- Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are very different quarterbacks, but something the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2016 draft have in common is their ability to toss a deep ball. And the Philadelphia DBs are confident that practicing against their QB is giving them a leg up.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Eagles’ clocks have been set to Pacific Time since they landed in Orange County in the wee hours of Monday morning. On Thursday, players wrapped up their last meeting of the day at 7:45 p.m. PT, nearly 11 p.m. back in Philadelphia. By now, they are pretty much adjusted to the three-hour time difference, but it was still a bit odd to walk into the Angel Stadium clubhouse after a late-afternoon practice and see Thursday Night Football on TV.
Entering the season, it would have been a good bet that a Thursday night game in December between the Saints and the Falcons—Drew Brees vs. Matt Ryan—would carry high stakes. Fewer, though, would have guessed back in July that the premier NFC matchup in Week 14 would be Jared Goff’s 9–3 Rams vs. Carson Wentz’s 10–2 Eagles.
“They are both doing all the things you want to see going from Year 1 to Year 2,” says Eagles safety Rodney McLeod. “You see a lot of maturity between the two. Both are making good reads, making good throws, they are not turning the ball over and one thing they do well is they both have a nice deep ball.”
McLeod—and the rest of the Eagles secondary—have a unique perspective. All week long, they’ve been studying film of the No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft and how he’s come alive in new head coach Sean McVay’s offense. They also have the frame of reference of having watched and played against the No. 2 pick in practice. Most of the Eagles’ practice reps between the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense happen during training camp. But for a handful of plays each Wednesday and Thursday, during third-down and red-zone periods, the Eagles’ first-stringers go head to head with each other, “to get guys fired up,” McLeod says.
Goff and Wentz are in many ways very different players, but one thing Eagles players say can serve as something of a reference point from practicing against Wentz is the arm talent that, expectedly so, is shared by the No. 1 and 2 overall picks of the 2016 draft.
“As a secondary, you’ve got a guy like Carson who can go out there and hit every throw,” says cornerback Jalen Mills. “No matter what hash he’s on; no matter what route it is. You watch [Goff] on film, you see him doing the same type of things. You see him hitting the deep ball, you see him hitting the short route, you see him hitting the intermediate route. So as far as that goes, going against Carson I think is really going to help us prepare for a guy who can sling the ball down the field.”
The deep ball is very much a part of both young quarterbacks’ games. Wentz ranks fourth in the NFL, and Goff seventh, for the percentage of passes they throw 20 yards or more downfield, per Pro Football Focus. Goff averages a little more than eight yards per pass attempt, second-highest in the league, while Wentz averages around 7.5 yards per attempt, ninth-highest.
“They like explosives; that’s what makes that offense go,” McLeod says. “If we make them check the ball down, I am sure they won’t like that. Dink and dunk down the field; it is hard to win that way.”
The most obvious difference between their styles is Wentz’s mobility. Goff had that one nifty nine-yard touchdown run Week 7 against the Cardinals, but he’s taken off on foot about one-third as many times as Wentz has this season. As safety Malcolm Jenkins put it, Wentz is “a little more unconventional” than Goff, improvising inside and outside the pocket to keep plays alive.
Physical talents aside, the biggest jump in year 2 often comes in the mental side of the game. Eagles players have seen that firsthand, watching the way Wentz prepares and how that translates to games. They say Goff's growth is noticeable on film, too.
“You see him getting better and better every week,” Mills says. “You see their offense giving him more and more every week. When you see that as a defensive player, you see the quarterback running more and more plays, that tells you that he knows that offense.”
At the line, Wentz runs a lot of check-with-me type plays, in which he’ll go to the line with a couple options, both run and pass, and choose which one to run based on the defense. The Rams have their own audible system, in which they will often rush to the line of scrimmage and McVay will relay instructions to Goff on which play to run based on what the coach sees, before the in-helmet communication system cuts off with 15 seconds on the play clock.
“It’s really hard when they change the tempo up, so sometimes you’ve gotta just settle in,” Jenkins says. “They might know the call that you are in, but you’ve gotta be able to execute. Sometimes you might be able to disguise, you might be able to mix up some of the looks, but when you get too caught up in that, eventually you’ll get yourself out of position and you won’t execute, so we won’t make a big deal out of it. We’ll just go in and make sure that we communicate and play our defense.”
This week, Goff recalled that he was on a pre-draft visit in Philadelphia when he got a notification on his phone that the Rams had traded up to the No. 1 pick. Seven days later, the Eagles traded up to No. 2, setting the course for the two young passers who had spent that spring training together. A little more than a year later, the two top draft picks of 2016 are leading their teams into one of the most anticipated football games of the season. More than anything else, McLeod says, “they are both helping their team win.”