NFL1000 Scouting Notebook: Carson Wentz Needs to Go Back to the Basics

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2016

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 4:  Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles calls a play at the line of scrimmage during the third quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals Paul Brown Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 Scouting Notebook, a weekly series where we'll use the power of the 16-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you fresh insights into the league and explain some of the more interesting (and potentially controversial) grades we give players every week.  

The full list of NFL1000 grades will be released Thursday, and we will attempt to preview some of what we are seeing in our film analysis here. 

We will look at how the Seahawks will fare without Earl Thomas, dive into Travis Kelce's big week and have scouts answer a few questions on this week's hot topics. But first, let's start out with some film analysis of Carson Wentz's recent struggles. 

       

The All-22: Carson Wentz Needs to Go Back to the Basics

Written by Doug Farrar

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 4:  Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles throws a pass during the second quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Imag
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles gave Carson Wentz a fast track to the NFL, but at this point in his rookie season, the quarterback's relative inexperience is rearing its ugly head. The second overall pick in the 2016 draft out of North Dakota State started well, completing 177 of 275 passes for 1,890 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions in the season's first half. But in his last four games, Wentz has experienced a drastic reversal of fortune: 108 completions in 177 attempts for 1,011 yards, three touchdowns and six picks.

The nadir of this reversal came in a 32-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday that had Wentz looking every bit like a small-school quarterback overwhelmed by the big time. Despite his recent travails, head coach Doug Pederson called 60 pass plays, of which Wentz completed 36 for 308 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

One might say, as with a lot of rookie quarterbacks who start hot but cool down quickly, that the league has figured him out. That may not be the case here. Pederson is still creating easy openings for Wentz, and though his line has been problematic at times, he hasn't had a huge reversion in accuracy under pressure.

Wentz is having real problems with his footwork and overall mechanics, though, which was obvious on all three of his interceptions against Cincinnati. The 23-year-old is a big-bodied quarterback who can put a lot of velocity on the ball when he throws through his body, uses his legs to maintain a solid base and relies on his upper body to maintain torque with the right kind of shoulder turn.

The first interception, which came with 9:12 left in the third quarter, did come under pressure and forced Wentz to shorten his release. Here, defensive tackle Domata Peko (94) broke through to pressure Wentz, who started his throwing motion flat-footed and delivered the ball before his motion is complete.

The result is a low-velocity pass which linebacker Vontaze Burfict picked off.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Credit: NFL Gamepass

The second interception to safety Shawn Williams came with 13:56 left in the game. On this one, Wentz's footwork was slightly better, but watch the release point—he has the ball extended and his feet are far apart. He's clearly trying to generate velocity with these elongated mannerisms, but he overthrows tight end Zach Ertz on an intermediate seam route.

Ertz isn't obstructed by any coverage; the ball just sails on Wentz a bit because he's throwing more with his upper body than with an integrated physicality, in part because he's spending too many milliseconds re-aligning his body after overstriding and establishing a "chicken-wing" setup. Tight-window throws demand consistent, repeatable mechanics.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Finally, there's the second pick thrown to Burfict, which was just weird. There's 4:03 left the game, the result has been decided, and Wentz is trying to hit Ertz on a quick in-breaking route on 4th-and-3. Problem is, he's throwing flat-footed, and there's little shoulder turn on the follow-through. Moreover, he's starting the throw with that same elongated delivery, meaning he has even less time to align the motion with a shorter route. Burfict is right there to pick off a ball with nothing on it.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Credit: NFL Gamepass

As a former NFL quarterback and a quarterbacks coach of some renown, Pederson now has to work with Wentz to get back to simple concepts that allow him to shorten his delivery steps and align his body with his decision-making process. Right now, the rookie is making it too hard on himself with physical constraints that are not only unnecessary, but clearly harmful to his efficiency.

            

What will the Seahawks Miss without Earl Thomas?

Written by Mark Bullock

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04:  Free safety Earl Thomas #29 of the Seattle Seahawks leaves the field after getting injured against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks suffered a significant blow Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, as star free safety Earl Thomas broke his leg. Thomas has been one of the NFL's best free safeties since entering the league in 2010. His range and instincts give the Seahawks the ability to trust him as a single high safety in almost any situation.

Here against the Patriots, Thomas lines up 15 yards off the line of scrimmage as the single deep safety. Most single deep safeties would be 20 to 25 yards off the line, perhaps deeper, but Thomas has elite range that allows him to line up closer to the line of scrimmage than most safeties can. It allows him to impact more plays underneath, while still being able to stay on top of deeper routes.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

On this play, the Patriots have tight end Rob Gronkowski work outside to the numbers before breaking down the field.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

As Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reaches the top of his drop, he looks to his right to check the progress of Gronkowski's route. Thomas keeps his eyes on Brady, reading him for clues to where the ball is going. He spots Brady looking to Gronkowski and begins working across the field from the far hashmark.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

As Brady begins his throwing motion, Thomas still has a lot of ground to make up.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Fellow safety Kam Chancellor does an excellent job undercutting the route and getting his hand on the ball to break up the pass. But Thomas was a fraction of a second away from Gronkowski and landed a monstrous hit that likely would have knocked the ball loose anyway.

The range from Thomas is phenomenal, and he uses the momentum from his speed to deal out big hits that make receivers think twice before making a catch across the middle of the field. That range and hitting ability is almost impossible for Seattle to replace. Fortunately, backup safety Steven Terrell has shown some good range of his own when he has seen the field this season.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

On this play, the Buccaneers send receiver Mike Evans on a go route down the sideline. Terrell acts as the single deep safety, with responsibilities in the deep middle of the field.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Terrell keeps his eyes on quarterback Jameis Winston as he backpedals. He quickly recognizes Winston locking in on Evans and begins to break toward the sideline.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

By the time Winston begins his throwing motion, Terrell has already worked from the middle of the field to outside the hashmarks and has significant depth to help him stay over the top of the route. He takes a good angle to the receiver.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Terrell makes up a lot of ground to get to the sideline and nearly comes away with an interception, but he clashes with his teammate, who also attempts to play the ball before it reaches the receiver. The two defenders collide, and the ball falls incomplete, but the play demonstrates the range Terrell possess.

But range is only part of the equation for Thomas. He also has fantastic instincts and does a great job recognizing where the threat to the defense is, regardless of what his assignment is.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

On 3rd-and-8, Thomas lines up outside the numbers on top of the receiver isolated to the left of the formation. The Bills have receiver Robert Woods work outside before cutting back into the middle of the field.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Despite being on the far side of the field, outside of the numbers, Thomas reads and diagnoses the threat of Woods cutting inside.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Thomas makes up an incredible amount of ground and lands another big hit to stop Woods short of the first-down marker, getting his defense off the field.

The instincts Thomas displays are second to none and will be impossible for Terrell to replicate. Athleticism and instincts are big aspects of Thomas' game, but he combines them with film study that enables him to get the most out of his best traits.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Here, the Cardinals face 3rd-and-4 inside the Seahawks' half. They look to hit Larry Fitzgerald on a quick in-breaking route from the left. Before the ball has even been snapped, Thomas recognizes the look and begins to break down on the route.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Even after the ball is snapped, Thomas doesn't look to the quarterback. He knows, from studying the Cardinals' tendencies, that the ball is going to Fitzgerald. He focuses purely on that route and closing the gap between him and Fitzgerald.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Thomas arrives before the ball, jumping the route and nearly pulling off a fantastic interception. Unfortunately, he can't quite hold on to the ball, and it falls incomplete, but it still goes down as a pass breakup that forced the Cardinals to punt on the next play.

That type of play only comes from hours of studying film and learning tendencies of upcoming opposition. Terrell will benefit from being in the same meeting room as the likes of Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman, but it remains to be seen how well he can apply that study to the field consistently.

It's unfair and unrealistic to expect Terrell to replace Thomas completely. But he's performed well in limited chances this season, particularly when he filled in for an inactive Thomas in Week 12. In that game, Seattle mostly stuck to its status quo in terms of coverage schemes, allowing Terrell to be a like-for-like replacement for Thomas. They'll likely try to continue in that fashion to ensure as little disruption to their base schemes as possible, but Terrell will have to shoulder a big workload to do so.

                  

Scouting with Schofield: Travis Kelce

Written by Mark Schofield

Travis Kelce's recent form has earned him high praise from around the league. In the last three games, including Kansas City's victory over Atlanta, Kelce has caught 23 passes for 349 yards and is the team's leading receiver with 65 receptions for 815 yards on the year. Entering Sunday, Atlanta defense's knew Kelce presented a tough matchup..

Rookie linebacker De'Vondre Campbell was well aware of Kelce's route-running ability, saying: "From watching film on [Kelce] he [uses] a lot of head movement. The big thing to containing him is not falling for any of the head fakes or any of the upper body movement and staying discipline." Fellow rookie safety Keanu Neal stated, "He is a technician, smart with his routes and knows how to play the game." 

Kelce turned in one of the best performances of his career against Atlanta, catching eight passes on eight targets for 140 yards. The eight receptions matched his career-best, while the 140 yards topped his previous high of 128.

Going through the film illustrates many of the concerns Atlanta's defenders had leading up to the contest. Kelce is a polished route-runner who uses his whole body to sell routes and fool defenders.

In addition, as color analyst and former quarterback Trent Green stated during Sunday's broadcast, Kelce might be the league's best tight end after the catch. On more than a few of his catches, the athletic tight end made multiple defenders miss tackles, tacking on yardage after the reception. In just a handful of plays, we can see a tight end playing at an extremely high level. 

                    

Ask The Scouts

Question: The Green Bay Packers' wide receivers have been under fire all year for their poor play, but in Week 13, they earned high marks across the board. Jordy Nelson, Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb all scored fairly well. Nelson led the way scoring 75/100 after compiling eight receptions for 118 yards and one touchdown. From what you saw this week, do you think the Packers' receiver issues are behind them and that Nelson is back to full strength? 

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 04:  Randall Cobb #18 and Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers line up for a play in the second quarter against the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field on December 4, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Imag
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Answer from Marcus Mosher, WR Scout: Nelson getting healthier has helped the Green Bay offense. We are starting to see some of his explosion, particularly on comebacks and out patterns. Earlier in the year, he wasn't creating any separation. Now, you can see him trusting his knee and exploding out of his cuts.

The rest of the offense needs Nelson to be healthy because he's the one who opens up Randall Cobb in the slot and Ty Montgomery underneath. If Nelson isn't demanding double coverage or even a safety over the top, it's easier to defend the Packers offense.

But a big reason for the Packers' success this week is that Rodgers finally trusts them. To me, it looks like they simplified the offense and went back to using their receivers on routes where they know they can win. I know that seems like oversimplifying it, but it's the truth. You can see Rodgers actually anticipating his throws to Nelson and Cobb, and he's not trying to hit a home run on every play. 

The Packers have always relied on Nelson drawing double coverage, and when he hasn't (2015 because of injury and the first half of 2016), their offense struggles. You are going to see a much more improved Green Bay offensive unit over the next four games.

               

Question: After struggling early in the year, getting injured and struggling in his first couple of games back from injury, Thomas Rawls finally had his breakout game of the season, rushing for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers in Week 13. His grade of 75/100 in this week's NFL1000 places him in the top 10 running backs. What did you see from him this week, and do you think he's back to full strength?

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04:  Thomas Rawls #34 of the Seattle Seahawks against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Answer from John Middlekauff, RB Scout: First, he looks healthy. Rawls hangs his hat on running hard and pure grit—consistently being one of the toughest guys on the field. He has great feet, and his short-area burst was on full display against the Panthers.

On both of his touchdown runs, he showed the vision, patience and the willingness to get vertical in a hurry that has helped him succeed in the NFL after going undrafted. He also flashed the top-end speed on the 45-yard touchdown run that could be a big bonus to Seattle's offense. But his best attribute is his physical nature and willingness to make defenders pay on contact. He was punishing defenders and played a major role in making Carolina look like it was waving the white flag on the season.

If Rawls can stay healthy, the Seahawks could have as much balance as any NFL team. Based on his style of play, that is a big "if," but they will need him at full strength to achieve their goal of another ring. 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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