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Brady Then Wentz? Eagles' Young Star in Debate as NFL's Second-Best QB

Carson Wentz has emerged as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in his second season in the league. He threw for four scores in the Eagles' win over Washington, giving him a league-leading 17 passing touchdowns.

Three thoughts from the Eagles' 34–24 win over Washington on Monday Night Football:

1. With Aaron Rodgers down for the remainder of the season, is Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz the second-most difficult quarterback in the NFL to prepare for next to Tom Brady? Allow the following three pieces of evidence for submission:

• Forty-seven seconds after getting pounced by Washington pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan on a bootleg gone horribly wrong in the second quarter, Wentz gets 3.51 seconds of pristine pocket and catapults a perfect deep ball to rookie wideout Mack Hollins just as Hollins is entering the “go” portion of his double move. The ball lands in that precious sweet spot—almost so in stride that the intended receiver starts stumbling just a bit as he hauls it in.

• On a third-and-goal from Washington’s nine-yard line, Wentz takes the snap from the shotgun, ducks to elude a wave of pass rushers then leans into another two defensive players while sky hooking a touchdown pass to a covered Corey Clement.

• On a critical fourth quarter third-and-eight from the Eagles’ 27-yard line, Wentz takes a shotgun snap and immediately feels the heat of a six-man rush that collapses the pocket. The scrum reaches him back at the Philadelphia 18-yard line when the quarterback steps into linebacker Ramon Foster, squats through a small opening and sprints ahead for 17 yards and the first down. A few plays later, Wentz throws his fourth touchdown of the night, giving the Eagles 14 points worth of breathing room. 

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All instances illustrate his effectiveness, whether it be in the more traditional sense—a clean pocket where he makes the expectedly perfect throw—or in the muck when so many younger quarterbacks tend to crumble or hurl errant passes. The Eagles have shifted from the deep-ball game to series with certain zone-read concepts to series where LeGarrette Blount makes them a traditional power run and bootleg team—and no matter what happens during these personality changes, Wentz remains unfazed and brilliant.

2. Much of the Eagles’ rise has been correctly attributed to the maturation of Wentz, though defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s more intimate understanding of his arsenal has to be a close second. Take, for example, this series of dagger blitzes Schwartz uncorked on Sunday against the Redskins on back-to-back drives in the first half.

• Schwartz brings safety Malcolm Jenkins into a linebacker spot as one of six rushers. Earning one-on-one matchups across the board, linebacker Nigel Bradham slips through a crease created between the center and right guard, making it to Kirk Cousins in roughly 1.6 seconds post-snap.

• Schwartz again utilizes Jenkins, this time as one of five rushers. With Fletcher Cox swallowing two offensive linemen, Jenkins steps into the backfield and engages the blocking running back. That leaves the team's 2017 first-round pick, Derek Barnett, one-on-one with a tight end and an easy path to the quarterback. That sack resulted in a loss of eight yards on a third-and-two at midfield.

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3. Are Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins remaking Washington’s offense on the fly? Terrelle Pryor was targeted 11 times in Washington’s season opener, then 18 times over the next four weeks. Meanwhile, 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson was targeted six times over the last two weeks and four times on Monday against Philadelphia—the same number as Pryor. Pryor also did not see the field until Washington’s third offensive series. A bit of context from Pro Football Focus: Doctson’s 54 snaps were a career high. Pryor was on the field for just 30 total plays. It seemed earlier in the season that Cousins wanted to develop Pryor into his lifeline, but after a few untimely drops, could he be running a similar experiment with Doctson?