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One year later: A look at Wentz's recovery

Eliot Shorr-Parks
December 10, 2018 - 8:22 am

Today, one year ago, the Eagles’ franchise was dealt a potentially crippling blow when quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL/LCL in the team’s win over the Los Angeles Rams. 

We all know how the season ended after Wentz’s injury. The ring on quarterback Nick Foles’ finger tells that tale. 

One year later, Wentz’s story is far from over. 

His return from his injured ACL/LCL has been impressive in many ways. He has shown very little sign of injury. He is perhaps not quite as elusive as he used to be, but he was never really a quarterback that used his speed or elusiveness in the open field. His ability to move around in the pocket, his strong arm — all of that is still there. 

In fact, a game-by-game comparison of his first three years shows that the Eagles are getting essentially the same player this season that they did in 2017, and an improved player from his rookie season. 

Here is Wentz’s average per-game stat line from his first three years:

2016 (16 games): 24/38 (63% on the season), 236 yards, 1 TD, 0.8 INTs, 2 sacks

2017 (13 games): 20/34 (60.2% on the season), 253 yards, 2.5 TDs, 0.5 INTs, 2 sacks 

2018 (11 games): 25/36 (69% on the season), 279, 1.9 TDs, 0.6 INTs, 2.8 sacks 

As you can see, Wentz has the highest completion percentage of his career and the most yards-per-game in his career. He is averaging almost twice as many touchdowns per game and half as many interceptions as he did his rookie year. The signs of improvement are there, even if the offense has been frustrating to watch at times. 

A closer look at how Wentz has played since his injury:

Accuracy: The numbers and the eye-test tell two different stories. On the one hand, his completion percentage is the highest it has been in his career. That is an encouraging sign. His adjusted completion percentage, taking away drops and throwaways, per Pro Football Focus is 78.5%. That is good for eighth in the NFL. There is no denying there have been passes that Wentz has missed. There were certainly some against the Cowboys. The truth is that Wentz’s accuracy, especially down the field, has never been at a truly elite level, even before the injury. He missed the occasional throw just like he has this season. No matter how you slice it, however, Wentz is completing a much higher percentage of his passes this season. 

Mobility: A lot of focus on just how healthy Wentz is will be tied to his ability to simply run with the ball.  That is a somewhat misguided way to look at it, as the perception of Wentz as a runner has always been a little overblown. He is capable of making plays with his legs, but he has never been that elusive in the open field or extremely quick as a runner. That has basically been the case this year. There have been moments where he has done an excellent job avoiding pressure, extending the play and finding receivers down the field. Wentz is averaging 3.2 yards-per-rush this season, which is down from 4.7 last year, but right on par with his 2016 average of 3.3. 

A lot was made post-injury of Wentz having to protect himself, and he has certainly done that. He is running the ball, on average, three times per game this year. That is down from last year, when he averaged 4.9 attempts, but slightly up from his rookie season (2.8). Wentz has done an excellent job this season avoiding taking a big hit, and on the season, hasn’t taken almost any big hits beyond the line of scrimmage that could be viewed as reckless. 

Pocket presence: A huge part of telling whether or not a quarterback is completely recovered from an ACL injury is whether he is the same guy inside the pocket. Is he getting rid of the ball quickly to avoid a hit? Is he stepping into his throws? Is he keeping his eyes down the field? You can certainly nitpick each answer, but overall, the answer to each of those questions is yes. Wentz has been more than willing to stand-in the pocket and take a hit to give a play time to develop. He has done a nice job keeping his eyes down the field, especially when he has been outside of the pocket on the run. There has been some debate on just how much Wentz is stepping into his throws, but at the very least, it is extremely comparable to last season — if not exactly the same. 

Arm strength: Another sign of a quarterback’s recovery from an ACL injury is his arm strength, as that is usually impacted by their lower-body mechanics. Although his accuracy on down-the-field passes can sometimes be slightly off, arm strength has not been an issue for Wentz. He still has plenty of zip on his passes and has had no issue under throwing receivers down the field. That is a very positive sign for both how his mechanics have held up and how his lower body has recovered from the injury. 

Turnovers: Fumbles have always been an issue for Wentz, both before he suffered the injury and before he even entered the NFL. Wentz now has 32 fumbles in 40 career games, and nine fumbles in 11 games this season. Part of that is due to pocket awareness — he simply hasn’t seen or felt the defender coming. This is something Wentz absolutely has to work on, but it is hard to say this is in anyway related to his once-injured ACL. Wentz has seven interceptions in 11 games this season, and although is interceptions have been costly, throwing seven interceptions in close to 300 attempts is not a red flag. 

Overall: Are there areas of Wentz’s game he needs to improve in? Absolutely. That was the case before his injury as well, and it will almost always remain the case throughout his career. 

Considering the seriousness of Wentz’s injury, however, it shouldn’t be overlooked how far he has come. Just look at the situation in Washington with Alex Smith, who is reportedly dealing with complications from his surgery. Coming back from an injury is no guarantee, especially one as serious as Wentz suffered. The fact Wentz has gotten back to the point he is at is an extremely positive development for this Eagles’ team going forward — something that shouldn’t be taken for granted or ignored . 

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