In many ways, he looked like he did in 2017, when he made a hard charge toward being league MVP before suffering a season-ending knee injury. There were explosive plays, such as the two 50-plus-yard touchdown throws to DeSean Jackson. There were times when he created plays with his feet, such as when he dipped past oncoming traffic to extend the play before firing to the back of the end zone for Alshon Jeffery early in the fourth quarter.
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Wentz finished 28-of-39 for 313 yards with three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 121.0 QB rating — a great performance.
Yet it was different. He forced fewer throws and freelanced less than he did the first three years of his pro career. Coach Doug Pederson talked this offseason about how Wentz was getting through his reads more quickly entering Year 4, which allows him to stay within the construct of the play. Pederson saw that in the game Sunday.
“In the first half, I called a play-action pass that was designed to get Alshon the ball,” Pederson said. “We ran a jet motion, and the safety [Quinton Dunbar] was going with [Nelson Agholor] on the motion, and then he stopped. Carson was coming off the play fake, and he saw him sitting there. And instead of trying to force it or move, Jordan Howard was in the flat, and he just dropped it right down to him, so he was getting through the progression.
“Those are the things we talk about. He’s just going through the progression, understanding the defense, putting the ball in the playmaker’s hands and continuing to work that way.”
Wentz absorbed little punishment, despite playing against a quality Washington front. The Redskins had four quarterback hits and one sack, and the sack was a Wentz scramble that ended with no gain. He credited his offensive line for their efforts, but the statistics show that he was helping himself. He got the ball out in 2.66 seconds on average, which ranked 10th among qualified Week 1 QBs through Sunday night. Last season, he got the ball out in an average time of 2.77 seconds, which ranked 19th. It’s a small sample, but it’s representative of the adjustments that can limit the punishment and help Wentz stay upright.
Meanwhile, his average time in the pocket was 2.37 seconds, compared to 2.18 in 2018 — a sign that he was allowing slightly more time for plays to develop before bolting into the unknown.
While Wentz is in some ways coloring outside the lines less, he still has a tremendous amount of freedom to call plays at the line of scrimmage. He was a blazing hot 12-of-13 for 197 yards and three touchdowns on third down Sunday, and he revealed afterward that he was calling the shots in many of those circumstances, particularly in the second half, when the offense caught fire.
“There were a couple of times today we just wanted to get on the ball and see what they were doing coverage-wise so that we could call it at the line,” he said. “That’s nice that we were able to communicate as effectively as we did and get us in the right calls to pick up some key third downs. It kind of simplifies the game for us and lets us go make plays.”
The increased mastery of the system coupled with a return to full health resulted in a Week 1 performance that stirred not only memories of what Wentz once was but also thoughts of what he can become.
“He had a great game,” Jackson said. “Once again, this is his show, and he is driving the car.”