaching Staff?

The New Orleans Saints are a perfect example of a narrative that gets started, and it just sticks without any merit. To think everything was going to be the same by retaining both coordinators after losing Sean Payton is incredibly flawed thinking.

I worked with Payton in the late ’90s in Philadelphia. He is a difference-maker and a great coach. It shows a lack of awareness to think losing Payton and simply retaining offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael – who’s never called plays but has run parts of an offense that’s been one of the most successful in the NFL for a decade – would produce the same results.

Carmichael wasn’t even getting head-coaching interviews. Think about that. There is only a small number of coaches who don’t get interviews after being a part of a successful offense like the Saints. Add to that, New Orleans promoted Dennis Allen – who was unsuccessful during his stint as the Raiders’ coach from 2012-2014 (8-28 record) – and now you’re seeing the results. I don’t know what Allen said in his interview that made the Saints comfortable thinking the outcome would be different from what it was last time, but they look bad.

The offense is so conservative – it’s a waste of the receiving talent on that roster. All those picks they traded to select another wide receiver, Chris Olave, in the last draft are now a waste (even though Olave looks like he’ll be a very productive pro). The protection is terrible. The scheme is terrible. The defense doesn’t resemble what the defense used to look like just a few years ago. This is because people underestimate how much the head coach drives the philosophy of a team even if they have independent coordinators who are given a lot of flexibility.

I’m not in a wait-and-see with the Saints. I think we’re seeing what they are. The Eagles are off to a 3-0 start and look like they may be one of the better teams in the NFL while also holding the Saints’ first-round pick, thanks to a pre-draft trade that New Orleans made to take Olave 15th overall.

This is the second time in five years that they’ve traded a first-round pick away to move up for a player in the draft who turned out to be nowhere near as impactful as what they gave up for him – in 2018 they traded a first-rounder, fifth-rounder and a future first-round pick to move up 13 slots and select Marcus Davenport. That’s a slippery slope.

I don’t see the Saints turning it around anytime soon.

Winston and Wentz are One in the Same

Part of the Jameis Winston story is the Wentz story. He just keeps demonstrating who he is – a quarterback who plays very hard, has a great arm, throws the ball beautifully, but doesn’t obtain the key traits an NFL quarterback needs to have, such as quick decision-making, accuracy and true leadership.

In two different places, he’s played in multiple different schemes and systems, but it’s probably never going to work. Remember, Payton last year was only letting Winston throw 20-25 passes per game early in the season. That’s how little confidence he had in him. But somehow the conversation by the end of the year was that he could come back and be an effective starting quarterback for the Saints based on how well he played early last year.

Guess what? That ain’t working, and it’s on him. He has a good offensive line when not injured. He has as good a set of weapons as any team – if not better – with Jarvis Landry, Michael Thomas, and the rookie Olave.

His excuses have run out. He just does not have what it takes to lead a successful NFL team.

Where the Raiders Went Wrong

Some people have been waiting a while to see how Josh McDaniels would do in his second opportunity as a head coach, having had all the success he did in New England as an offensive coordinator under Bill Belichick and not being very successful in his first HC stint in Denver. I think everybody had high expectations this time.

However, anybody who has followed me knows that I would have been muted in my expectations, knowing that the one area the Raiders did not address effectively in the offseason was their offensive line. They are spending the second-least amount of money in the NFL on their O-line this season and recently cut OT Alex Leatherwood, their first-round pick in 2021. 

 

But their problems run deeper than that. I don’t think the issues are coach-related, but it’s too early to tell. I don’t think McDaniels is doing everything they hoped for, but he seems to be doing a solid job.

Not many people thought this would be an 0-3 team after adding Davante Adams and Chandler Jones. Yes, they had a tough schedule to start the season facing the Chargers, Cardinals and Titans. They’re going to win their fair share of games, but barring a huge win streak, I don’t think they can end up making a push for the playoffs that some are hoping for. Since 2000, only one team has made the playoffs after starting 0-3.

Not to mention, the AFC West is not the division you want to try to come from behind in.

Is the Grass Greener in Las Vegas?

The public tends to look forward instead of looking back at off-season moves.

As Davante Adams watched Green Bay beat Tampa Bay on Sunday, I wonder what he was thinking. The Packers are certainly one of the best teams in the NFC, and he’s sitting at 0-3 with a steep climb just to make the playoffs.

I’m assuming the reports are correct that the offer from Green Bay was close and that he essentially chose to play with his college buddy. But we’re not hearing his name much anymore and he’s obviously not having the same type of impact that he was in Green Bay. I wonder if he’s comfortable with that decision or has regrets.

Can Jacksonville Win the AFC South?

When the Jaguars started the offseason with a slew of player signings, people had an immediate thought that this must be the same old Jags team. But after a 2-1 start, including a decisive win at the Chargers on Sunday, maybe this team is different.

Doug Pederson, a Super Bowl-winning coach who never really got the credit he deserved while in Philadelphia, has Jacksonville playing very hard. The development of Trevor Lawrence from Year 1 to Year 2 has been impressive. We’ve seen quarterbacks make the biggest improvement in their sophomore years. Put Pederson and Lawrence together, along with the support the second-year quarterback now has at wide receiver, and he’s emerging into what people thought he would be after looking awful last year as a rookie.

 

I believe this is a good football team that has a real chance to win its division. None of the teams in the AFC South are playing very well so far – with exception of what the Colts did against the  Chiefs on Sunday after massively underperforming the previous two weeks. But the Jaguars are for real.

Give Pederson tremendous credit for this hot start. They’re going to have a good season and it’s going to set the stage for even more success going forward.

Where in the World is OBJ?

I always like to think of moves in terms of how they impact the outcome of the season. Odell Beckham is going to make a decision that definitely has a chance to impact who wins the Super Bowl.

I’m no different than the few people who have already started to speculate this, but if he went to Green Bay, it would make a massive difference. The Packers are finally getting healthy along their offensive line – the last two weeks saw the return of their two best, Pro Bowl tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. Add OBJ, and suddenly they look like a different offensive team.

There’s no team in contention right now where he wouldn’t make a big difference. I’m assuming he’ll go to the NFC because the easiest places to join that could actually make a Super Bowl are in the conference. But I don’t think there is a team in either conference that wouldn’t want him.

I think we should be keeping tabs on this a lot more than we are. It’s very rare for a player of Beckham’s quality to be available going into Week 4. If healthy, he will dramatically impact the acquiring team’s odds of winning a Super Bowl.

We’ll probably start to see more media speculation about this as real contenders start to emerge. We’ll also get a better feel for when OBJ will actually be able to come back from his ACL injury.

Why is Mike Munchak a Free Agent?

Speaking of NFL free agents, the fact that Mike Munchak isn’t coaching this season is shocking. To me, he is the best offensive line coach I’ve ever seen. I mean, he took a bunch of mostly lower-round draft picks in Pittsburgh and consistently turned those guys into top-tier players. He goes to Denver and does the same thing there for the most part.

Players who aren’t drafted high need significant development. Somehow, Munchak turns these linemen around both individually and as a collective unit. 

As we think about some of the teams that need offensive line help – Cincinnati and Las Vegas as well as the last two teams he coached for in Pittsburgh and Denver – the difference might not be adding a player or two; it might actually be changing the voice in the room. There are several good offensive teams right now whose offensive lines are keeping them from being great.

If I was running a team, I’d be in the head coach’s office on a regular basis to remind him that Munchak is out there. I’d probably even start my recruitment and begin conversations with him. He is the one available coach who I believe could have a near instant impact on how his future team does the rest of the season.

 

WATCH MORE: Reviewing the Biggest Calls From Week 3 with Dean Blandino and Mike Martz

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