The Bradford-Wentz showdown nobody wanted and could barely watch
‘Sam is just like any other quarterback. You hit him, he’s not going to be the same quarterback.’ But Carson wasn’t any better
If you didn’t know better, you would have sworn that Carson Wentz did his job alone. While the rookie quarterback was blowing up early in the season, Philadelphia Eagles fans weren’t trying to hear anything unless it involved news about the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft.
Now that Wentz has ineluctably stumbled, there’s suddenly more interest in the other parts of the team. We highly recommend that Philly fans peep what’s going down on defense. There’s a lot to like about a group that backed up its high position in the stats rankings Sunday afternoon during a 21-10 victory over the previously undefeated Minnesota Vikings.
Having flawlessly executed defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s aggressive game plan, the Eagles surprised the Vikings with an assortment of not-previously-revealed-on-film zone-blitz packages. Combined with the defensive front’s effective four-man pressure, the Eagles would have ruined any opposing passer’s day. It just worked out that it was Sam Bradford was back in town.
Playing at Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since the Eagles traded him to the Vikings about a week before the regular season kicked off, Bradford had a miserable experience against the team for whom he had a career year last season. Philadelphia dominated Minnesota’s reconfigured, shaky offensive line (both starting tackles are out) while chasing Bradford from the pocket often and seemingly crushing him on every other play. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer best summed up Bradford’s protection.
“Embarrassing,” Zimmer said, stone-faced. “We didn’t block anybody. We were soft. We got overpowered.”
The Eagles’ defense was so good and the Vikings’ offense was so bad that the whole Wentz vs. Bradford storyline was old news by halftime. Philadelphia stomped on Minnesota’s winning streak at five games. More importantly for the Eagles, they started moving in the right direction after two rough weeks. That was the plan.
“The mind-set all week has been, ‘Let’s get back to playing the ball we know how to play,’ ” standout defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “The No. 1 thing we saw today was we got back to where everyone was having fun.”
And it is true that for the first three weeks, the Eagles did do nothing but party.
Wentz got off to a blazing start as the Eagles sprinted to 3-0. Then reality set in. During a 24-23 loss in Week 5 to the Detroit Lions, Wentz threw his first interception while the Eagles were driving for a potential game-winning score. The following week, Wentz passed for only 179 yards and was sacked five times in a loss to the Washington Redskins.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s defense, which also had been superb, stumbled, too. The Redskins rushed for 254 yards in their 27-20 win. Man, that was wack, the Eagles said.
“If you ask anybody on our defense, I think they’d all say we think we’re the No. 1 defense in this league,” veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “But we hadn’t played like we needed to the last two weeks. We knew for us to have some success [Sunday], we were going to have to show up and give a good performance.”
It was a smash. And it was all about that pressure.
Philadelphia had six sacks and 12 quarterback hits. In three trips to the red zone, the Vikings totaled zero points. With the game out of reach in the final minute, the Vikings scored the requisite face-saving cosmetic touchdown. Still, it was just an old-school butt-whuppin’ from beginning to end.
“Right from the jump, our D-line rose up to the challenge,” middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “Them being disruptive, getting guys off the spots and getting sacks, that’s what our defense is predicated on.”
Added Jenkins, “Sam is just like any other quarterback. You hit him, he’s not going to be the same quarterback.”
Bradford was such a wreck in the pocket (he’s probably still looking over his shoulder) that the Vikings’ offense never got into anything that remotely resembled rhythm. Entering the game, the Vikings had not committed a turnover on offense. Bradford finished with three: He had an interception and lost two of his four fumbles.
Like clockwork, Eagles fans booed Bradford on the Vikings’ first possession, presumably for expressing his frustration that the Eagles traded up in the draft to pick Wentz. Bradford’s day would only get worse.
“Obviously, we knew they were good up front,” said Bradford, who seemed as enthusiastic as you would expect to answer multiple reporters’ questions about the beating he took.
“The way we played was totally unacceptable. We did a lot of things that we [hadn’t] done in the first five weeks.”
Not that Wentz had anything to text the fam about, either.
He actually had a lower passer rating than Bradford (52.4 to 71.6, which just means both were awful), passed for fewer yards than the guy he briefly backed up and threw another interception. During a span of eight plays in the first quarter, Bradford and Wentz each threw an interception and were responsible for lost fumbles.
“I’ve been playing for eight years,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarter like that.”
The early struggles seemed to make the Eagles even more determined. On defense, many players already had a chip on their shoulders because the No. 2 Vikings were ranked one spot ahead of them in total defense. After the wild, scoreless first quarter, the defense had to turn it up, the Eagles said.
“We knew coming into it we were going to have to play up to their defense,” Jenkins said. “A lot of us were looking to compete with them. We have a lot of respect for that defense. This was an opportunity for us to throw our name out there.”
Despite Sunday’s setback, the Vikings are among the league’s biggest surprises of the first half. Remember: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson and Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil are all on the season-ending injured-reserve list. Zimmer did a masterful job just keeping the Vikings together, let alone guide them to such a great start. Now, the last NFL team to lose a game in 2016 must figure out how to shore up its protection.
With Wentz playing more like a growing rookie than a polished all-pro the past couple of weeks, the Eagles have issues, too. But as Philadelphia’s defense showed us Sunday, it’s more than capable of shouldering the load.