Remember the series on Sunday where Carson Wentz had DeSean Jackson open in the end zone but didn’t see him? It was after the first interception, and the Birds were moving down the field, but the Eagles quarterback seemed really hesitant to get rid of the ball, like an overcorrection to the point where he was at the far opposite end of the decision making spectrum.
That series seems like a good example of Wentz’s scattered thinking, which has haunted him all season long. You ‘press’ and try too hard in the first game, shoving balls into windows that aren’t there. Then you get conservative in the third game and use your feet instead because guys aren’t getting open and you don’t trust your arm. You start to overthink it and then you wake up on Monday morning with a 0-2-1 record.
Doug Pederson summed it up pretty well when he talked about the need to “unclutter” his quarterback’s mind at his recent press conference:
Q. Not to belabor this, but your quarterback Carson Wentz, we’ve been talking about this for three weeks now. You say you don’t want him to take too much on his shoulders and feel like he has to win the game himself. But what’s going on? He’s still at the bottom. Every week is a 60-something passer rating. You’re seeing picks that he’s never thrown before. How do you fix this? (Les Bowen/Inquirer)
Pederson: There are a couple of things. I think one of the ways that we do that, and then really to kind of maybe unclutter his mind some is to play fast, play up-tempo, where players don’t have to think. They just react. And that has been a recipe for us over the years, and it’s something that we may have to lean on a little bit more. We’ll take a look at the game plans and make sure there’s not a lot of maybe moving parts or things that from a quarterback’s perspective that he has to get us in and out of. Just do more of the run it play variety where you don’t have to think about a lot of things and just somehow help him to free up his mind and let him play and make the plays that we know he’s capable of making and keep coaching him and keep coaching all the guys and put together a game plan this week to go play San Francisco.
It’s a good answer, but what does that involve?
They could try to do some of the Nick Foles RPO and shotgun play action looks they had success with in 2017 and 2018. Try to read the linebacker and then throw those slants or sideline routes, like this beauty from back in the day:
Doug also called a simple zone read on Sunday, no passing option, just Carson reading the defender, pulling the ball, and running. The thought of using zone read seemed totally taboo in 2018 and 2019, considering Carson’s injury history, but it might have to be used again in 2020 to get him going.
The screen game is struggling mightily, for whatever reason, so maybe they rethink those lateral quick hits and short flares and try to do some of what Andy Reid did last night, attacking the middle of the field. I watched him pull off another masterclass with a shovel pass, some between-the-hashmark tight end/RB screens, and a draw or two. Andy used the same creativity and flair Doug showed in 2017 and 2018.
What happened to creative Pederson play calling like this? –
I don’t think the Eagles have run anything out of the pistol ever since that play, which took place three years ago. And they’re short on talent right now, but Greg Ward, Zach Ertz, and Miles Sanders gives you enough to be competitive in the interim.
For what it’s worth, Pederson was asked Monday if he’d ever consider giving up play calling, to which he said no. He was also asked about running the ball more:
“It just so happened that in Miles’ case, you go back the week before, and not to make excuses or whatever, but there was a little fatigue that set in. Miles alluded to that. He was battling through some things (Sunday) during the game, and we had to be cautious late in the game. And there’s times where you make the decision to maybe shift gears and go a little different direction, and that’s what we did yesterday. But Miles, moving forward Miles is obviously a big part of what we do, and I actually thought he not only ran the ball, but blocked well in pass protection as well.”
It was fatigue and not injury, Pederson confirmed. Sanders finished with 18 carries for 95 yards and averaged 5.8 per, so he’s very obviously been their most steady skill position contributor in the two weeks he’s been on the field. If Wentz had “uncluttered” his mind and connected with Sanders down the sidelines, he’d be looking at 125+ scrimmage yards and a touchdown, which is elite contribution on any team.