Wentz playing at MVP level as he heads into bye week to go deer hunting
PHILADELPHIA—Carson Wentz spent the last nine weeks preying on opposing defenses. He'll spend the next week hunting whitetail deer.
The Philadelphia 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 the league's most valuable player award.
Through nine games, Wentz has completed 176 of 291 passes for 2,262 yards with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions. The second-year quarterback from North Dakota State and Bismarck Century High School 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 doing, 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."