Where Does Wentz Go From Here?
By Jamie Garwood
Carson Wentz, endured a rollercoaster game on Halloween Sunday, an eery microcosm of his pro career so far. Jamie Garwood compares the fortunes of the Colts QB with that of Sunday’s opponent as well as his 2016 NFL Draft counterparts:
In The Beginning...
In the annals of drafts and busts which are always deemed successful by whether or not your first round quarterback lands, the 2016 Draft is one of those weird parallel dimensions where you look back now and wonder why or how two teams – The Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles – were fighting over Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. The former, a pocket passer from the Pac-12 who showed poise and some athletic ability, was the apple of The Rams eye – the possibility of being married with the offensive play calling genius of Sean McVay was mouth-watering as he handed it off to Todd Gurley.
The Eagles were rebuilding (sounds familiar) and felt that Carson Wentz was the perfect fit. Wentz hailed from the North Dakota State Bison which won the FCS Division 1 Championship each season he was there; his senior season garnered much attention with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions, along with six rushing touchdowns. Yet in the same year he suffered a broken wrist, missing eight games of the season and returning for the postseason and the FCS title game. Wentz’ bad luck with injuries would become a staple of his career.
In his second season in Philly, Wentz started the season brilliantly, with whispers of him in the MVP discussion before a rushing touchdown attempt at the goal-line – in a head-to-head match-up versus Goff and the Rams in Los Angeles – led to him suffering a torn ACL. His season was over but, not for his team; back-up Nick Foles led the Eagles to an unlikely Super Bowl triumph versus the New England Patriots. Wentz cheered from the sidelines as Foles’ near perfect performance went into folklore.
A Fresh Start
The next season, Wentz did not start the season owing to continued recovery from the ACL. When he did start they experienced a 5-6 record. A back injury put paid to him in the playoffs as Foles took over once again. In 2019, the Eagles exercised their option on Wentz, but the postseason ended in further defeat and injury, a concussion inflcited by Jadeveon Clowney meant he played only nine snaps in a 17-9 playoff defeat. His postseason record is 0-1.
In what would become his last season in Philadelphia, the Eagles eventually benched Wentz when the hope of playoff football was lost, a season when the Washington Football Team won the NFC East with a losing record and hosted the eventual champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the playoffs. Wentz had 12 starts and finished with a record of 3-8-1 before Jalen Hurts came in for the Week 14 match up at home to the New Orleans Saints – gaining a rookie debut victory.
This is my starting point of discussing Carson Wentz; he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in the 2021 offseason. With Philip Rivers retiring from football this meant a reconnection with head coach Frank Reich who was offensive co-ordinator for the Eagles during Wentz’s best season of his career. If anyone could salvage Wentz, it was Reich.
A Nightmare Halloween
Yet his tenure in Indy has begun as inauspiciously as it ended in Philly; the Colts currently sit at 3-5, three games behind the Tennessee Titans who beat them in their house yesterday despite a 14-0 first quarter lead for the Colts. Watching the game it seemed like Carson Wentz did everything in his power to lose the game, culminating in a disastrous 2 yard interception return when in danger of taking a safety – throwing the ball away would have been a much wiser option. That gave the Titans 31-24 lead, but Wentz found the power to marshal a five play, 75 yard drive for Jonathan Taylor to rush and level the game. – alleviated by a terrible defensive pass interference by the Titans (more on that later).
In overtime, both teams went three and out on their opening drive. Wentz had the ball again, the opportunity to march downfield against a defense you have conquered the majority of the day – yet he throws another crucial interception in Indy territory, looking for Pittman but instead finding double coverage – a bad decision when you had the time to manoeuvre the ball down field. Four plays later and Randy Bullock nailed the game winning field goal, a big win for the Titans who showed resilience to stick around after a 14-0 deficit of their own making. Whilst Tannehill also suffered interceptions in the game, ultimately Wentz’s errors will linger longer in the memory.
Granted, the crucial moment is not on Wentz; the Colts D came up with a second interception by Tyquan Lewis who instead of kneeling, stumbled and the ball came loose and was recovered by original target TE Anthony Firsker. Next play, a sideline pass from Tannehill to AJ Brown was not properly tackled, leading to a 57 yard scamper for the wide receiver. All of a sudden we have a tied ball game, and Tannehill’s interception didn’t prove to be as costly as his counterpart.
Before the end of the first half, Wentz scrambled up middle and lost possession of the ball, it fortunately being recovered by Jonathan Taylor to maintain the drive. The field goal gave the Colts the halftime lead, but it was another example of Wentz’s lack of ball security; it was his third fumble of the season, and in his NFL career he has had 63 fumbles – 26 of which have been lost. Compare that to Tannehill, who has played four years more in the professional ranks and has just three more fumbles. Questions abound over Wentz’s ability to maintain drives if he cannot take care of the football.
Defensive pass interference calls on deep ball passes got Wentz out of trouble last week versus the Colts in the Bomb Cyclone of Santa Clara – and another gave them good field position to retake the lead this week; yet this tells us more of Wentz’s inability to throw the deep ball when required. Compare that to a similarly maligned QB in Jimmy Garoppolo, whose wonderful strike to Deebo Samuel near the end of the first half on Sunday contrasted with Wentz’s fortunes.
Much was made of the record of Kyle Shanahan last week – which is a losing one over his career as a head coach, despite a Super Bowl appearance. Wentz is strangely similar; after yesterday he has a 38-38-1 record in the league (0-1 in the playoffs) – he finished 35-33-1 with Eagles and is currently 3-5 with Colts after 8 starts. For a second overall draft pick you expect more from a player, yet the question remains over ball security, turnovers and his injury history, which seems to haunt him in his decision making.
In contrast, look at the 2016 draft and there is a big asterisk on the quarterback class of that year, which after five years is quickly gaining prominence as a quagmire of mediocrity. Notable players drafted after Goff and Wentz include Joey Bosa (Chargers), Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys), Jalen Ramsey (Jaguars) and Shaq Lawson (Bills). However, in the fourth round the Cowboys were able to draft Dak Prescott – the franchise quarterback who stepped in when Tony Romo’s body failed him and is returning in spectacular fashion following a similar long-term knee injury to Wentz.
Prescott, in the same five-year window, has an overall win-loss record of 48-30 and only 40 fumbles. In terms of interceptions, Dak has thrown just 44, averaging 8 a season (Mahomes has thrown 9 already this season for context). Wentz has thrown 53 total picks and Goff has thrown 61. Tannehill – in four more years – has thrown 95 interceptions to date, and Wentz is on pace to comfortably match that quota.
The Colts are three games behind the Titans in the AFC South. They face nine more games, six of which will be against teams with winning records and only two of those tilts will be at home (Bills, Cardinals). The playoff chances may well slip away from the Colts, and with Wentz under center, question marks will remain.
Jamie is a freelance writer of original NFL content on all matters ranging from fantasy football to bold predictions, and is an avid New England Patriots fan. Follow him @JamieGarwood For NFL takes.