Reich: Wentz goes fourth with familiar comparison
PHILADELPHIA >> Coaches talk about third down and how it defines teams. We know better. No one remembers third down. Fourth down is where stars are born, and the Eagles are one of the latest examples.
The Eagles had fourthand-four at the 40-yard line of the Cleveland Browns with a five-point lead and seven minutes left in the third quarter of their opener. Players filing off the field in anticipation of a punt had to be sent back in.
When the Eagles lined up, Wentz was looking at a certain blitz. He gathered the snap, zipped the ball over the middle for a first down to tight end Zach Ertz and took a Hall of Fametype hit, at least in the estimation of offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
“Having played with Jim Kelly all those years, you don’t want guys to take those hits,” Reich said. “But it’s the willingness on that fourth-and-four to stand there, a guy’s coming up the middle, to make the play to Ertz and take the hit. Because that’s what it takes to make that play and keep the drive alive. So those are good signs.”
That fourth-down play set the table for the backbreaker, Wentz firing a 35yard scoring pass to Nelson Agholor on the next play. For all practical purposes, it was game over.
Reich backed up Kelly, the Hall of Fame quarterback, on the Buffalo Bills. When Reich looks at Wentz, he sees the same blood-andguts competitor.
“I don’t like to compare too much,” Reich said. “I think physically he reminds me a little bit of a combination of (Andrew) Luck – who I’ve never played with or coached, but I’ve watched him play; some of the same skills — and a guy who I did play with in Jim Kelly. (The) kind of size, strength and just a toughness. Just kind of a mentally tough, physically tough attitude; not afraid to stand in the pocket and take a hit. I think Carson showed that.”
Wentz’s grit has not gone unnoticed among teammates. Jordan Matthews, his go-to receiver, is past the stage where he’s impressed by the rookie’s alpha male qualities. Way past it.
Take the way Wentz was hit on the fourth-down conversion.
“Obviously it’s good for momentum to stay on the field,” Matthews said. “I’m not going to sit here and act like we were just like, ‘yeah, alright!’ He expects to, himself, to do that. We expect him to do that. This isn’t like our little brother that we’re trying to just move along. He’s a starting quarterback in the NFL. The dude’s poised. He’s different. So when he goes out there and makes that play, to be honest, we expect him to. No different than we expect Ertz to catch the ball with contact.”
Ertz is questionable, at best, to be part of the offense when the Eagles oppose the Chicago Bears Monday Night at Soldier Field. Reich has confidence in Trey Burton, coming off a solid offseason as well as a calf injury that sidelined him for the opener.
“Trey’s got to step up, we’ve got to adapt,” Reich said. “You just switch up your personnel groups. But the good thing with this offensive system is it’s all built on a multiple approach that you can change formations, that you can change personnel groups and still run the same plays.
So you’ve got to adapt a little bit but the system has within it some things that make it conducive because this stuff comes up all the time.”
With a triumph over the Bears, Wentz would become just the fifth rookie starting quarterback to win the first two games of the season since the 1970 merger. Kelly and Luck were unable to do it. The aforementioned group includes Mark Sanchez (Jets, 2009), Joe Flacco (Ravens, 2008), Ryan Leaf (Chargers, 1998) and John Elway (Broncos, 1983).
“Everybody wants to be their own unique guy and Carson is certainly his own guy, for sure,” Reich said. “All you have to do is be around him a little bit to understand he’s not trying to walk in anybody else’s shoes. He’s blazing his own trail. But he also has the maturity to understand that you can blaze your own trail but at the end of the day this is a team game.”
Every now and then Sunday the Browns’ defense would put the heat on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, like on this play when he’s being pursued by Chris Kirksey and Derrick Kindred.