RBs played a big part in Wentz’s fast coronation
PHILADELPHIA >> Carson Wentz had one of the best debuts any NFL rookie quarterback could expect to have Sunday, firing the first of his two touchdown passes on his team’s first drive, piling up yards and frustrating defensive backs in front of him, exhibiting all game long the leadership abilities that moved Doug Pederson to green light a trade of incumbent starter Sam Bradford.
In the first opportunity to judge that minor front office gamble, it would be selling Wentz short to merely say he exceeded expectations in a 2910 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
“Watching the tape this morning and going back and watching the guys, for him to have that kind of poise in the pocket for his first start and really only having about four series throughout the entire training camp, you just can’t teach that,” Pederson gushed Monday at his day-after celebratory press availability. “And the patience that he had to let receivers come open; ... I remember that one thirddown play, he hit Jordan (Matthews) on a backside dagger route. It just hung in there, hung in there, and it was a nice, tight window throw.
“Those are the things you see from more veteran type quarterbacks, where young guys tend to want to scramble in those situations. But his poise was tremendous . ... That’s just who he is.”
Wentz hit on 22 of 37 passes for 278 yards and the two scores. He had a passer rating of 101. His first pass in an NFL regular season game was dropped by that same Jordan Matthews, who by the end of the day would prove there’s a reason why Wentz favors him among all the receivers.
Matthews wound up with seven catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. And on the subject of the passes from Wentz — who has been criticized for throwing a wobbly ball on more than the rare occasion — Matthews said, “You can’t throw those any better. That’s all about timing, accuracy and poise.”
It was about a couple of other factors, too.
For one, that was the Cleveland Browns on the other side of the line. A team that won all of
three games last year and earned Bucks County native Mike Pettine a spot on the coaching firing line. Pettine’s still collecting a nice salary while sitting in his nice Ohio home.
The Browns are nice guy Hue Jackson’s problem now. And it might be tough for him to match that 2015 win total if he continues to do what he did for 20 minutes or so after the game Sunday: Lay about 100 percent of the blame on himself.
The first step toward coaching redemption should be at least hinting that your players are wrong, no?
Anyway, other than the blameless Browns’ inability to defend, and even more important than the Eagles’ linemen blocking those Browns down, was the impact the Birds’ running game had on Wentz’s first-game fortunes.
Top back Ryan Mathews rushed 22 times for only 77 yards, which is 3½ per crack. But Mathews did get into the end zone on one carry, and more importantly ran hard every time Wentz needed him to change the pace of a drive.
The Eagles also got meaningful contributions from backup back Kenjon Barner (four carries, 42 yards) and veteran showman Darren Sproles (five carries for 12 yards; two catches for 24 yards), who did what he does best: Just a little of this and a little of that but it’s always dangerous whenever he does anything.
“I felt going in that we would have the ability to run the football, and I didn’t want to overload Carson,” Pederson said. “I know he had 37 (pass) attempts. That’s quite a few. You try to keep it 30-ish if you can . ... (But) I think it’s a credit to our guys (that) the balance was there. We had to throw it when we needed to throw it. We
made some great plays down the field.
“The running game was really, I mean, 133 yards, at the same time it was very close to even being better than that.”
“There are things we could definitely improve upon,” Barner added. “Whatever the saying is, ‘It is never as bad as it seems, nor is it as good as it seems.’ I think we did a great job today, but there are always things that you can go back, once you watch the film, and correct and make better.”
From 10 different video angles, however, it was undeniable during the Monday morning autopsy that the Eagles’ running game was effective in keeping the Browns guessing. That helped keep the heat off Wentz and allowed him to make fast reads.
Once that was established, there was little to stop a confident kid quarterback with all the tools and not enough experience as yet to be overly cautious.
Now comes a trip to Chicago for a game on a much tougher team’s turf, and on Monday Night football. It’s Wentz’s first bigstage game.
Nobody is saying now that it will inevitably faze him, no matter how much assistance he receives from the blockers, pass catchers and running backs around him.
“You guys don’t see him on a daily basis like we do, but he is a confident guy,” Barner said after the beating of the Browns. “He believes in his ability and God has truly blessed him.
“What he did today was display to the world what he displays to us on a daily basis.”