Carson Wentz isn’t playing his best football by far and is on track to register his worst season of his NFL career, but he still has plenty of supporters in his corner.
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback leads the league in turnovers (16), interceptions (12), and sacks (32), while ranking 31st in completion percentage (58.4).
Yet despite all of the criticism from fans, analysts and even former players—including Brett Favre, who on Tuesday said the franchise should have went with Nick Foles and not Wentz after winning Super Bowl LII—Wentz remains the starter as the NFC East-leading Eagles (3-4-1) visit the New York Giants (2-7) on Sunday.
“The way you lose games automatically in the NFL is turning the ball over,” former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook told me. “Turnovers have been something that has been a thing for Carson all season long. If he wants to be better and his team wants to be better, they have to manage those turnovers because right now he’s become a turnover machine, and that’s because he’s trying to do too much with the ball.
“He’s trying to win every game and win every play, but there are times you have to be able to say ‘OK, this is one of those plays where there’s nothing left for us to have, we’re just going to throw the ball away or take this sack.’ Unfortunately he decides to throw the ball to the other team or fumble the football and you can’t do that and win in the NFL.”
Westbrook, who rushed for 5,995 yards and 37 touchdowns in eight seasons with the Eagles from 2002-09, agrees with Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson that Wentz is still the best option to lead the franchise forward not only this season but in the future.
“I don’t think you move off of Carson Wentz at this point in the season,” he said. “I think you continue to ride this thing out and see if you can get better play from your quarterback.”
Wentz, who was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, was sidelined due to an ACL injury as backup Nick Foles helped guide the Eagles to its first ever Super Bowl title in 2017. Foles was called upon again to start the 2018 season as Wentz was still recovering from his knee injury, and rallied the Eagles late in the season into the playoffs with Wentz dealing with back issues.
Following the season, Philadelphia let Foles hit the free-agent market and rewarded Wentz with a four-year, $128-million contract ($107 million guaranteed) in June 2019. Wentz led Philadelphia to a 9-7 record and berth in the NFC Wild Card game last season, but exited his NFL postseason debut with a concussion after just nine plays; the Eagles lost 17-9 to the Seattle Seahawks.
In 2020, Wentz has been under immense scrutiny not only due to his decision making, but his turnovers. He has thrown multiple interceptions in five of eight games, and has been sacked three or more times in seven games.
Pederson reiterated his stance on the struggling quarterback on Wednesday after being questioned about Favre’s comments multiple times, finally telling reporters: “Carson’s our guy. Carson was our draft pick. Carson’s the guy that is going to carry us and lead this football team.”
Like the Eagles head coach, Westbrook agrees, especially with the alternative being unproven rookie Jalen Hurts.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Westbrook said of Wentz’s struggles. “I know if Doug Pederson could figure this out he absolutely would. There were times where Carson was struggling to read defenses early on in the season where he just wasn’t doing a great job understanding what defenses were giving him and matching that up to what the offense was trying to run. Then there were other times you talk about just protecting the football. You have to be smarter than that in certain situations than what Carson is doing. You can’t put the ball in harm’s way.”
Westbrook, who is partnering with Crown Royal to promote responsible drinking on game days, said another reason for Wentz and the Eagles’ struggles this season can be attributed to inconsistency. Philadelphia has been ravaged by injuries as the NFL has seen plenty of players and big-name stars go down due to no preseason and limited offseason activities and practices due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Among the players the Eagles have placed on the Reserve/Injured list this season are: OT Andre Dillard, CB Trevor Williams, OT Jason Peters, DE Vinny Curry, CB Craig James, S Will Parks, TE Zach Ertz, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Jalen Reagor, TE Dallas Goedert, DE Genard Avery, and LB Nate Gerry.
Receiver Alshon Jeffery (calf) hasn’t played this season, while running back Miles Sanders (knee) and offensive tackle Lane Johnson (ankle) have missed games.
“There was a point a couple of weeks ago when you look at the starting 11 on offense from the beginning of the season and they only had two of those guys—Jason Kelce and Carson Wentz,” Westbrook said. “It’s easy to play inconsistently when you don’t know the guys you’re playing with. There’s a lot of reasons why, but if you want to be good in this division, you have to play much better.”
Philadelphia is getting healthier coming off its bye week though, and faces a Giants team struggling with turnovers as well. Second-year quarterback Daniel Jones has thrown nine interceptions, lost four fumbles, and has been sacked 28 times.
Despite the injuries, inconsistent play and Wentz’s struggles, the Eagles sit perched atop the NFC East at 3-4-1 ahead of the Washington Football Team (2-6), New York Giants (2-7) and Dallas Cowboys (2-7). Philadelphia is currently the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs, set to host the No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) in the playoffs at Lincoln Financial Field.
Westbrook believes the Eagles are in the best position to secure the division ahead of the three other teams adjusting to first-year head coaches.
“They’re going to get some guys back—Miles Sanders, Alshon Jeffery, Jalen Reagor—and I think that helps them a bunch,” the two-time Pro Bowl selection said. “Lane Johnson will continue to get healthier, too. I think that’s going to do them really, really well. At some point, that continuity between head coach and quarterback will figure itself out. I think Carson is going to have some time to sit back and say ‘I have to play better in order for this team to win,’ and if they can do any of those things, they should be able to win this division.”