McMullen’s Quick Hits: Wentz Wagon Rolls on as Eagles Thump Steelers
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - At what point, do we tap out and admit Carson Wentz is for real?
Many in Philadelphia don’t believe they ever get nice things but it’s time to embrace it, the Eagles have a franchise quarterback.
The he-hasn’t-played-anyone argument went up in smoke on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field as the rookie first-round pick out-dueled future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger in an emphatic 34-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team many tabbed as a potential Super Bowl contender.
The Eagles raced into their bye week unbeaten and alone atop the NFC East while keeping the Steelers winless in the City of Brotherly Love since Oct. 24, 1965.
Wentz was spectacular for the third straight game, completing 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
Already the first rookie QB since the 1970 merger to win his first two starts without turning the football over, you can add another game onto that as Wentz continues to confound skeptics who are used to all rookie QBs struggling.
Through three full games, Wentz has connected on 64 of 102 passes for 769 yards and five TDs with no interceptions, becoming the first player in NFL history to reach those numbers in his first three games.
Wentz distributed the football to seven different receivers and had plenty of success finding Darren Sproles out of the backfield as the diminutive back caught six passes for 128 yards and a 73-yard TD in which the North Dakota State product extended the play beautifully before flipping it downfield to Sproles, who did the rest.
Ryan Mathews was limited again by a balky left ankle but another rookie, Wendell Smallwood, who finished with 79 yards on 17 carries, and Kenjon Barner, who added 43 yards on eight totes, pitched in with TD runs in the second half.
"We know the guys will be smart during the bye week and take care of their bodies," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "And get ready to come back."
NOT YOUR AVERAGE ROOKIE
The Pittsburgh defense has a recent history of snacking on first-year signal callers.
Coming into this game, the Steelers were an imposing 19-2 when matched up against freshmen starting under center since 2004 and if you examined the numbers even further, it got uglier for those QBs.
In the 21 games, the rookie passers threw for just 12 touchdowns versus 25 interceptions, completed a paltry 54.4 percent of their passes and compiled an ugly 61.1 passer rating.
Wentz was poised and polished as usual and his passer rating was 125.9.
THE SCHWARTZ IS WITH YOU
Lost in the hype surrounding Wentz is that Jim Schwartz has turned around this defense very quickly.
A lot of people believe Pittsburgh has the most talented offense in all of football and the Eagles stop unit held Roethlisberger to 257 yards passing, many of those in garbage time, and no touchdowns, while DeAngelo Williams, who came in as the NFL’s leading rusher managed just 21 yards on eight carries.
Antonio Brown, meanwhile, has his usual volume, snaring 12 balls for 140 yards but his biggest play was just a 20-yard chunk. And that’s like an NBA player scoring 40 during a 30-point loss.
Roethlisberger was sacked four times, lost a fumble and his accuracy got worse and worse as the game progressed.
“We made them one dimensional,” middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “They couldn’t run the ball. They had to throw the ball downfield. Our defensive backs were doing a great job. We (the linebackers) were doing a great job underneath (in) coverage. We made them one dimensional and when that happens, our defensive line eats.”
TAKING THE FIRST PUNCH
It didn’t look good early as Pittsburgh took the opening kickoff and went methodically down the field as Eli Rogers victimized rookie corner Jalen Mills for a big 32-yard gain and Brown went for 13 more on the next play.
Things bogged down from there for the Steelers, although Roethlisberger showed his brilliance in extending plays before lofting a pass across the field that should have been a TD. Markus Wheaton dropped it, however, and Pittsburgh couldn’t even settle for three as Chris Boswell’s 36-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Bennie Logan.
"Well, it hurts obviously," Roethlisberger said of failing on the opening drive. "You have a chance for a touchdown, you think three at the worst and then you get a block. It's definitely deflating but it's not the end of the game."
Old Mo’ swung to Philadelphia’s way and never switched sides again.
"It's the NFL so every team is great," Steelers Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey said. "Every team has great players. At the end of the day, that's not how we play. We have to get to work, watch the film and get better."
THE OTHER ROOKIE
As Wentz coasts toward Rookie of the year honors, another freshman is tearing it up for the Eagles.
Coach Doug Pederson is proving to be a very inventive play caller and he gashed the Steelers’ defense with a number of misdirection plays, including a beautiful 40-yard screen play to Darren Sproles off a fake reverse.
"Their screen game was exceptional," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin admitted. I think they threw for 300 yards and 150 of it were screens to backs and tight ends. They did a nice job."
Pederson also made it a point to get Josh Huff the football in space and called pass plays that took advantage of Dorial Green-Beckham’s imposing frame.
"There's an art to calling a great game," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "I think he's called three really good games. He's been synthesizing all of the information and prioritizing, and it's been a good dynamic. He's providing great leadership. It's a fun place to work and he's a fun coach to work with. He has a clear vision, yet he accepts a lot of input. We all work together but he runs the show."
EXTRA ATTENTION FOR BG
Brandon Graham has been really good early this season and Pittsburgh showed him a lot of respect with numerous double teams on passing downs. The Steelers often used a running back or tight end to chip Graham before sending them out into routes but it didn’t stop BG from recording his third sack of the season and also corralling a fumble recovery off a Fletcher Cox strip sack.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen