Wentz was the favorite to take home MVP before he suffered that knee injury against the Rams, as the former second overall pick had thrown a league-leading 33 touchdown passes and had an NFL-best touchdown-to-interception ratio of 33-to-7.

Wentz was fifth in passer rating, but his 75.9 Total QBR was tops among quarterbacks who were eligible for the passing title. Wentz’s Eagles were 11-2, tied with the Steelers for the best record in football.

Maybe you preferred Tom Brady. That’s fine. At the time he went down, though, Wentz had graduated from an inconsistent rookie season into a legitimate superstar passer in Year 2.

Even if Wentz hadn’t torn up his knee, I think he would have struggled to maintain that level of play in 2018. He is still going to be a very good quarterback, but there were some elements of his game from a year ago that will be tough for him to recreate, no matter how good he gets. Wentz stood out by …

He was an absolute monster on third down in 2017. Wentz finished the season with a 123.7 passer rating on third down, which topped the league by a full 13 points. His 90.5 Total QBR in those same situations was 19 points better than anybody else’s. Wentz racked up 9.5 yards per attempt on third-down passes, more than a full yard ahead of anyone else. You get the idea.

If we go back through recent history, his numbers still stand out. We have Total QBR numbers back through 2007, and Wentz’s third-down mark was the ninth-best in that time frame. Look at the top 20 in that category, and you’ll find multiple seasons from Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. It’s the sort of company in which you would expect to see a franchise quarterback such as Wentz.

Very few of them, though, could keep up their third-down performance on an annual basis. During those top-20 seasons, our dominant third-down quarterbacks posted an average Total QBR of 88.3. The following season, those same passers were able to muster an average Total QBR of only 58.4, far closer to league average. (This excludes players who didn’t play a significant number of snaps the following year due to injury.) Just one of the quarterbacks — Manning between 2008 and 2009 — improved on his mark from the prior year.

The same is true for passer rating. Taking the top 20 passers since 2001, we find that their average passer rating on third down during their chain-moving campaigns was 118.6. During the following season, that mark fell to an average of 90.2. Just four of the 20 quarterbacks topped a passer rating of 100 on third down the following season. To put that in context, the league average for passer rating on third down in that time frame was 83.0.

The Eagles should feel the impact of Wentz regressing toward the mean on third down. Football Outsiders has noted for years how offenses that raise their game on third down struggle to keep it up for multiple seasons, and that was the case for the Eagles in 2017. As the Football Outsiders Almanac notes, the Eagles’ offense was 13th in DVOA on first down and 20th on second down before leading the league on third down. At the time of Wentz’s injury, the Eagles were converting 45.3 percent of their third downs, which would have been the third-best mark in football over a season.

Wentz’s injury might impact Philadelphia’s effectiveness on fourth down too. You probably remember the “Philly Special,” but even before the playoffs, the Eagles went 15-of-21 on fourth down last season. Their 71.4 percent conversion rate was third-best in the league, and Wentz played an enormous role in that success. He ran for a league-high seven conversions in seven tries on fourth down.

Will coach Doug Pederson be as aggressive in putting his quarterback’s body at risk on fourth down? And if not, will teams be able to create turnovers by stopping the Eagles on 4th-and-short?


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