Wentz, say that again. Indianapolis, we have a problem. We have two sprained ankles; both legs are offline. I repeat, Indianapolis, we have a problem.
Now, that exchange didn’t happen this weekend during the LA Rams @ Indianapolis Colts game, but it sure feels like Indianapolis has a problem. Carson Wentz has never been the healthiest QB in the NFL.
Carson Wentz Injuries
In his time in the NFL, Wentz has been one of the most injured quarterbacks. He suffered a chest rib fracture in 2016; he tore both his ACL and LCL in 2017. In 2018 he fractured a vertebrate, and then in 2020, he suffered a massive concussion.
Once he was traded to the Colts, who most would agree to have one of the best offensive lines in football, it seemed he would have adequate protection and would see a dip in injury. He then was promptly injured in the offseason training camp with the Colts, injuring his ankle.
He recovered in time to return to the starting lineup for Week 1, in which the Colts lost to Seattle 28-16. A tough home loss, to be sure, but against a solid team.
Then Came The LA Rams
The Colts lost to the Rams 24-27 in a game that Stafford enabled the Rams to win while Wentz could only watch from the sidelines for a portion of the game. With Wentz uncertain for this weekend’s game against the reigning AFC South Champions in the Tennessee Titans, it’s fair to ask: does Indianapolis have a problem?
My answer is a resounding yes. Here’s why:
At a minimum, I will argue that Wentz misses this weekend’s game against the Tennessee Titans, which goes down as a loss in my book. Back-up QB Jacob Eason has done very little to impress and would seem to be a liability more than anything.
So now the Colts are 0-3 and down a game in their division to the team who won the division last season and is primed to do so again this year. Their schedule doesn’t get much better from there. They stay on the road to face both the Dolphins and the Ravens.
The Dolphins, who have a solid defense, could be problematic, while the Ravens have Lamar Jackson, who has shown flashes as a passer and is still a lethal runner. For the sake of kindness, let’s say the Colts snag one of those games; take your pick of which.
They still have a record of 1-4 optimistically, and pessimistically, they are 0-5. I don’t know many teams who are 0-5 or even 1-4 to make the playoffs. The Colts have a winnable game in Week 6 at home versus the Texans, but they immediately hop back on the road to play the 49ers and return home in a rematch against the Titans.
Let’s call it 3-5. Better than 1-4, but not playoff-bound by any means. The Colts then get to play the Jets and Jags in back-to-back games at home. That will get any team rolling and the Colts (“surge”) to 5-5. There’s a chance!
But like I said earlier, the Colts don’t have an easy schedule. Next comes on the road versus the Bills, returning to Indianapolis to face off against the Tompa Bay Buccaneers. I think that likely puts the Colts at 5-7. The Colts then hop back on the road and get what I’m assuming is a layup against the Texans and head back to Indy to face off against the Pats.
I could see an argument for a return to .500 7-7, so I’ll allow it (though I believe 6-8).
Next comes facing the Cardinals in the desert, which, as things stand right now, I’ll take the Cardinals. Then a final home game against the Raiders and their season closer is on the road versus Jacksonville.
Do They have a Chance
That means the Colts go 8-9. And I don’t see an 8-9 team making the playoffs, even with them expanded to allow for seven teams. We have to allow for the Chiefs, the Titans, the Bills, and the Browns within those seven slots. After that, three wildcards could go to the Ravens, the Steelers, the Raiders, or the Patriots.
I simply don’t see room for a sub .500 Colts team in the postseason. But maybe you disagree with how I divided up those games and think the Colts go 9-8 or perhaps even 10-7. I counter with Wentz being injured (again).
If you like digging into injury probabilities, I highly recommend you check out Draft Sharks, a drafting resource website. They have an injury indicator which I am taking some data from.
Wentz has an 87% chance of injury in 2021, which Draft Sharks defines as missing a minimum of two quarters due to injury.
Wentz also has an 11.3% chance of being injured PER GAME. These two figures are severe enough to put him in the high-risk category. Now, if Wentz got injured in the first two games against the Rams, the odds feel pretty good that he will get injured again sometime down the line. I don’t think it is crazy to wager Wentz will miss at least two games this season due to injury.
The Rams aren’t even the best defensive front the Colts will face this season: they still have the 49ers and the Buccaneers incoming. If I had to pick two games, Wentz would get hurt again; it is those two games.
So yeah. Indianapolis has a problem
Now anyone can identify a problem, and I’m going to try and solve it. A common criticism of Wentz is that he holds onto the ball too long, trying to find the perfect pass. He plays “hero ball,” if you will, and I think this is the key to unlocking Carson Wentz.
Since Pro-Football-Reference began tracking the stat of Pocket Time, Wentz has seen his pocket time increase at an alarming rate. In 2018 he had a pocket time of 2.3 seconds. In 2019 it increased to 2.4 seconds.
Then in 2020, it grew to 2.6 seconds. This season it currently sits at 2.7 seconds. During that same period, Wentz was sacked 31, 37, and 50 times.
Stats on Wentz
Wentz is currently on track to be sacked 51 times (assuming he plays all 17 games). Also, during that same time, Wentz saw his Pressure % (the % of times he is pressured when dropping back) rise similarly, from 23.7%, 23.7% to 29.3% and 30.1%. To hammer home the point one last time, his times hit, yep, it follows the same trend: 31, 53, 64, and on target for 85.
Wentz is very much a traditional pocket passing QB. And that isn’t a bad thing; it just means he needs to play a little bit differently. Behind a very similarly constructed offensive line, Philip Rivers had a pocket time of 2.3 seconds last season. He was pressured on just 16.5% of his passes, was only hit 37 times, and was only sacked 19 times!
It may not seem like a lot, but clearly, that .5 seconds is making a massive difference. The average play length in the NFL is a mere 4 seconds. Holding onto the ball for 2.3 seconds is already possessing the ball for 58% of a given play, and increasing to 2.7 results in Wentz having the ball for 68% of the average play.
Don’t Hold the Ball
If Wentz is holding the ball 10% longer than he needs to, it makes sense that he is getting hit more every game! I think that if Wentz could simply shave down his time with the ball in the pocket, he would be hit a lot less and would be able to remain healthy. But until then. Indianapolis, we have a problem.
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