Carson Wentz opened the 2016 season lighting up the league. Though he didn’t play at a major conference power, or even play that many games at North Dakota State, Wentz was a prototypical quarterback by size standards with athleticism and running ability.
But his footwork was raw, he had a tendency to stare down targets, and Wentz hadn’t consistently played against top-tier players in college.
So Doug Pederson adapted some college concepts, simplified reads, and schemed up a more manageable diet for his rookie quarterback. Until Lane Johnson served a 10-game suspension, Wentz was on his way to a Rookie of the Year-type season.
Now, he’s headed to an MVP-caliber season.
This is still a Green Bay Packers blog, I promise. We’re getting to it.
When Brett Hundley left UCLA in 2015, he wasn’t much lower, in my estimation, as a prospect than when Carson Wentz left in 2016.
Both are big, strong, athletic quarterbacks who needed refinement. Hundley played in a much simpler college offense, but played against far better competition in a Pac-12 conference loaded with NFL talent.
In Year 3 under Mike McCarthy, he should be at least as comfortable in any gameplan as Wentz was as a rookie, at least if we accept the premise McCarthy is adept at developing quarterbacks, and Hundley has talent worth developing.
But that’s not what we saw Sunday as Hundley struggled to get into a rhythm and McCarthy appeared hesitant to take the training wheels off — despite letting Hundley sling it all over the yard on the road against Minnesota.
McCarthy has to put Hundley in a better position to succeed, to do the things he does well and there’s one easy way to do that: the RPO, or run-pass option.
Watch Wentz throw his fourth touchdown of the night Monday.
There’s a run fake inside — possibly with a read, possibly without — which holds the linebackers, creating a seam for Nelson Agholor. Watch the Wasington underneath defender to Agholor’s side bite inside on the run fake.
Wentz fires it in behind and it doesn’t even have to be an accurate throw. This one isn’t, because the lane is so huge.
This play has become a staple of offenses like Kansas City, Cincinnati, Oakland and other West Coast-based schemes who already use zone blocking upfront and who rely on slants as a basic part of the passing game.
You know who else uses them and already has them built into the offense?
And you know whose bread and butter in college was an offense based around RPO’s?
Yet McCarthy relied almost exclusively on traditional run fakes on Sunday. Furthermore, while Aaron Jones was successful from a classic I-formation look with a fullback in front, he’s played most of his football life out of shotgun running precisely these kinds of plays.
Whether or not there’s an actual read with the running back give isn’t even relevant; Green Bay runs out of that shotgun enough that just the fake could be enough to hold the linebackers.
The version of this play Green Bay ran against the Bears was a true run-pass option, where Rodgers could hand it off or throw it, but the Packers wouldn’t even need to have the option. They’ve also run play-action out of shotgun to make it look like an RPO, just to hold the linebackers and get a clean window for the slant, which is the money route for Davante Adams.
This shouldn’t be rocket science. It makes sense to run an offense with these looks.
We did see the traditional zone-read once from McCarthy against the Saints on Sunday, and Hundley picked up a first down with his legs.
It’s easy to be disappointed to hear McCarthy talk about paring the offense down even further, but that’s the thing: these looks are already in the offense. The team knows them. Very little has to change to run them with Brett Hundley.
Full-field reads provide a difficult challenge for any first-time starter, but Hundley has been in the league long enough now that he should be trusted to make them.
That said, even a quarterback who has clearly taken a leap in his second year as a starter can take advantage of a play that makes life easier on the quarterback by simplifying the reads.
Brett Hundley is a better quarterback than he showed on Sunday — and he played better than the numbers indicate. Furthermore, Mike McCarthy is a better coach than Doug Pederson.
Even if we assume a big talent gap between Hundley and Wentz (and I don’t), if Pederson can make Wentz look like an MVP, shouldn’t McCarthy be able to make Hundley look like a reasonable starting quarterback?