NFL Film Breakdown: What in the World is Going on With Carson Wentz and the Eagles?

To put it bluntly, the Philadelphia Eagles are off to a terrible start. Their offensive line is in shambles with Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo, and Andre Dillard all out. Alshon Jeffery still hasn’t played this year, Goedert and Maddox are both dealing with ankle injuries, Miles Sanders and their first round pick Jalen Reagor have missed time, and the worst of it all is that injuries aren’t even the biggest concern that the Eagles have. It’s Carson Wentz. Wentz has completed under 60% of his passes, thrown 6 interceptions to just 3 touchdowns, has fumbled 3 times, and is looking like a shell of what he was in 2017 when he was in the running for league MVP before tearing his ACL. Wentz isn’t alone in the blame and the whole Eagles team has been dealt a tough hand, but he is the epicenter of everything going wrong for the Eagles.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 20: Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz (11) walks off the field after an interception in the second half during the game between the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles on September 20, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For quarterbacks, everything starts with the feet and the base and Wentz has some huge issues here. The biggest and most prominent mechanical problem is his tendency not to point his toe towards his intended target. This prevents full hip rotation and causes accuracy and power issues to one direction in particular. To his left.

To a degree, this has always been there – and we’ll get into that – but first let’s understand how this mechanical issue impacts his throwing motion, accuracy, and just how frequent it is for him right now. Through the three games in 2020 I charted Wentz’ accurate throws and, on each throw, whether he was aligning his feet and toe to that throw. Wentz has been accurate on just 50% of his throws to his left and is aligning his toe on just 41.3% of throws to his left. Compared to throwing to his right, where he has accurate throws 67.1% of the time with 78% toe alignment, it is a staggering difference in consistency, accuracy, and mechanics. This includes throwing routes that are going from his right to his left as well. Since he likes to align his feet more to the right, a huge percentage of his throws miss to the right because he doesn’t open up his hips and feet to throw to his left.

When you don’t point your toe at your target, you are closing off your ability to fully rotate your hips. You can try it at home and point your toe 45 degrees to the right and then attempt to make a throwing motion even just straight in front of yourself. Your foot is going to want to move on the ground to follow the momentum of your hips. If you keep your foot in the ground, you’ll feel tension in your knee and your core and be unable to get your hips all the way towards the direction you want to throw. If you can’t get your hips all the way around, there’s no way you’re going to be able to consistently generate the proper amount of power and accuracy from throw-to-throw. Biomechanically, it is detrimental to being able to throw. And that’s what we see almost 60% of the time from Wentz throwing to his left.

Both of Wentz’ interceptions in the Washington game were directly caused by being unable to point his toe to his left and as a result, being unable to generate the necessary power and accuracy to that direction. This left the ball inside — the direction his feet and hips end up pointing. This allows for the defender to make a play on the ball. The decision on this throw is totally fine. He reads the DB with their hips turned in zone to the inside which signals an opportunity to throw the ball to the sideline on a comeback or back shoulder and that’s exactly what he goes for. The issue is his foot is pointed directly down the center of the field. In addition to his toe pointing issue, he can also tend to over stride, which is why you’ll often see him falling away from throws. If you spread your base too wide, which you can again try at home, and now push off with your back leg, you’ll see what it feels like. You can generate some power but you’re now immediately falling backwards after your throw because you don’t have a solid base. Not good for generating power or accuracy. You want to be in a stable position when finishing your throw.

In the second interception of the Washington game he does almost the exact same thing. The defenders leverage is telling him to throw outside, but Wentz leaves his foot pointed downfield instead of more towards the sideline. You can see him off balance and falling away from the throw and the ball goes where his body is telling it to. He leaves the throw inside which gives the defender the opportunity to intercept it.

This happens again and again and again. The toe doesn’t open all the way to the left, it prevents him from being able to open his hips that way and generate power, and he routinely throws balls into the dirt, air mails them because he’s off balance due to the wide base, or misses to the right.

When you combine these things at the same time – the bad toe and the overstride —  you get throws that are both high and behind to the right. Even if the throws are to his right, he ends up struggling throwing routes that are going from right to left because he doesn’t point his toe to lead his receiver which closes off his hips and will often point at where the receiver is right now. Not where they will be.

While sometimes the ball will air mail because of a wide stance, it can also force the ball into the ground because you’re changing vertical levels as you’re throwing and you can’t get power on the ball with your hips since you’re too spread out to get full rotation.

Sometimes when you over stride and over shoot throws or can’t get enough power, you throw interceptions.

Whenever he tries to push the ball downfield or get some heat on the throw, he tends to over stride which only exacerbates the issue and makes his tight window throws inaccurate or lose velocity. You can see how incredibly wide his feet are when he’s beginning his throwing motion and how he routinely falls back and away from the throw after releasing. It’s just not good quarterback mechanics.

It may seem small but it makes a huge impact on the mechanics of throwing the ball. I cannot emphasize enough how impactful this is to throwing on a snap-to-snap basis. Wentz has some seriously great arm talent which allows him to get away with it at times and he can generate power even when he can’t get his hips around. But from a snap to snap basis, he’s just not consistent because of his feet

It happens predominantly to the left but it also crops up all over the field. It turns routine catches into difficult ones on the back hip or that are high and in the worst case scenarios, turns into turnovers and incompletions that can kill drives and change games.

Now that we’ve looked at what Wentz’ current mechanical issues are and how he’s struggling, let’s take a look back at 2017 and see how Wentz’ mechanics have changed since then and give context for what it looks like when Wentz is doing things right because when he’s on, he’s shown that he is absolutely one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I mentioned earlier that I charted Wentz’ accuracy and toe issues in the three games this season but I also charted every game of his from 2017. His accurate throws to the left jump from 50% to 66.7%, he points his toe that direction on 20% more of his throws, and was just flat out more accurate at every level and area of the field.

This is a great first example of Wentz’ better lower body mechanics in 2017. You can see that as he’s going through his progressions, his feet are coming with him through his reads. Something that just isn’t happening as consistently currently. It helps speed up his decision making and gets him into a position to throw as soon as he locates his open receiver instead of locating and then subsequently having to fix his feet to match where they are.

This is another good example of what it looks like to open your hips to the throw by pointing your toe. By opening up, he’s able to get a lot more mobility in his hips which helps him drive the ball and be more accurate despite the DB breaking on the ball and causing an incompletion.

When the toe matches the aiming point, Wentz is unbelievably more accurate. If we match the endzone view here with the sideline view, we can get a great vantage point of that. You can see as he opens his front leg and points his toe, it’s pointed directly at the outside leg of the running back coming up in pass protection. If we draw a line from that point now from the sideline view we can see the projected line on which the ball should travel. The line looks like it should intersect at about the 30 yard line a few yards from the sideline and that’s exactly where the ball ends up.

You can do this with a ton of his throws from 2017. The ball is going to want to go where your toe is pointing. When everything is aligned, Wentz has some insane accuracy. When he isn’t and he’s fighting to throw in spite of his toe, we see what we’re seeing right now in 2020.

While he was much much better in 2017, he did have some issues with his toe at that time too. It was just way less frequent. It’s always been there, he’s just been better at controlling and working to iron it out in the past.

Now that we have some context let’s quickly go back to his interception against Washington. His toe is aligned down the middle of the field and he has to fight against it to be able to throw outside to his left. You can see that he can’t bring his leg all the way through, his body isn’t in alignment like it often was in 2017, and the ball ends up inside and intercepted.

So, we know the mechanical issues have always been there to a degree, they’re just becoming more prominent now. Wentz has slowly been having less and less consistent mechanics through 2018 and 2019 where he also had issues with his back which can impact his ability to rotate his hips and have consistent mechanics. Mechanics aren’t the only issues going on in 2020 though.

Obviously, the line has its issues but that’s now manifesting in extremely light boxes for Philadelphia. Teams are routinely putting only five or six guys in the box against them. If you take away Wentz’ 74 rushing yards on 12 attempts, the Eagles have only 279 rushing yards and have attempted true runs just 67 times which puts them at 4th last in the NFL. The thing is, they’re running the ball just fine at about 4.1 yards per carry but teams just aren’t scared of them running the ball because Pederson gets away from it quickly and teams feel like they can hold up without extra men in the box and still be able to get home on pass rushes. So that means more guys in coverage, more difficult reads, and forcing Carson Wentz to make tighter window throws which he’s just not doing right now. Miles Sanders should help this as he becomes more healthy and impactful, but it’s making life tough for Wentz right now.

To keep with the theme of the offensive line and pass rush, Wentz is also guilty of not helping his offensive line. Jason Peters has not played particularly well but had his hands absolutely full with none other than Carl Lawson – and if you’re not a Bengals fan you probably haven’t even heard of the guy. He has 59 tackles in four years but has managed to get 17.5 sacks in that time. While Peters hasn’t looked great, the reason he was having trouble with Lawson, was because of Wentz’ snap count. Lawson was able to jump the snap quite frequently in their game against the Bengals and there’s no way to do this other than figuring out the QBs cadence. You can see in these clips that Lawson is moving even before Peters is. He’s not even out of his stance by the time that Lawson is on him. It doesn’t seem like much but you can see how far ahead of everyone Lawson is on his pass rush and this is because Wentz isn’t varying his snap count enough. The defensive linemen should not be moving at the exact same frame as when the ball is snapped. Unless they know the snap count. It didn’t just happen in the Bengals game either, it was happening with the Rams as well. With no fans or sound, defenses can hear the recordings of snap counts and key off of them for good get offs.

While Wentz is still doing a solid job of reading defenses and is choosing the right guy to throw to, he’s also becoming a little bit more indecisive as the season is going along. In week 1 here he did a really really good job of using his snap count to force Washington to show their blitz and coverage. He gets the corner to the bottom of the screen to bail, the linebacker to creep up and show blitz, and the safety to come down. He diagnoses this and determines it’s going to be a cover 3 buzz look with the other inside linebacker needing to flow to get to the tight end and hook area to cover the vacated area of the blitzer at the bottom of the screen which is going to open up a hole in the middle of the field. He quickly looks off to his left to widen the buzz safety coming down and comes back to the middle of the field to hit Ertz. His feet just betray him and the ball goes incomplete.

Compare that now to plays where he’s locating open receivers based on the coverage but being hesitant to throw the ball and allowing the windows to close. Here the Rams have blown a coverage and Goedert is wide open in the endzone as the Rams don’t match his route. Wentz looks, and doesn’t throw it.

Here a similar thing happens. The Bengals are running cover 2 man and matching the #3 receiver with their safeties. The outside route creates a rub for the deep out and the safety has to navigate over the top of it to be able to come down on the route. Wentz is reading it, sees it, almost throws it, and pulls his eyes off just as he gets contacted in the pocket and then scrambles downfield.

Carson Wentz and the Eagles are not playing good football right now and it’s a combination of things all turning into some very lackluster performances in the first three weeks of the season. Wentz’ mechanical issues are becoming more pronounced than ever, the offensive line is injured as are a lot of his weapons outside, and Wentz isn’t doing a good job of protecting those guys with changes in snap count cadence and by throwing with anticipation and trusting his arm and eyes. It’s not all doom and gloom though because while the mechanics are tough to rep and fix, it is very possible and he has shown he has the capability to do it. The game plan will need to be structured around his limitations right now though. Throws to his right and some RPOs that force his feet in the right direction due to the mesh with the running back might be the name of the game. The RPO game was incredibly effective with Foles on their Super Bowl run and it’s a good confidence-building scheme that will let Wentz attack short throws, align his feet, and make decisive reads. He still has that magic of being able to run around the pocket, make plays happen, and when he does line his feet up he throws maybe the best ball in the NFL. Some of his throws this year still look like vintage Wentz. Now he just has to do it more consistently. And if he does, don’t count out the Eagles because as they get more healthy and in rhythm, that confidence may quickly come back, the defense is a real problem for teams, and the NFC East is still wide open for the taking.

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