David Carr was the first overall selection in the 2002 NFL draft and the 6-foot-3, 215-pound quarterback was going to be the cornerstone of the expansion Houston Texans. Carr had everything going for him – size, athleticism, intelligence and a strong passing arm.
What Carr didn’t have was a good offensive line and he was pummeled by enemy pass rushers every week. By the end of his rookie season Carr had been sacked an NFL-record 76 times, and in the four years that he started every game for Houston he was sacked an average of 58 times per season. And that, of course, doesn’t count all the times he wasn’t sacked, but was hit hard.
Eventually, all of that pounding took a toll on Carr, physically and mentally, and he never lived up to his potential. After five losing seasons with Houston he kicked around as a backup for a few years with Carolina and the New York Giants, and now he’s considered one of the biggest draft-day busts ever.
And that brings us to Carson Wentz. Anybody who saw the Eagles’ latest deflating defeat – 32-14 to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday – had to wince every time they saw Wentz get leveled, which was often. He was only sacked once, but Wentz got crushed several times as he released the ball or right after he released it, and even though he kept getting up, Eagles fans held their breath every time he got flattened. Wentz was hit a total of 12 times, and don’t forget those hits were delivered by large, angry men who spend much of their time lifting weights.
Wentz got off to a great start and so did the Eagles, as they began the season 3-0 and the QB was the NFC offensive rookie if the month of September. But the Eagles have nose-dived since then and Wentz has looked like, well, a rookie quarterback who plays for a bad team.
But the losing isn’t the problem, at least as far as Wentz is concerned. Most rookie quarterbacks lose lots of games, because the best college quarterbacks are usually drafted by the worst teams. So, it’s not the losing that could end up having a long-term and negative effect on Wentz – it’s the constant pounding. He’s on pace to be sacked 35 times and, of course, he’ll be hit hard many more times than that.
Anybody who has watched Wentz can see that he has the courage and toughness to stand in the pocket and take that pounding, but he is human and it has to have an effect on him. You can already see it in the way Wentz has developed happy feet at times and the way he tends to throw the ball off of his back foot because of the pass rush in his face. He just doesn’t look comfortable in the pocket and it’s easy to see why. That is a natural reaction no matter who the quarterback is. Even an all-time great like Tom Brady doesn’t play well when he’s being punched in the face all of the time.
The Eagles have had to shuffle their offensive line several times this season, starting with the loss of right tackle Lane Johnson, who was suspended for most of the season after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. They also lost his replacement, rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai, to a knee injury. Offensive line wasn’t a strong part of this team to begin with, and it’s gotten worse as the season has progressed – and now the Eagles face the Washington Redskins, who sacked Wentz five times back on Oct. 16.
We all know it’s not just the blockers’ fault – the Eagles’ receivers don’t get open and when they do they drop too many passes and that just puts more and more pressure on the rookie QB. But David Carr’s Texans also had an excuse – it was an expansion team filled with other teams’ rejects and, like the Eagles, they had a brand-new coaching staff. But that didn’t make Carr feel any better when he was driven to the ground time and time again. It’s the cumulative effect of all those hits that takes a toll and right now Wentz is getting hit way too often and way too hard. Even if he can bounce back physically, it has to be in the back of his mind every time he drops back to pass.
And what makes this especially alarming is how many times he’s had to drop back to pass. Wentz threw 60 passes against the Bengals, which are just two fewer than the team record shared by Nick Foles in 2014 and Randall Cunningham in 1989. And Wentz is on pace to finish the season with 602 pass attempts, which would surpass the team record of 571, set by Donovan McNabb in 2008.
Add it all together – a bad offensive line, an impotent running game, receivers who can’t get open and a coach who keeps calling passing plays — and the results are predictable. Even Pederson acknowledged that this week, when he said that having a rookie throw the ball 60 times is “a recipe for disaster.”
It’s OK if the Eagles lose games. It’s not OK for them to lose their franchise quarterback. The Eagles have just four games left to play this season and it’s up to the coach to make sure Carson Wentz survives them.