The unique setup at the London Irish rugby fields, where the Philadelphia Eagles practiced before Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium, gave us a glimpse of quarterback Carson Wentz's pre-training prep that usually occurs behind closed doors.
Normally, Wentz is one of the first players on the field. But he and his teammates had just gotten off the bus following an international flight and a quick stop at the hotel for meetings, so more time was needed. He popped into a white tent adjacent to the rugby pitch and disappeared for a spell. When he re-emerged, he pulled down his black play socks to reveal wires connected to electrodes that had been placed all around his surgically repaired left knee, presumably to provide stimulation to the area before the workout.
Holding the attached box in his hand, he plucked the tabs off one by one, then reached for the large brace and began strapping it on, loop by loop, until at last, he was ready to play some football.
It was a reminder that Wentz is little more than 10 months removed from a serious injury that included anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligament tears. Given the severity, some experts cautioned Wentz might be relegated to the pocket early and might not be back to full form until 2019.
While there have arguably been some limitations, brought on mostly by that bulky brace on his lead leg, Wentz has mostly looked like his old self, and has even shown growth from last season in one key area: accuracy. Given all the evidence collected over his first six games, it appears Wentz is poised for a monster second half to the season. And adding Golden Tate at the trade deadline could enhance that likelihood.
A more efficient Wentz
The scary thing about Wentz is when he identifies an area in his game to improve, the results have been exceptional. After his rookie season, Wentz wanted to get better on third down and in the red zone. The next season, his accuracy shot up 9 percent on third down (56 percent to 65 percent), his yards per attempt went from 6.1 to 9.5 and he threw 14 touchdowns to three interceptions, compared with three TDs and five INTs in his first season. The Eagles’ red zone offense, meanwhile, jumped to No. 2 in the NFL, up from 24th.
This season, a major point of emphasis was accuracy. And, once again, there have been dramatic results. Wentz is currently tied for fourth in the NFL in completion percentage, at 70.7, after finishing last season tied for 27th (60.2). There has been a jump in overall accuracy numbers across the league thanks mainly to the way the game is being officiated, with five quarterbacks at better than 70 percent. Just one finished north of 70 last season (Drew Brees, 72 percent).
Wentz has seen the largest increase in accuracy in the league, a touch over 10 percentage points.
Numbers piling up
Maybe it’s because of the team’s lackluster 4-4 record, but Wentz’s start is being a bit underplayed. He has thrown 13 touchdowns to two interceptions through six games, putting him on pace to throw 30 TDs with five picks.
By tossing three touchdowns in Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars, Wentz is now tied for second with Russell Wilson for most games with at least three TD throws in the past two seasons with eight, behind only Tom Brady (nine).
He became the first QB in Eagles history to post a 115.0-plus passer rating in four straight games (minimum 20 attempts per game), and is also the first Eagles QB to complete 70 percent of his passes in three consecutive games since Randall Cunningham in 1992.
The one number Wentz would like to reduce is fumbles. He has seven through six games, a total he acknowledges is too high.
Feet becoming a factor
There was a play in Wentz’s first game back, against the Indianapolis Colts, where he escaped pressure in the pocket, scrambled left and dove near the sideline for a first down. It was a clear indicator he was further along in his recovery than many had anticipated.
There have been glimpses of that in the past five games, but they have appeared and faded. Sunday provided promise Wentz’s legs are going to be used as a weapon more down the stretch. He called on them late in the first half to generate a much-needed scoring drive against Jacksonville. He took off to pick up a long first down, then moments later raced to his right to create space to throw a deep touchdown pass to rookie tight end Dallas Goedert.
His 28 rushing yards against the Jags was a season high.
“I wouldn’t say I’m more myself, but that’s when instincts take over,” Wentz said. “When I scramble I want to throw first, but the way they were covering everything, playing soft coverage, playing deep, the plays that we had on, I [would] try and extend some and pick up the first down a couple times.”
Medical experts say that even though players can return earlier, it takes a year or more for a surgically repaired knee, and the player attached to it, to fully be back to their old selves. The further Wentz is removed from his injury, the more he should be able to do, which bodes well for the Eagles in the second half of the season.
“I told y’all, once he gets his legs up under him and gets comfortable, the way he’s running and scrambling, he’s going to be the same guy we saw last year,” tackle Jason Peters said, “if not better.”