If the NFL really does have a quarterback problem, it will be absent Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, where the Philadelphia Eagles will play the Los Angeles Rams. Last year, the Eagles and Rams traded up to the second and first picks so they could select Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. This year, the Eagles are 10-2 and the Rams are 9-3, and they will square off in a Week 14 showdown that might determine a playoff bye.
Wentz and Goff run counter to the narrative that the NFL has a dearth of quality quarterbacks, particularly in the aftermath of injuries to Aaron Rodgers and sensational rookie Deshaun Watson. As teams eye a plethora of quarterbacks in this year’s draft — Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson are the headliners — they could turn to Wentz and Goff for both hope and instruction.
The hope part is obvious. Two years ago, the Eagles and Rams were coming off dismal seasons and desperate enough to sacrifice draft capital for quarterbacks who were, as college players, not exactly household names. And now here they are, in position to cruise into the playoffs and seemingly poised to stay at the top of the NFC for years to come. Wentz might be the MVP, and Goff might be in the top 10.
How quarterback-needy teams can copy the Eagles and Rams is less obvious. In selecting Wentz and Goff, they took disparate players. Wentz played in a prostyle offense at a Football Championship Subdivision school. Goff played in a spread offense at a Power 5 program. Goff was a major recruit with a father, Jerry, who had played major league baseball. Wentz came unheralded out of North Dakota.
Their common thread, in the NFL, is how creative coaching has helped them develop quickly. Goff has proven the power of smart, innovative coaching to the extreme. Goff looked overwhelmed as a rookie playing under Jeff Fisher, who allowed Goff to take few chances and ran either gadget plays for Tavon Austin or a stodgy, paint-by-numbers NFL offense. Under Sean McVay, Goff has run the Rams’ offense with tempo and fearlessness, throwing downfield often. McVay recognized Goff’s strengths and designed a system around him, not forcing him into a preconceived system.
The Eagles and Doug Pederson have done the same for Wentz. Pederson allows Wentz uncommon input into Philadelphia’s game plan, even permitting Wentz to add plays he used at North Dakota State into the Eagles’ playbook. Pederson played quarterback in the NFL and can guide Wentz with firsthand experience. He has the confidence to give Wentz latitude and the experience to know how important it is.
The effect of coaching can be seen now in another top quarterback pick, in the opposite direction. Mitchell Trubisky landed in April with the Chicago Bears, who traded up to take him second overall. The Bears’ skill players are not showy, but then neither are the Eagles’ or the Rams’. Trubisky plays for John Fox, who mimics Fisher in his been-around-forever quotient and inability to adapt to new offensive concepts. The Bears are trying to develop Trubisky by playing not to lose. It didn’t work for Fisher with Goff, either. For Bears fans, the best hope is Chicago finds the next McVay, or the closest approximation to him.
The vitality of a smart coach doesn’t take anything away from Wentz and Goff — watch any Sunday slate, and it’s obvious only a handful of people can play quarterback in the NFL at an adequate level. They’re both supremely talented. But their rapid emergence, particularly in Goff’s case, make you wonder how many other talented quarterbacks never blossom because of shoddy coaching.
Wentz and Goff will meet for the first time Sunday. It could start a budding rivalry for the first two picks of the 2016 draft. For the rest of the league, it will be a demonstration in the importance of smart, open-minded coaching for quarterbacks.
>>> Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and cornerback George Iloka both received one-game suspensions for their illegal hits in the brutal “Monday Night Football” game between the Steelers and Bengals. The penalties for those hits — which were vicious and against the rules but still within the run of play — seem incongruous with the one-game ban Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski received. Unlike the other players, Gronkowski’s cheap hit was gratuitous, late and had nothing to do with a play.
In these cases, the NFL finds itself in a tough spot. Gronkowski’s hit was obviously more egregious than those by Smith-Schuster or Iloka. But it’s also true that the two from Monday night both warranted suspensions, and banning a player for two games — 12.5 percent of the schedule — would be overly harsh.
The cases should make the NFL consider a new tactic in policing needlessly dangerous hits: suspensions for one-half of games. Gronkowski, in this case, would miss the Patriots-Dolphins game this week and the first half of Steelers-Patriots in Week 15. It also would allow the NFL a middle ground between a fine and a full-game suspension. Logistically, it wouldn’t be so difficult to force a team to declare a 48th player eligible for a first half of a game, but not second.
>>> Linebacker Ryan Shazier is still being evaluated at a Cincinnati hospital with a spine injury, Ed Bouchette reports. Shazier went down after making a seemingly routine tackle in the first quarter Monday night. He had to carted off the field on a board after not moving his lower body while lying on the field. That game will cast a pall on the rest of the season.
>>> It’s ridiculous that Eli Manning will start for the Giants again, Conor Orr writes. It’s nice that Manning will have a chance to play at home and potentially receive a send-off. But as far as salvaging the mess that benching Manning created, the horse is out of the barn and the barn door is locked.
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