Car­son Wentz is play­ing at MVP level and still hunt­ing for more

Cecil Whig - - NFL -

PHILADEL­PHIA (TNS) — Car­son Wentz spent the last nine weeks prey­ing on op­pos­ing de­fenses. He’ll spend the next week hunt­ing white­tail deer.

The Ea­gles quar­ter­back will en­joy a bye week at long last; the Ea­gles are among the last eight teams in the NFL to get the bye, and they reached it with the league’s best record and Wentz as the front-run­ner for MVP.

Through nine games, Wentz has com­pleted 176 of 291 passes for 2,262 yards with 23 touch­downs and five in­ter­cep­tions. Wentz leads the NFL in touch­down passes and is in the top five in yards and quar­ter­back rat­ing.

“That’s all great, but be­ing 8-1 is what it’s all about,” Wentz said Sun­day af­ter the Ea­gles’ 51-23 win over Den­ver. “I didn’t re­ally know what to ex­pect with stats and all that stuff, that doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. But I will say I’ve al­ways had high ex­pec­ta­tions for my­self and for this team, so we’re for­tu­nate with where we’re at.”

This has been typ­i­cal of Wentz af­ter games. He stands at the lectern each week and, at least pub­licly, is less im­pressed with him­self than those wear­ing his jer­sey in the stands. Wentz is ex­act­ing, and he’s al­ways men­tion­ing “plays I want back” or not­ing ar­eas that must be “cleaned up.”

“If he doesn’t com­plete ev­ery pass, he’s mad,” coach Doug Ped­er­son said. “That’s just him.”

Even af­ter the of­fense scored 51 points and Wentz threw four touch­down passes on Sun­day, he of­fered those same caveats on his per­for­mance. It seemed the of­fense played its best game of the sea­son on an af­ter­noon when the Ea­gles were so ex­plo­sive that Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field ran out of fire­works. Yet Wentz noted drives he wanted back. Not just plays. Drives. So what can im­prove? “He con­tin­ues to work at his ac­cu­racy and his de­ci­sion-mak­ing,” Ped­er­son said. “And there are still lit­tle things where maybe a split-sec­ond de­ci­sion could have got­ten the ball out of his hand or his eyes were a lit­tle bit late ‘here.’ Those are things he wants to clean up. Just un­der­stand­ing the pro­gres­sion of the play, and un­der­stand­ing where ev­ery­body’s go­ing to be on a cer­tain route.”

Wentz’s com­ple­tion per­cent­age (60.5) is ac­tu­ally lower than it was last sea­son (62.4), al­though that’s also the byprod­uct of an of­fense that is look­ing down­field more this sea­son. Wentz’s av­er­age pass length this sea­son is 10.07 yards; in 2016, it was 7.44 yards. But there have been passes that Wentz has mis­fired, and he’s not sub­tle on the side­line about ex­press­ing his dis­plea­sure in him­self when that hap­pens.

Wentz of­ten cites the men­tal side of the game as an area for re­fine­ment, es­pe­cially when it comes to iden­ti­fy­ing pro­tec­tions and find­ing his hot re­ceiver. Ped­er­son said Wentz is blitzed more than any quar­ter­back in the league, and Wentz spends con­sid­er­able time each week re­view­ing pro­tec­tions _ whether it’s meet­ing with the coaches or dis­cussing them with cen­ter Ja­son Kelce.

Plus, Wentz is the type of quar­ter­back who some­times in­vites con­tact. Wentz said when watches films, he sees times when he could take the un­der­neath route as op­posed to wait­ing in the pocket. It’s a “fine line,” as he of­ten says, and there’s weigh­ing the risk vs. re­ward. But this is all nit­pick­ing a quar­ter­back play­ing at an MVP level. That’s the stan­dard Wentz has set this sea­son.

“It’s not these ma­jor, over­haul changes that he needs to do be­cause he’s play­ing at an ex­tremely high level,” Ped­er­son said. “Just con­tinue to fo­cus, con­tinue to study, pre­pare him­self the right way like he knows how to do and like he’s been do- ing, and he’s go­ing to be fine.”

The best part for Ped­er­son is that Wentz “im­proves ev­ery sin­gle week” and that the “guys around him re­ally el­e­vate their game.” That’s what the coach con­sid­ers the sign of great quar­ter­backs.

It’s only 25 games into Wentz’s ca­reer, and these con­ver­sa­tions are tak­ing place. His team­mates are no longer sur­prised by the way Wentz is play­ing. He never threw more than two touch­downs in a game last sea­son, yet he has topped that mark in four of the last five weeks.

With a quar­ter­back that hot, there can be con­cern that the bye week can dis­rupt mo­men­tum. Wentz doesn’t see it that way. He thinks the bye week is fall­ing at the right time so “men­tally and phys­i­cally ... kind of just get away and get re­freshed so we can get back and make our run.” Ped­er­son is giv­ing the play­ers a full week off.

When Wentz was asked how he’ll spend it, he said he’ll re­lax and go hunt­ing. Upon his re­turn, a game against the ri­val Dal­las Cow­boys and quar­ter­back Dak Prescott awaits. Wentz can be­gin show­ing that even af­ter 51 points on Sun­day and with the best record in the league, there is still an­other level to reach.

“We’re never go­ing to set­tle,” Wentz said. “We’re go­ing to en­joy this break that we have. But we’re go­ing to come back. We have a good Dal­las team to go up against next. We’ll never set­tle, there’s al­ways things to learn from.”

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