Good news: The Eagles didn’t lose to the winless Bengals in their Week 3 home game. Bad news: Tying the winless Bengals to “improve” to 0-2-1 in the early 2020 NFL season still felt like defeat with another atrocious performance by franchise quarterback Carson Wentz.
That raises the question every demanding Eagles fan is beginning to ask: Would the team to consider benching Wentz? Nick Foles is no longer an Eagle for two seasons running, but rookie second-pick Jalen Hurts is.
Wentz and Philadelphia played rookie Joe Burrow and Cincinnati to a 23-23 draw, but there’s no doubt he was out-passed by Burrow. Wentz (29-of-47, 225 yards, TD, 2 INTs, 65 yards rushing, TD) did lead a gritty comeback to avoid an 0-3 hole, but didn’t make enough good plays to put his team in position to get it its first win. Wentz was sacked 3 times, rated 80.3 and averaged only 4.5 yards per attempt.
Wentz hasn’t had the support he’s expected this season. The offensive line has been riddled with injuries. The wide receiver corps hasn’t had Alshon Jeffery and now is missing first-round rookie Jalen Reagor. DeSean Jackson (hamstring) had to leave the Bengals game and so did talented No. 2 tight end Dallas Goedert (ankle).
Much like the end of the 2019 season, Wentz is down to top tight end Zach Ertz and reserve wideout Greg Ward Jr. as his most reliable targets. But as things are crumbling around him, Wentz is exacerbating the problems with his poor play, not helping the Eagles overcome the issues.
Wentz is missing a lot of easy throws and is forcing the ball into bad spots. Going into the game, Wentz actually was worse in losses to Washington and the Rams — a combined a 58.5 completion percentage, 6.0 yards per attempt and a league-leading four interceptions adding up to a microscopic 64.4 rating.
What almost saved Wentz in Week 3 was his running. But in the end, he was left trying to make up for his own earlier mistakes. The Eagles have tried thier best to take pressure off him with the dynamic rushing of second-year back Miles Sanders, who didn’t play in Week 1. Wentz is healthy, but he doesn’t seem to be physically right in terms of his mechanics.
But would coach Doug Pederson really bench Carson Wentz?
Earlier in the week ahead of the Bengals game, Pederson was asked whether there was a reason for Wentz’s regression this season. His non-answer? “It’s a good question.”
Pederson has to be upset to have his team still looking for its first win when it was supposed to be an NFC title contender again, especially when he’s offensive-minded and Wentz’s play is throwing off his game plans. The Eagles want to get big pass plays that aren’t there and don’t want to be a run-heavy team, despite the success of Sanders.
Pederson is an aggressive play-caller by nature, but he didn’t trust Wentz to throw in the final overtime drive, settling for a long game-winning field-goal attempt that never happened. The supporting personnel, with Jackson and Reagor ailing, hasn’t been conducive to consistent deep shots. But at the moment, the short-to-intermediate throws haven’t been all that effective either.
For now, it seems crazy for Pederson to make the big shakeup at QB, given he would be benching a franchise passer who makes an average of $32 million per season. But what could quickly change that is Pederson, despite having that Super Bowl 52 ring, is if his future in Philadelphia is attached to Wentz’s frustrating fall.
Should the Eagles start rookie Jalen Hurts?
Hurts, the second-round pick from Oklahoma (No. 54 overall), made his NFL debut in Week 2 with three offensive snaps. He got the chance to touch the ball for the first time as a pro in Week 3, with two rushes for 8 yards against the Bengals, all of that coming on one first-down run early in the third quarter.
The Eagles hinted in the offseason they would deploy the athletic Hurts as a gadget player in a few situations this season. When he was drafted by them in April, it was a surprise pick as there were many other teams with shakier QB situations that could have developed the prolific college winner. But with Hurts elevated to Wentz’s top backup, he’s gone from luxury pick to intriguing replacement option, “Sooner” than expected.
There’s been no indication that Pederson believes Hurts is ready to take over in a regular QB role. With some of the fundamental problems in the Eagles’ offense, Hurts would not be immune. But he might be reined in to focus on the short-to-intermediate passing game, be allowed to lean more on his running and force Pederson to adapt to being a run-heavier team with Sanders.
Had this been Year 2 for Hurts in this system, the chances of him replacing Wentz would be much greater. At the moment, it seems like more a desperation move as it’s far from certain he can give them something better than Wentz. Also, should the Eagles make a non-injury related move to Hurts, that means they would be closer to the point of no return with Wentz. There are not quite there yet.
Nick Foles rubs salt in the wound
The Bears decided to open the season with Mitchell Trubisky as their starter over Foles, whom they acquired from the Jaguars in the offseason. After Trubisky played OK during their 2-0 start, he was benched for passing ineffectiveness midway through Sunday’s Week 3 game at Atlanta.
Foles didn’t waste time rediscovering his Super Bowl 51-level supersub status with the Eagles, leading the Bears to a dazzling, winning comeback with three fourth-quarter TD passes. The problem is, despite the QB change from Trubisky, that amazing 30-26 win moved the Bears to 3-0, giving them further delusions of grandeur with Foles upgrading from Trubisky.
At this point, the Bears should consider themselves having strong playoff chances, at worst as a wild card behind the Packers in the NFC North, especially with the Vikings at 0-3 and the Eagles at 0-2-1. The Eagles, namely Pederson wish they could still fall back on Foles behind Wentz, but until Chicago has the feel of a true pretender, Foles isn’t making another return to Philadelphia.
Can Eagles get out of Carson Wentz’s contract?
The Eagles need to Wentz to work out of his slump, given they signed him to a four-year, $128 million second contract in the summer of 2019, with nearly $108 million of it totally guaranteed. Philadelphia is stuck with Wentz through at least the 2021 season. In 2022, should the Eagles release Wentz, they would eat $24.5 million in dead money with a $6.7 million cap savings.
The Eagles are too committed to Wentz, at least in the short term, and Hurts is too green to be viable alternative. They can’t even think about Foles unless the Bears become really bad before the Nov. 3 trade deadline.
Wentz simply has to play better and until he does, the Eagles need to treat him like a broken QB. With no wins and a trip to San Francisco to face the 49ers next — followed by the Steelers’ and Ravens’ defenses — it might already be too late for a fix in 2020. The heat is on Wentz to start playing up to his potential so the Eagles can be fully confident in him again going into next season.