McMullen’s Quick Hits: Wentz Impresses as Eagles Rout Browns
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - When it comes to Carson Wentz and his future in the NFL, maybe you already got the answer when the Cleveland Browns intimated that the rookie would never be a franchise-level signal caller.
After all, how many organizations have been less successful at the position than this reincarnation of the Browns?
It’s not the time to order the bust for Canton just yet but Wentz was as advertised and more during his NFL debut as the Eagles easily dispatched of Cleveland, 29-10, on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
He started out like a house afire, outside of a Jordan Matthews drop, completing 4-of-5 passes on his first professional drive. Matthews, meanwhile, made up for his earlier miscue, hauling in a beautifully thrown ball over his outside shoulder for a 19-yard touchdown pass.
"It was huge. It gave me a lot of confidence," Wentz said of his hot start. "I know people here were rocking, so it was a lot of fun and was a great start to the year."
Things slowed a bit from there but Wentz showed the star power that the Eagles have been raving about since the team traded Sam Bradford to Minnesota eight days ago and really since he arrived in South Philadelphia as the second-overall pick in April’s draft.
The former North Dakota State star finished Game 1 22-of-37 for 278 yards with two scoring throws and, perhaps more importantly, no interceptions. His second TD was a perfectly dropped throw in the bucket for Nelson Agholor, resulting in a 35-yard score.
Wentz also showed a natural affinity and acumen for the back-shoulder fade, something that could be quite the weapon, especially when Dorial Green-Beckham is completely up to speed with this offense.
"I wasn't really nervous," Wentz said. "I really don't get nervous. I like to listen to worship music before the game to kind of calm my nerves. I just go out and have fun. It's a game and I try to enjoy it."
Matthews was his favorite target, hauling in seven catches for 114 yards, while Ryan Mathews paced the running game with 77 yards on 22 carries and a 1-yard plunge late in the contest.
"It's not surprising," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Wentz's play. "Because of us and myself being around him for so long now and just knowing the maturity level that he has and the things that I was trying to get across to the fans, to the media. This is who he is. This is his DNA."
Pederson came up with a solid game plan for Wentz on short notice, getting him comfortable early by using his movement skills and getting him out of the pocket early for easy throws in the flats.
That stopped Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton from focusing on a stationary target with the blitz and gave Wentz all the confidence he needed against a subpar opponent.
"I wanted to get him and really the offensive line settled into the football game,"Pederson said. "...the other thing was get Carson kind of on the perimeter, where he does some of his best work outside the pocket."
STAY IN YOUR ‘LANE’
The 10-game PED suspension for right tackle Lane Johnson still looms but the timetable remains an unknown and as long as Pederson has one of his best players available to him, that means he’s going to use him.
The domino effect of that is veteran Allen Barbre staying at left guard, something that makes the Eagles’ offensive line as a whole a much stronger unit. Now, Philadelphia wasn’t exactly facing the Fearsome Foursome or the Steel Curtain this afternoon but keeping Wentz clean in the pocket was imperative in the rookie’s first start and the group did a solid job as the Browns managed only two sacks a few forceful hits.
"(Wentz) is a big, strong guy," Johnson said. "He can handle it. He is a big boy. I am proud of him for the way he handled it. There was a lot on his plate today and it feels good to get the win."
UNIQUE ‘13’ PERSONNEL
Much was made about tight end being perhaps the deepest position the Eagles had on offense but Chris Pantale struggles in the preseason meant the waiver wire was his ultimate destination and then Trey Burton injured his calf in practice on Friday.
The re-signing of Najee Goode on Saturday was a clear indication that Burton was not going to be able to go and the third-year tight end was indeed inactive. Goode, a solid special-teams player, was brought back to replace Burton in that aspect but the 13 personnel (one RB, three TEs) many expected to see a fair amount of playing was still in play, albeit in a scaled-back version.
Backup offensive lineman Matt Tobin was used as a third tight end on a few occasions and provided Philadelphia with some solid blocking at times.
One of the few issues with the Eagles defense had was 50-50 balls as the Cleveland offense failed to do anything on a consistent basis. The Browns’ two scores, however, were set up by big plays, one a Terrelle Pryor 44-yard reception up and over Nolan Carroll, who was in solid position but could not make a play on the ball. Later it was a 58-yard catch by rookie Corey Coleman over two different defensive backs.
Jim Schwartz likes to get pressure with four and you saw that this afternoon as he rarely blitzed. At times that looked awkward as Robert Griffin III had plenty of time to throw the ball at times but as the Eagles’ lead widened and the line got to pin its ears back late, the sacks started to flow with Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin all getting to the QB.
Barwin, in fact, got around the edge in the fourth quarter on All-Pro Joe Thomas and he was rightfully fired up.
Graham got the start at left end opposite of Connor Barwin, but Vinny Curry mixed in well, while Cox and Bennie Logan were spelled well by Beau Allen and rookie Destiny Vaeao.
"I am pretty sure (Schwartz) does not like to blitz that much," Barwin said. "I think it is going to be on us front four up front to create pressure. ...In the first half on the play actions where (RG3) just kind of chucked it down field, we have to be better there. In the second we made adjustments and got a little better pressure."
SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS
Dave Fipp’s special teams units have earned quite the reputation in recent years and they showed up again today. Punter Donnie Jones showed his nuclear-leg strength today with first two punts averaging 69.5 yards a try and with good hang time, although both did go for touchbacks.
Overall, Jones punted six times with three settling inside the 20, while Darren Sproles averaged 14.8 on punt returns with one 40-yard bring back. The only negative was Caleb Sturgis missing a 46-yard field goal.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen