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Wentzday: The Good from Colts QB Carson Wentz in 2021

While there has been a lot of criticism thrown his way since the season ended, Carson Wentz still had some bright spots throughout the 2021 season.

It wouldn’t be an NFL offseason without drama surrounding the quarterback position for the Indianapolis Colts.

After the Colts’ epic collapse that saw the team go from a virtual lock for the playoffs with two weeks remaining in the regular season to sitting at home for the postseason, many questions are left to be answered. While the quarterback position wasn’t the sole reason for the collapse, it certainly played a role.

“You’ve got to get stability at the quarterback position,” general manager Chris Ballard said last week. “And that position has to play up to his potential to help the team win. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t blaming all of this on Carson (Wentz). I’m not. Because everybody else has to do their jobs too. But the hyper-importance of that position, it’s real. You have to get consistency there. The years we’ve gotten it, have been pretty good, and we thought we had it until the end of the season.”

Carson Wentz had an up-and-down season in his first year as the Colts’ starting quarterback. He finished the season 322-of-516 (62.4%) for 3,563 yards with 27 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 94.6. Wentz played his best football of the year in the middle of the season and certainly looked, at the time, like he was going to be the long-term answer at quarterback for Indy.

While the season may be over, “Wentzday” is back for a postseason special. This week, we take a look back at the areas where Wentz excelled this season and had the most success in the Colts’ offense.

RPOs

When the Colts traded for Wentz back in February, we all knew Frank Reich was ready to implement more run-pass-option (RPO) plays into his offense. The Colts used this throughout the year with great success, leading to quite a few conversions. The ascension of Jonathan Taylor into the best running back in the league sure helped, as well.

The first set of clips is from the Colts’ Week 9 matchup against the New York Jets. Wentz’s ball-handling on these RPOs allows him to pull the ball away from Taylor at the last second and get it to his open receivers. With so much attention focused on Taylor, it allows easy completions for Wentz and the offense.

Another example is Week 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs were dead set on not allowing Taylor to beat them on the ground and made sure to dedicate most of their attention towards him. This allowed Wentz to dice up the Bucs through the air in what was one of his better games of the year (306 yds, 3 TDs). Here are a couple of nice reads from Wentz in the RPO game.

Wentz’s ball-handling and ability to make quick decisions in the RPO game really helped this Colts offense. I’m surprised the Colts did not use it more throughout the year with how successful they were executing these types of plays.

Play-Action Passing

Wentz also took advantage of the defense off of play-action fakes. With defenses keying in on Taylor, the fakes opened things up downfield as defenders peeked into the backfield.

One of these games was against the Houston Texans during Week 13. The Texans had one of the best passing defenses throughout the year, but Wentz had no problem carving them up with play-action. As you can see in the clips, the linebackers come down almost every time the fake is carried out, opening things up downfield.

Another game where Wentz and the Colts offense had success with play-action was against the New England Patriots in Week 15. Wentz only had five completions the entire game against the Pats, and four of them came off of play-action. The second play in this clip may have been one of his best of the season, not to mention a fantastic blitz pickup by Taylor.

With the threat of Taylor always present, play-action had a major impact for the Colts. When Wentz was able to deliver the ball accurately to his receivers down the field after the fakes, it was hard to stop the Colts’ offense. Reich wanted to be dynamic with his offense and keep defenses guessing, and play-action was certainly a part of that.

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Deep Passes

From the time Wentz showed up in Indy, his wide receivers raved about his arm strength and ability to throw the deep ball. The deep ball was an aspect missing from the Colts’ offense under Philip Rivers in 2020 but made its return in 2021.

Going back to the Week 12 matchup against the Buccaneers, Wentz utilizes play-action once again and throws a bomb down the field to Ashton Dulin for the touchdown. Notice how Wentz calmly steps up in the pocket before he lets it rip, showing great mechanics on the throw as well.

The next clip shows another deep shot for a touchdown, with Wentz finding Parris Campbell for the 51-yard score. Once again, the play-action fake holds the defense and allows a speedy Colts’ wide receiver to win over the top. Wentz launches it and places it perfectly for the score.

Wentz was able to use the deep ball often in the middle portion of the season. The Colts did not test defenses deep towards the end of the year, leading to a much less explosive offense. Whether it was injuries or the various coverages defenses were using against them, the absence of the deep ball hurt the offense at the end of the year.

Final Assessment

The 2021 season certainly did not end the way Carson Wentz and the Colts had wanted it to. However, Wentz had plenty of bright spots throughout the year and excelled in numerous areas.

The success with RPOs and play-action was certainly aided by having Taylor in the backfield, but Wentz’s ball-handling and ability to sell the fakes gave defenses pause and helped the Colts execute these plays. The deep ball threat was something that was missing from this offense in 2020, and when used, helped make the offense more explosive.

The problem with Wentz was the volatility in his play. While the highs were very high and gave glimpses of why he has the potential to be the long-term solution at quarterback, Wentz was not near consistent enough throughout the year to make that a guarantee. The Colts need more stability out of the quarterback position and need to have confidence that their QB1 can make the plays needed to win in the clutch.

Is the talent there for Wentz to be the Colts’ quarterback of the future? Absolutely. Is the consistency and ability to perform in the clutch? 2021 says no. And now the Colts are left with a decision to give him one more year to prove himself or move on.

The 2022 offseason is sure to be a wild one.

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Have thoughts on the overall assessment of Carson Wentz and his strengths during the 2021 season? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know how you feel!


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