Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Do the Eagles Have a Carson Wentz Problem?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterNovember 20, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 17: Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks to pass against John Simon #55 of the New England Patriots during the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Lincoln Financial Field on November 17, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Is Carson Wentz the culprit or the victim in Philly? The Raiders uncover a new defensive star. And is Colin Kaepernick as big a distraction as everyone thinks? All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.


1. The Wentz Paradox

If you took a snapshot of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz two years ago and compared that picture to the Wentz we see now, the former might well remind you of Drew Brees; the latter, Drew Carey.

We've seen quarterbacks regress before, but Wentz's decline is one of the steepest in recent cases. The issues, of course, aren't all on him. (His receivers likely would drop a pass if it was handed to them from Jesus himself.) But much of Wentz's struggles are because of him.

So what happened?

One NFC coach has a plausible theory, which, if accurate, may present a dilemma for the Eagles in the future. 

The coach said he's seen what's happening with Wentz before on other teams. It's part of a thorny cycle that goes like this:

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A quarterback has accuracy issues. This causes the receivers to lack trust in the thrower.

But also, as is happening in Philadelphia, receivers drop too many passes, and this causes the quarterback to have a lack of faith in the receivers.

So it all becomes one, big messy feedback loop, a thorny cycle of frustration.

At times this season, Wentz's accuracy has been shockingly bad. Of the top 20 quarterbacks in passing yards through Week 11, his 61.2 completion percentage tops only those of Andy Dalton (60.4), Baker Mayfield (59.2), Jared Goff (60.3) and Jameis Winston (59.6). That's not esteemed company.

Making matters worse, the Eagles receivers are tied for third in drops, per STATS. They are so bad, memes have been generated about them dropping passes. It's also not just that passes are being dropped; it's the timing of those drops, as they've come in huge spots like this one and the latest one. There are others.

If you don't think this dynamic is a problem in the locker room, you're a fool. In fact, some of the consternation has been leaking out for weeks. ESPN's Josina Anderson quoted an anonymous Eagles player in mid-October saying that "we need to make bleep simpler. Sometimes we need to just handle what is manageable. Even Peyton Manning knew when to check it down."

Having inked a four-year, $128 million extension in June, Wentz isn't going anywhere soon. It's likely, though, the Eagles will totally revamp the receiving group after the season. 

This is the conundrum in which the Eagles find themselves. An increasingly inaccurate quarterback combined with receivers who consistently drop passes leads to this intersection where there's likely a lack of trust between the two—and an inability to escape the paradox.

It's possible the Eagles turn everything around. We've seen it before with Nick Foles at quarterback. There's a chance. 

But something would have to change that hasn't all season.


2. Should Wentz be worried?

We've already discussed this, people. The answer is likely no, the Eagles will not move on from Wentz.

But the situation is becoming more interesting by the week. What if the Eagles don't make the playoffs this season, rework the receivers group this offseason and then Wentz continues to struggle?

(What if I'm Denzel Washington? What if my grandma was an astronaut?)

All hypotheticals, sure, but I guess my point is: What if it's not just the receivers? What if it's mostly Wentz, and the Eagles' pass-catchers are but convenient scapegoats?

(What if there were unicorns?) 

Just keep an eye on this scenario. That's all I'm saying.


3. Bargain basement

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 10:  Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs watches game action from the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. Tennessee defeats Kans
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

If you want a good example of how the rookie salary cap absolutely, totally, positively screws players, look no further than this statistic from ESPN.

Four of the best young quarterbacks in the sport are making what in the NFL are minimal wages. Patrick Mahomes ($4.5 million), Deshaun Watson ($3.8 million), Lamar Jackson ($2.2 million) and Dak Prescott ($2.1 million) are all still on their rookie deals.

That will change for all of them, but the fact that their teams have reaped a collective 27 wins from passers making such low NFL salaries is remarkable. 

That's penthouse living at bargain-basement prices.


4. That which does not defeat you can only make you stronger

John Hefti/Associated Press

San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hasn't been great this season. He has a 97.7 quarterback rating that ranks 13th in the NFL, and his 10 interceptions are the most of any quarterback in the top 20.

Yet after Garoppolo led a fourth-quarter comeback against Arizona last week, it felt like something changed and that he had emerged in a better place. Not The Good Place. Just a better one.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan detailed Garoppolo's importance in the game and to the team after the game:

"It would have been real tough to win that game without him. He was in some tough situations. We had a bunch of receivers going in and out of that game. Everyone knows we had to go do it without [tight end] George [Kittle]. To not get much out of the run game, too, he had to really carry us, especially in that second half, made a bunch of big plays. 

"Definitely had two plays that were not good plays … both of them were in the red zone, both were on third down where you've got three points you would think, and we ended up turning it over. … But the defense went three-and-out right after it, and to get the ball back to Jimmy and for him to take us all the way down like that, it was huge to see him play as well as he did, have a little bit of adversity and make it up."

Getting past that adversity should only help prepare Garoppolo for a playoff run that is sure to throw more adversity his way.


5. Rough road ahead

Speaking of the 49ers' preparations for the playoffs, the greatest threat to San Francisco down the stretch is the schedule itself.

San Francisco starts its finishing leg with the Packers on Sunday (leading the NFC North), followed by at the Ravens (leading the AFC North) and at the Saints (leading the NFC South), then home against the Falcons and Rams, and then at the Seahawks.

That is nasty.

If the 49ers win four of those six games, it would be impressive. It also would battle-harden them into one of the toughest outs in the postseason.


6. Superman

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 17: Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the football after a reception past linebacker Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of the NFL game at Levi's Stadium
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Larry Fitzgerald will enter the Hall of Fame the second he's eligible because he's one of the most talented receivers of all time. But also because of his monstrous blocks.

The best part about the play against Nick Bosa is how Fitzgerald makes the block and then just continues to run his route like nothing happened.

Fitzgerald's blocking abilities long have been the most underrated part of his skill set. Hines Ward (who should also be in the Hall of Fame) is the best blocking receiver in history. Fitzgerald is probably second.

There's still time to see and appreciate Fitzgerald for the all-time great he is before we all watch him slip on that yellow jacket in Canton.


7. A new MVP candidate emerges

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 17: Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles is sacked by Kyle Van Noy #53 (L) of the New England Patriots and Dont'a Hightower #54 during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on November 17, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pe
Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Laugh if you want, but the Patriots defense should be on the short list of MVP hopefuls along with Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson.

Yes, it's a joke. But kinda sorta not.

True, New England got obliterated by the Ravens two weeks ago (every defense does), but against the Eagles on Sunday, the Pats allowed just 10 points, had five sacks and forced three fumbles.

According to the team, the Patriots' 37 sacks is their most through 10 games since 1979.

It's all indicative of a franchise no longer being led by its offense, but by its defense, a shift that may be one of the most dramatic we've seen a team undergo in such a short period of time.

The Patriots defense isn't a co-star with Brady. The defense has taken the position of the leading role.

That hasn't been the case in over a decade.


8. Mad Maxx

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 17: Maxx Crosby #98 of the Oakland Raiders sacks Ryan Finley #5 of the Cincinnati Bengals during their NFL game at RingCentral Coliseum on November 17, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
Robert Reiners/Getty Images

One of the biggest surprise players this season (and still not discussed enough) is Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby. He had four sacks against the Bengals on Sunday, and one play showed why he's become such a force.

Crosby was drafted in the fourth round this year, and though he is 6'5" and 255 pounds, he moves with almost stunning speed. That's not easy to handle, especially from someone with a lengthy wingspan. Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley found that out when Crosby slapped the football out of his hands during Oakland's 17-10 win.

Crosby's size and speed likely will leave a number of other QBs flailing away as well.

Maxx is a veritable mountain banshee, and the Raiders will ride him to the playoffs. If not this year, sooner than many of us thought.


9. Watson still taking a beating

Gail Burton/Associated Press

The Ravens sacked Deshaun Watson six times during their 41-7 beatdown of the Texans.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, that was the seventh time in the past two seasons Watson has been sacked at least six times. No other player has been sacked like that in the same time span.

This remains a huge problem for the Texans and simply isn't sustainable. They must continue to find ways to better protect him. So far, though, they're failing.


10. So, about that workout…

Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

Is Colin Kaepernick a distraction?

The short answer is no. Not even close. Still, I've been told by several clubs that signing the ousted QB would be an issue.

Here's the thing about distractions. They are all in the eye of the beholder. Former Bills coach Rex Ryan expressed the Kaepernick-as-distraction view recently on ESPN.

The problem is as he was Buffalo's coach, the Bills signed Richie Incognito. We don't need to get into Incognito's background. It's been told often. But he's been one of the biggest player distractions in recent league history.

Also, while coach of the Bills, he attended a rally for Donald Trump. Ryan can support whatever politician he wants, but if Trump isn't a distraction, there are no distractions.

Throughout NFL history, teams have signed drunk drivers, alleged sexual assaulters, players that were publicly intoxicated, faced gun charges, battery charges, eluded police, trespassed, made bomb threats, caused injury to elders, committed acts of vandalism and many other various crimes.

Mike Vick came back into the league after a stint in federal prison for helping run a dogfighting ring. There was a lot of news once he signed, and then the commotion died quickly.

Were any of the allegations against NFL owners a distraction? Do the Patriots seem distracted because of what Robert Kraft was alleged to have done? They're 9-1.

You know what's a real distraction? That a hardcore Trekker really enjoys The Mandalorian. Complimenting Star Wars is a betrayal of the Trek oath.

There are no real distractions in football except one: losing.

That's it. Everything else is just a convenient excuse.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.