Has it been wrong to root against Carson Wentz all this time? Has it been devious to wish failure upon a man who finds joy in the simple things, like flannel shirts, Bible study and five-yard crossing routes?
Probably. But for Browns fans who have wrestled through this 2016 season that has seen double the quarterbacks (6) under center than combined wins over the past two seasons (3), Wentz has come to represent either our fleeting demise or our future salvation. If the Browns are wrong about Wentz, and he becomes Philadelphia's second coming of Donovan McNabb (another quarterback the Browns happened to pass on), then it will feel like the Browns no longer have a reason to exist. There are only so many draft failures a franchise and its fan base can withstand, and watching Wentz carve up the NFL for the next 10 years will feel like a slow execution.
But if the Browns are right, and Paul DePodesta's bold admission that the Browns didn't see Wentz as a top-20 quarterback comes to fruition, then there's hope. Faith will bloom in a front office that the national media can't mention without some condescending nerd qualifier. And at this point, with a Browns team likely to go 0-16 and splatter all over the place after finally hitting rock bottom, everyone is thirsting for a reason to hope again. Carson Wentz is our water fountain.
Our reluctant pettiness toward Wentz has been further enabled by a football media eager to anoint him. It isn't hard to scoff at someone when after three weeks into the season he's being compared to Peyton Manning in his 10th season, like Ron Jaworski did. Or when The Ringer proclaimed the Browns as "Losers" for passing on Wentz, as if the end of that story had already been written. There's only so many Instagram pictures of that popular kid in high school volunteering at local hospitals you can take when you know he's been cheating on his girlfriend for the past three years.
Through those three weeks, the Eagles were 3-0 and Wentz was piloting them to greatness. He peaked in a Week 3 demolition of the Pittsburgh Steelers, completing 74 percent of his passes and averaging 9.71 yards per pass, a number that remains his highest of the season. But like the Man in Black once said on HBO's Westworld, there's a deeper meaning to this game, and as Wentz's sample size grew, so did his flaws.
Wentz has been atrocious under pressure. He's completing passes at just a 28 percent clip when being rushed, according to Player Profiler, Since Week 6, Wentz's QB rating when under pressure is 13.2. He's also been sub-par throwing the ball more than 20 yards down field, completing just 32.7 percent of those passes, down from a pretty bad 38.5 percent in college. In fact, if you remove his receivers' YAC from Wentz's yardage total, he is averaging just 3.5 yards per attempt. 3.5, you guys. These are all things he struggled with in college, and they don't appear to be improving at the NFL level, at least not yet.
Even on plays when he's got a clean pocket, Wentz has struggled of late, especially in yesterday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Regression to the mean was expected after the blazing start Wentz get off to, especially with more and more tape being available on the former North Dakota State star with each successive week. But there's more than reasonable concern that the things Wentz wasn't very good at in college against much lesser competition are becoming major blemishes in the NFL, and whether or not Wentz can fix them as he progresses. Some in Philadelphia already want first-year head coach Doug Peterson fired because Wentz's mechanics don't seem to be improving.
It is odd to care so much about the performance of a person that doesn't play for the team you root for, but until the Browns select a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft next April, performing a statistical autopsy on Wentz after each performance is the essence of our being. Sashi Brown, DePodesta and Hue Jackson all appear to be smart people, and were charged with a major decision just months into what's usually a honeymoon period for a new front office. They chose to get off the exit ramp while the Wentz Wagon kept rolling along. Where that wagon breaks down feels like the most important thing in the world for the future of the Browns.