ASHBURN, Va. — The Carson Wentz experience started strong for Washington commanders. In the quarterback’s first game, he threw four touchdown passes and the offense attacked the entire field, spreading the ball and separating the Jacksonville Jaguars defense.
The 28-point effort looked like the start of something fun.
This was not the case. The experience hasn’t been as good the last two games.
Wentz isn’t responsible for all of Washington’s failures over the past two weeks. The Commanders (1-3) scored a total of 18 points in losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in what can only be described as a group failure, from coaches to offspring.
Wentz’s protection didn’t hold up, putting more pressure on him to make quicker decisions in the pocket and be more accurate in an offense than he’s ever run before.
“He’s still trying to get his way,” Rivera said.
In his last three games, Wentz has been considered under pressure on 53 assists and sacked 16 times — both NFL highs in that span. And he posted a combined QBR of 28.6 in those games — boosted by a 95.9 in the second half of a Week 2 loss to Detroit when he threw three touchdown passes.
Despite those struggles, Washington has made a substantial investment in Wentz — his sixth starting quarterback in three seasons with coach Ron Rivera. They traded two draft picks to the Indianapolis Colts — a second-round pick in 2022 and a conditional pick in 2023 that will also likely be in the second round. They also absorbed Wentz’ cap of $28.2 million.
They have to make it work with Wentz. They will give him time to work. And they remain optimistic.
“As he gets more and more comfortable, more and more in tune with what the offensive coaches think,” Rivera said, “you’ll see his comfort level start to go up more and more.”
Commanders need this move to pay to avoid a sixth consecutive losing season.
After facing two of the NFL’s stingiest defenses over the past two weeks — Philadelphia and Dallas both rank in the top 10 in yards, points and passing yards allowed — Washington enjoys a break Sunday against the Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET, CBS) … hopefully. Tennessee’s defense ranks low in several key categories, including points against (25th), total yards (26) and passing yards (28).
“I definitely missed a few throws and missed a few reads,” Wentz said. “We all continue to grow and learn together. I have a ton of confidence that we will continue to improve and continue to see how explosive we can be.
They saw it in Week 1. Given the pitching time, Wentz was effective. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wentz was pressured with just six dropouts and was fired once. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 313 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He posted a total QBR of 58.4.
Since then, its performance has dropped significantly.
Washington needs to make sure this doesn’t become a repeat of his 2020 season in Philadelphia. After four games that season, Wentz posted a 37.6 QBR with four touchdowns and seven picks. The difference then: Wentz was in this offense for five seasons against four games.
“It takes more than two weeks to get used to this offense,” Washington tight end Logan Thomas said. “The guy is fine.”
But there will be growing pains.
“There are definitely frustrating moments, but you have to move on,” Wentz said. “You’re going to make mistakes and have a few bad games. You have to stay confident in yourself, stay confident for the guys around you, and trust the guys around you if they make a mistake. I’m by no means perfect in this regard, I try to stay even through the ups and downs, but there are times of frustration.
Wentz’s teammates noticed his behavior.
“He didn’t put his head down,” receiver Terry McLaurin said. “He doesn’t point fingers at all, he blames himself for the most part. But we can also do a better job as the supporting cast to make her job a little easier.
The toughest part for Wentz is that Washington could be left without 60% of its original offensive line due to injuries. And rookie receiver Jahan Dotson is dealing with a hamstring injury that could sideline him for a week or two, according to Rivera.
Wentz needs time to pitch. The problem is that teams come to him with four pass rushers. He was sacked 14 times, an NFL high, against a pressure of four; teams only used four rushers 68% of the time against Washington, which means they can drop seven defenders more often.
“I wish I could have someone there to protect him because that will help support him,” Rivera said of Wentz. “It will give him a chance to pass the ball to the playmakers that we have. It kind of works hand in hand, that if you don’t have the protection – he doesn’t have the protection – his numbers have dropped .
It doesn’t help that Washington has faced 30 games while third and 7 or more — the second most in the NFL. It’s not an ideal situation for a quarterback.
“We can’t put ourselves in a hole,” Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner said.
But protection issues vary. Sometimes it’s a guard slipping the wrong way that leads to a free rusher, like what happened on Sunday; other times it may be a game that develops more slowly and is not locked in well.
Sometimes Wentz holds the ball too long – a habit he showed in Philadelphia and Indianapolis. Rivera said that partly stemmed from Wentz’s newness to the system. This can cause indecision. It can also result in the ball being held longer and then being swallowed up by the rush. Rivera said that aspect would help the more Wentz felt comfortable in the system.
“Sometimes when you see him go through his progressions, you see almost to the point where by the time he gets to that second or third [option], he’s under duress,” Rivera said. “And a lot of times you wish you could say, ‘Hey, if you didn’t kick it off on your first, you get to your second, you gotta be ready to deliver it. It’s something he’ll learn and become comfortable with over time, and hopefully for a short period of time.
Whether it was new to the system or feeling stressed by the passing rush, Wentz sometimes missed an open target – perhaps advancing too quickly or not being patient enough.
Or he’ll go for the big play: On a second-and-9 from Dallas’ 10-yard line on Sunday with 8:51 left in the game, he had both Thomas and McLaurin tilting to opposite sides. Both would have gained at least 5 yards.
Wentz went for a corner ball to receiver Curtis Samuel with his back foot while nearly jumping to throw. It was almost a perfect throw, but instead it was caught out of bounds. A game later he was sacked, placing fourth and 15.
Again, on Washington’s only touchdown of the game, he connected on a well-thrown 10-yard corner route to Dotson – with McLaurin and Thomas, executing a crossing route, opening up below. The wait paid off.
“That’s why you have to choose wisely,” Wentz said. “Play fast and trust your instincts. You’re going to make the right decision and you’re going to run out of it, make the wrong one. …You try to make quick instinct decisions, but there are definitely many times that I’m going to blame myself for missing one or two, but hopefully there’s more good than bad at the end of the day. .
Or by the end of the season. There are still 13 games to play and Wentz has been subject to swings in the past. After the Jaguars win, Rivera was asked how he would handle Wentz’s roller coaster plays.
“Take antacids,” he said.