How the Patriots Defense Should Attack Carson Wentz, Eagles Offense
In Week 9, the New England Patriots defense was exposed by Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens offense. The Ravens provided a blueprint on how to attack this Patriots defense that was unstoppable through eight weeks of the regular season.
Fortunately for New England, the Philadelphia Eagles, who they play in Week 11, do not have the personnel needed to attack the Patriots defense the same way the Ravens did. Carson Wentz is a much different quarterback than Jackson, which will likely not bode well for him. With a strong gameplan and a more favorable matchup, expect the Patriots to look a lot more like their normal self.
But how exactly should New England go about attacking Wentz and the remainder of Philadelphia's offense?
First, let's talk about what Wentz can do and what he can't do, then get into what the Patriots will do to keep him in check.
What does Wentz do well?
The Patriots saw an RPO-oriented offense in the Super Bowl against Nick Foles and the Eagles. They also saw an RPO-oriented offense last week in Baltimore.
The Eagles and Ravens run their run-pass options a little differently, because, well, Jackson and Wentz are two very different quarterbacks.
As all Patriots fans know, the defense struggled in both games. The Ravens would win last week and the Eagles would go on to beat New England in that Super Bowl. Needless to say, the RPO-type offenses have found ways to attack the Patriots before and the Eagles will try to again this upcoming week.
In addition, Foles is no Carson Wentz. The offense had to adapt, since Foles simply does not have the same amount of playmaking talent Wentz does. Wentz can chuck the football really well, he can scramble with his legs, and would probably be gaining more recognition for his play if his receiving group could help him out a little bit this season.
In terms of Wentz's mechanics, he is very accurate and throws a nice tight spiral. He can air it out down field and may have one of the biggest arms in football right beside Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers.
He has displayed nice touch and anticipation this year, which looks like it has even improved from years prior. He also has a lot of success against zone coverage and knows where each and every weak spot is to pick it apart.
Not to mention, he is a very good runner and can get out of the pocket and extend plays. He will frequently break a tackle and break outside to take what he can get.
All of Wentz's tools are perfect for the Eagles offense and work great with play action and run-pass options. He can quickly diagram the play and then step back and throw a fastball downfield to one of his targets.
If that pocket starts to crumble and he can't throw that fastball downfield, he can improvise and evade tacklers to avoid the loss.
Where are the holes in Wentz's game?
As mentioned before, Wentz excels against zone defense. However, conveniently for a team like New England, he has struggled in man coverage situations this season. Especially in Cover 0, which the Patriots have played a lot of this year.
Here's an example: During Philadelphia's Week 6 game against the Vikings, the goal of the Vikings defense was to play Cover 0 defense and rush one man against each blocker on the Eagles offensive line. They tricked Jordan Howard with a blitzing Mackensie Alexander, which caused Howard to miss his assignment, who was linebacker Anthony Barr, who would go right down the A gap untouched, taking Wentz down to virtually end the game.
Other times in man coverage, Wentz will throw with almost too much anticipation and just pray his receiver will get open, forcing it into tight spots, where some of his interceptions have come from this season.
Some of that bad decision making and forcing balls into tight spots might also have to do with overconfidence in Wentz's arm. Many football brains think Wentz believes he can put the ball in any spot on the field and sometimes gets caught red handed by forcing the ball in a bad spot.
He also sometimes gets too set on throwing to a particular target and will force a ball deep instead of looking at his other options on more shallow routes.
Wentz also has struggles if his pocket starts to collapse on the edge. Most of the work done with his legs is scrambling out of the pocket and off to the side. Very rarely does he step up in the pocket.
How should the Patriots attack him?
The Patriots will need to create a pass rush and try to exploit some of the runningbacks in blitz pickup. Bringing someone like Jonathan Jones or Patrick Chung off the edge and into the backfield might give Howard a nightmare scenario to deal with.
While trying to generate a pass rush, they will also need to play contain and make sure Wentz does not get outside and extend the play. Instead, keep him inside the pocket, with the outside collapsing to try and force his hand and make him throw ill-advised passes.
Playing one of the outside linebackers as a spy might make sense to try and take away the slant route off the RPO and keep Wentz contained. Either Kyle Van Noy or Ja'Whaun Bentley would make the most sense here to try and prevent the Eagles from operating their normal gameplan. This would mean that the other linebackers would have to compensate for one staying back and spying one Wentz.
Lastly, playing Cover 0 against Wentz should be the best option. He struggled against this look in the film we studied and no one runs it better than the Patriots.
If New England can keep Wentz contained and take away his RPO game, the Eagles will find themselves frequently in obvious passing situations on third-and-long situations, which is exactly where New England wants them with their stout Cover 0 defense.