Frank Reich has his QB in Carson Wentz; now he has to make him an MVP candidate again
- Previously worked at Indianapolis Star, covering the Indiana Pacers for nine seasons
- Also covered Vikings for St. Paul Pioneer Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Frank Reich does it again.
It started with Philip Rivers last year, and now the Colts’ coach is getting the quarterback he wants with the trade of Carson Wentz from Philadelphia on Thursday.
But the addition of Wentz is a little different from that of Rivers a year ago. The Colts knew the aging Rivers was basically a one- or two-year rental until they hopefully found their next franchise quarterback.
Now they’re banking on their present — and future — with Wentz to solve what has unfortunately been a revolving door at quarterback in Indianapolis over the past few years. Wentz, barring an injury, will be the Colts’ fifth different Week 1 starter in as many seasons.
The person responsible for ensuring Wentz is the answer for the Colts?
The coach is putting his reputation on the line by believing he can get Wentz, who was his quarterback when he was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, back to the level when he was considered an MVP contender before a season-ending knee injury in 2017.
The Colts’ coach was Wentz’s coordinator in 2017 when the quarterback threw for an Eagles franchise-record 33 touchdowns and his 78.5 total QBR was 18.7 points higher than the rest of his career. Indianapolis receivers coach Mike Groh was Wentz’s offensive coordinator in 2018 and ’19, after Reich left the Eagles to coach the Colts.
A failure by Wentz will continue to set back a Colts franchise that has been to the playoffs only twice since 2014 and waste the years of talented All-Pros Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson.
But knowing Reich, he isn’t flinching about it, just as he didn’t those times he came in as a backup and starred during his playing days at the University of Maryland and with the Buffalo Bills. Reich didn’t ask questions about Andrew Luck’s injured right shoulder when he interviewed for the head-coaching job in the winter of 2018. He didn’t hesitate in wanting to bring Rivers to Indianapolis, despite the quarterback having committed 23 turnovers in 2019.
All Luck and Rivers did was have bounce-back seasons under Reich, and more importantly, play a vital part in leading the Colts to the playoffs. Reich couldn’t get the best out of Jacoby Brissett in 2019, which is why the Colts are in their current predicament. But that happens at times.
It might not be that easy with Wentz.
It’s uncertain where the quarterback is physically and mentally. Wentz was supposed to be the Eagles’ franchise quarterback after being selected No. 2 in the 2016 draft and landing a mammoth four-year, $128 million contract extension in 2019.
But he threw 15 interceptions and was sacked 50 times in just 12 games last season, while also being benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts. The last time a player reached those thresholds in interceptions and sacks in a season was Blake Bortles with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
That’s just the start of things for the worst season of Wentz’s five-year career. No quarterback with at least 100 pass attempts in the 2019 and 2020 seasons saw a bigger QBR drop-off than Wentz, who went from a 62.8 QBR in 2019 to just 49.6 in 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In addition, he has played all 16 games in the regular season only twice in his career.
The foundation is there with the Colts to help get him back on track and possibly make the franchise a Super Bowl contender in the AFC, where the road could be going through Kansas City or Buffalo for the foreseeable future.
The Colts have a talented defense led by Leonard and defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired last month, but four of the five offensive linemen from one of the NFL’s top units return. The Colts gave up just 21 sacks last season, tied for second fewest in the NFL, while the Eagles allowed an NFL-worst 65 (no other team allowed more than 50). The Colts also have a 1,000-yard rusher in second-year running back Jonathan Taylor and a talented (and likely No. 1) receiver in Michael Pittman Jr.
The rest will be up to Reich and Wentz.
This move has to work for the Colts, because if not, the quest to win “multiple Lombardi” trophies that owner Jim Irsay often talks about will continue to be put on hold and Reich’s reputation for getting the best out of quarterbacks will take a hit.
And it’s not just physically that Reich has to get Wentz back; he has the mental obstacle to fix, too.
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