Through the first seven weeks of the season, Carson Wentz has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL by most metrics. The Eagles’ second-year QB is ranked forth in passer rating, third in QBR and fifth in overall effectiveness according to Pro Football Focus. His 17 touchdowns lead the league, and in seven games he’s only thrown four interceptions, after giving away 14 last year.
Wentz is also coming off arguably his best performance of the season against Washington last week, where he tossed four touchdown passes, completed 68 percent of his passes and had a season high 10.72 yards per completion.
Unfortunately for the 0-7 49ers, they travel to Philadelphia this Sunday to face a peaking Wentz, while also coming off their worst performance of the season, a 40-10 home thrashing at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. This Eagles team appears to be a much more complete squad than Dallas, meaning if San Francisco gives a simlar effort, they are due for another blowout.
Still, there are some things the 49ers can do to reduce the effectiveness of Wentz, much of which revolves around getting pressure from their talented, yet banged up defensive front. One area where San Francisco can look to take advantage is on the left side of the Eagles line of scrimmage, that will not feature three time All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters, who is out for the season with a knee injury. It’s unclear at this point who is going to fill in for Peters, but whoever it is should be a good test for rookie defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who has shown flashes of potential in his first seven games but has only two sacks to show for it.
Consistant pressure from Wentz’s blind side could also prove to have another benefit, as it would force the second-year QB to his right, an area where he’s been less comfortable throwing the football in 23 career games. As you can see from the graph below, Wentz’s passer rating on both short and long yardage passes from the right side of the field indicate he’s more effective throwing the ball elsewhere.
Getting pressure on Wentz in general is key for the 49ers if they want to be competitive. In the three games this season where San Francisco has sacked the quarterback at least three times, they’ve lost by a combined total of nine points. In the two games where they have failed to sack the quarterback (vs. Carolina and Dallas) they’ve lost by a combined 50 points. In addition to Thomas, the 49ers will need to likes of Elivs Dumervil and Leger Douzable to not just get pressure on Wentz, but actually get him to the ground, for them to have any chance against the NFC leaders.
Finally, the 49ers will also crossing their fingers that Wentz’s significant second half regression from last season continues. Wentz burst out of the gate in his rookie season, looking easily like the best QB taken in the draft through his first six games of 2016, posting an 82.3 QB rating, but then fell back to Earth hard for the remainder of the season, posting a 71.6 passer rating from Weeks 7-16.
Will that happen again in 2017? The sample size too small to say, but based on the eye test Wentz looks like a much improved quarterback this season. The fact is, Wentz may be the best QB the 49ers have faced all year. Their only chance to win on Sunday is likely predicated on making Wentz uncomfortable, and that begins and ends with a solid preformance from the front seven, a group that was completely absent against the Cowboys last weekend. If they don’t get that, an 0-8 start is almost a sure thing.
All the facts and figures used in this piece were gathered using the analytics platform called Looker. Make sure to check them out for user friendly dashboards, visualizations, and data analysis.