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Carson Wentz is still throwing interceptions, but Eagles are convinced that he's playing better

Martin Frank
Delaware News Journal

PHILADELPHIA – There are always two ways of looking at Carson Wentz's performances.

There are the interceptions, which continue at an alarming rate. Wentz threw two more last Sunday in the Eagles' 38-29 loss to the Steelers, giving him an NFL high of nine in just five games.

Wentz had thrown just seven in each of the previous three seasons.

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There is also the missed connections with his most trusted receiver, tight end Zach Ertz. One of the interceptions Sunday was on a timing route with Ertz. But Ertz was bumped while running, which could have been a penalty, and thus didn't get to his anticipated spot in time.

The second interception was a desperation heave on fourth down.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) plays in an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

But in many ways, Wentz has also played his two best games of the season back-to-back, all without wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Jalen Reagor.

The stats might not be much different. In the last two games, Wentz has completed 60.3% of his passes, with 3 TD passes and 3 INTs compared to 59.9% with 3 TDs and 6 INTs in the first three games.

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But Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Wentz's improved play goes beyond the stats.

"I think the decision-making, the accuracy of the throws," Pederson said. Wednesday. "He's obviously seeing the field and spreading the ball around, getting everybody involved. Then of course he's been using his legs, not only for designed runs like we had in San Francisco for the touchdown, but also on third downs, or scrambles in passing situations."

Wentz rushed for 9 yards total in the first two games. Since then, he has run for a career-high 65, followed by 37 and 11 yards. Most of those are from escaping pressure on passing plays.

"Those are all things that we've encouraged him to continue to do and still protect himself," Pederson said. "Those are all signs of him coming and playing better."

Another difference is in yards per attempt. In the last two games, Wentz is averaging 7.14 yards per attempt compared to 5.58 in the first three games. That's a sign that Wentz is throwing and completing deeper passes.

Sure, there were still misses, like the 49-yard attempt to rookie John Hightower at the end of the first half.

"Offensively, we’re finding a little bit of a rhythm at times," Wentz said. "Still leaving plays out on the field, no doubt, in both games. Last game not the result we wanted." 

But Hightower has gotten separation on a handful of deep passes so far this season, so it should be a matter of time before Wentz starts hitting those. Wentz's longest completion of the season, for 55 yards, went to another rookie in Reagor.

Keep in mind, NFL teams didn't have spring practices, training camps were shortened and all four preseason games were canceled because of the pandemic. That means Wentz didn't have the chance to develop a rapport with three rookie wide receivers.

Pederson is convinced that's coming.

"For us and (Hightower) to put that out there on tape to show his speed, obviously, is something that opponents are going to see," Pederson said. "And they are going to be aware of that, and be cautious of that. It's something we can continue to build upon."

The same is true with the emergence of wide receiver Travis Fulgham, who had 10 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. This after a 42-yard, game-winning TD reception the week before against the 49ers.

In two games, Fulgham has 12 receptions for 209 yards and 2 touchdowns.

"I think it all goes hand in hand," Wentz said. "When we’re kind of in a groove offensively, we’re mixing it up with quick passes, play-action passes, the run game. I think that plays to my advantage, adding the ability to go up tempo at times.

"I can always play better, turnovers and things, misses that we can keep cleaning up. But finding a bit of groove and finding a bit of a connection with these guys will definitely help."

It won't get any easier against the Baltimore Ravens, who allow just 15.2 points per game, the best in the NFL. They also rank second with 10 takeaways, and second only to the Eagles in quarterback hits with 47. They're also fifth in sacks with 16.

But Pederson said that if Wentz continues to rediscover his rapport with Ertz, who has just 20 receptions for 145 yards this season, the Eagles' offense will be much better.

"Carson and Zach, they have to continue to work," Pederson said. "I haven't seen the ball travel as high towards Zach than it is right now, and those are things (that) as we continue to work through during the week, those two guys will be on the same page.

"So it's just a little bit of missed timing right now with those two."

No practice for Lane Johnson

Pederson wouldn't comment on the second opinion that right tackle Lane Johnson sought on his ankle. But Johnson sat out practice Wednesday and Pederson said he's "in that day to day realm" as far as availability for the game Sunday.

These players also missed practice Wednesday: CB Darius Slay (concussion), DT Fletcher Cox (personal), LB Duke Riley (rib), S Marcus Epps (rib), S K'Von Wallace (neck). The following missed practice with an illness: LB Shaun Bradley, G Jamon Brown and DT Hassan Ridgeway.

Jackson (hamstring), Jefferey (foot), CB Avonte Maddox and TE Richard Rodgers (neck) were limited.

Eagles lose rookie DE to Washington

Eagles seventh-round draft pick Casey Toohill was claimed off waivers by the Washington Football Team on Tuesday, according to a report. The Eagles waived Toohill on Monday, no doubt hoping he'd clear waivers in order to sign him back to the practice squad.

Toohill played 22 snaps in Week 2 against the Rams. That's the only game he got into.

The Eagles are five deep at defensive end, assuming that veteran Vinny Curry will be coming off injured reserve this week.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.