Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz looked impressive over the first two weeks of the season, completing 43 of 71 passes for 468 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. But some were waiting to see how the No. 2 overall pick did against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3 before anointing him as a passer with a future in the NFL.
They don’t have to wait any longer.
Wentz carved up the Steelers’ defense to the tune of 301 passing yards and two touchdowns Sunday, handing Pittsburgh its biggest defeat since it lost 41-10 to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 of the 1989 season.
He is the third rookie in franchise history to pass the 300-yard mark with two touchdowns, and the Eagles are the only team in the NFL with no offensive turnovers. Six other passers have amassed 750 or more passing yards in their first three starts since 1970, but Wentz is the first since Warren Moon (1984) to do so without throwing a single interception.
“He played like a freakin’ Hall of Famer,” said Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward told reporters after the game. “I don’t know how many passes he missed, but he managed the game, got the ball to his receivers, got the ball to the running backs.”
And now that the Eagles are 3-0 and at the top of the NFC East, don’t be too surprised if Wentz walks away with the offensive rookie of the year award.
Since the NFL-AFL merger, no rookie with at least 100 passes thrown in his first three NFL games has a higher rating than Wentz (103.8). E.J. Manuel is the closest with an 86.5 passer rating in 2013. Cam Newton, who won the 2011 offensive rookie of the year award, had a rating of 85.1 over his first three games. Andrew Luck, who just signed a a six-year, $140 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts — making him the highest-paid player in NFL history — had a rating of 75.4. Plus, Wentz’s passer rating during his first three games stacks up favorably with any of the quarterbacks who won the offensive rookie of the year award over the past two decades.
According to the game charters at Pro Football Focus, Wentz’s 2016 campaign to date ranks ahead of any rookie passer at this same point of the season since 2006, the first year data is available (he has a PFF grade of 90.2, on a scale of 0 to 100). The previous best was 89.4 by Robert Griffin III in 2012 (plus-12.2), the year he won the offensive rookie of the year award as a member of the Washington Redskins. Russell Wilson (73.1) and Luck (66.8) also lag behind Wentz.
And Wentz’s passing numbers should get better from here. According to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, Wentz and the Eagles face just three pass defenses currently ranked in the top 10: No. 9 Minnesota Vikings in Week 7, No. 3 Seattle Seahawks in Week 11 and the No. 10 Baltimore Ravens in Week 15. Nine of Philadelphia’s remaining opponents rank in the bottom half of the league for pass-defense DVOA.
This offense should continue to let Wentz be productive, but the Eagles’ defense could be the only thing standing in his way of a year-end award.
Heading into Week 3, Philadelphia’s defense ranked No. 2 in DVOA and was allowing a league-low 0.74 points per drive. With the Steelers scoring just three points on 11 drives on Sunday, that will only go lower. But teams that don’t allow many points don’t trail that often, which means they don’t throw a lot, either.
For example, of the top 10 teams in point differential last year, eight threw a below-average number of passes per game. Just one, the New England Patriots, ranked in the top 13 for pass attempts. The Eagles currently rank No. 1 in point differential (plus-65), a sizable lead over the Patriots, who rank No. 2 (plus-36), which could have Philadelphia focusing on running the football as they nurse a lead late in games.
Who knows what Wentz’s passing stats will look like at season’s end, but a favorable schedule plus a 70 percent chance at the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2013 means it is time to believe in Wentz as the best offensive rookie of 2016.
“I don’t think [Wentz] cares about stats,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said on Sunday. “I think he cares about winning and protecting the football and doing what it takes to win football games. And that’s a good thing.”
Correction: A prior version had Frank Reich listed as the Steelers offensive coordinator.