The Eagles rolled over the San Fransisco 49ers yesterday, improving their record to 7-1, the best start for the franchise since 2004. As fans and pundits continue to pile on to the rapidly expanding Wentz Wagon, it's time we compare the franchise quarterback's hot start to the first half of Donovan McNabb's 2004 campaign.
Carson Wentz is just 24 games into his NFL career, but his performance in 2017 may have already surpassed the peak year of the Philadelphia Eagles' greatest quarterback. Let's take a look at the pair's numbers through the first eight games of their best seasons:
The first thing that jumps out is just how similar so many of the numbers are. Outside of touchdown passes, in which Wentz has a decisive lead, and sacks, where McNabb holds the advantage, every statistic is practically even.
What is also obvious is how much younger Wentz is now than McNabb was in 2004. Wentz is just 24, but McNabb was 28 and heading to his fifth-straight Pro Bowl. As a result, Wentz has a higher number of "mistakes." Wentz has just one more interception than McNabb did, but he's been sacked five more times.
McNabb's supporting cast was also more star-studded than Wentz's, featuring names like Terrell Owens, Brian Westbrook and Tra Thomas. Granted, Wentz had Jason Peters protecting his blindside until a week ago, but no one on the Birds current roster can even be mentioned in the same breath as Owens or Westbrook.
Still, with all of that being said, Wentz is still out-playing McNabb through eight games and he is still getting better. That's what is truly exciting about watching this kid play every Sunday. Less than 24 months ago he was an unknown player, playing at North Dakota State. Now he's the toast of the town and an MVP candidate.
Through eight games, it's safe to say Wentz is playing better than McNabb was, but he'll need to continue his hot start if he wants to out-play him for the entire season. McNabb threw 17 touchdowns in the final seven games of 2004 and tossed just four interceptions. If Wentz can replicate those numbers down the stretch, the Eagles will be sitting pretty, come playoff time.
Did Not Play: Ronald Darby (ankle), Jordan Hicks (ankle)
Patrick Robinson: The Eagles lone injury of the day came in the second quarter when Robinson left the game with a head injury and never returned. The veteran cornerback has been a revelation this season, playing at a high level all year after barely making the team out of training camp. Hopefully, Robinson will be back by next week, but Rasul Douglas played pretty well in his absence and Darby could be healthy by Sunday.
.857: Jim Schwartz is 6-1 when he faces a team coached by Kyle Shanahan. The younger Shanahan has struggled against Schwartz's defenses, but this number is a tad surprising, just because Schwartz has coached for so many sub-par teams.
24: The Eagles have gone 24 games without having a receiver record two straight 100-yard games. Zach Ertz ended the 2015 season by posting 122 yards against the New York Giants and 152 yards against the Washington Redskins. Now, the Eagles experienced a lot of growing pains with their passing game as Wentz developed last year, but to not have someone do something as routine as put up 100 receiving yards in back-to-back weeks is astonishing.
12: On a more positive note, the Eagles offense has scored 20 points in each of their last 12 games, the longest such streak in the NFL. The consistency Doug Pederson's offense has shown is astounding, considering his lack of coaching experience. Think about it; when was the last time he was thoroughly out-coached or over-matched? Not since the Eagles' 32-14 loss has the offense been shutdown. With each passing week, Pederson gets better and better.
Maybe it was the poor weather conditions or the uninspiring opponent, but the Eagles really sputtered out of the gate yesterday, putting up just three points in the first 27 minutes of the game. Wentz hit Ertz for a touchdown to make it 9-0, Birds, but the game wasn't securely in hand until Jalen Mills picked off CJ Beathard three plays later:
Mills' touchdown and the subesquent two-point conversion kicked the Eagles into gear and they rolled over the 49ers for the rest of the game. Apparently Mills was catching flak from his coaches and teammates about his inability to return his interceptions:
"I was actually about to go out of bounds, but then I thought about Malcolm [Jenkins], Schwartz, and [Eagles defensive backs] coach [Cory] Undlin have been grilling me all week and talking about how I have no return skills," the cornerback joked. "That kind of went through my mind so I cut it back and I had to get in the end-zone or I wouldn’t have stopped hearing that."
Mills has played fairly well this year and he now has two interceptions in the past three weeks. Good stuff from a former seventh-round pick.
Up: Alshon Jeffery
It's no secret Jeffery has struggled to break through in his first season as an Eagle. He is second on the team in targets, but has caught less than half of those passes. Yesterday, it was much of the same as Jeffery caught two of his eight targets, but one of those catches looked like this:
That is the guy the Eagles are paying to be their top offensive weapon. Jeffery is built to win jump balls and take them to the house. Maybe this catch is a sign that Jeffery and Wentz are getting on the same page and we will see an uptick in his production soon. The Eagles need to find a better way to utilize all of Jeffery's skills because we need to get more celebrations like this, soon:
Oh, and he got credit for a pass breakup on the Hail Mary at the end of the first half.
Down: Offensive Line
The offensive line really struggled against the 49ers' blitz package all day. Certainly, the loss of Peters didn't help, but even the usual starters seemed to get lost in pass protection and Wentz didn't have much time all game. With Von Miller and company coming to town next week, things better tighten up or it could be a long afternoon for the young signal-caller.
Up: Mychal Kendricks
With Hicks out for the year, Kendricks has an opportunity to take over and play big-time snaps for the Eagles defense. Nigel Bradham remained the dime linebacker, but Kendricks was on the field with the base defense and nickel package. Kendricks finished the day with 14 tackles, one sack, two quarterback hits and a pass break up.
Down: Jake Elliott
Elliott has become a bit shaky in the past two weeks, and that is scary for a young kicker. The rookie has now missed three extra points in the last two games, although one of them may not be entirely his fault as Donnie Jones struggled to cleanly hold the presumably slick ball. Elliott still knocked home a 51-yard field goal between the two misses, so he hasn't fallen apart yet, but construction on his bust in Canton has ceased for the time being.
1. Besides the offensive line's struggles as a whole, Halapoulivaati Vaitai played pretty well at left tackle. He only had one play where he was beaten for a sack and stood up pretty well over the course of the game. The second-year tackle can't replace a future Hall of Famer, but Vaitai is solid enough to plug the hole. Maybe the Eagles will add a veteran with the trade deadline looming, but it would be hard to find an upgrade without hurting this team's future.
2. One thing that has really impressed me with this team is how no one is satisfied with their hot start. Lane Johnson went as far to yesterday's game felt like a loss, even though they never trailed, won by 23 and got the backup QB some snaps. The Eagles are more concerned with getting better and winning in the postseason than reminiscing or resting on their laurels. That's a good team.
3. It was nice to see the ovation Brent Celek got after his 14-yard reception yesterday. The 11-year vet is the longest-tenured athlete in the city of Philadelphia and he has become a bit of a forgotten man as Ertz plays like the premier tight end in the NFL. Celek's time with the Eagles is all but over, but it's good to see the fans are still giving him the appreciation he deserves.
The Eagles will put their six-game win streak on the line next Sunday when they host the Denver Broncos. The Broncos are sitting at 3-3 after losing each of their last two games to the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants. The Broncos will visit the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football this week.
Denver still boasts a top-tier defense, but Trevor Siemian and company have really struggled since putting up 42 points on the Cowboys in Week 2. In their four games since, the Broncos have scored 16, 16, 10 and 0 points, respectively. The Eagles defense has been impressive all year and, after the offense sputtered for much of yesterday's game, this game could be a low-scoring affair.