Carson Wentz is feeling the pressure from both opposing defenses and the Philadelphia Eagles' cynical fans, but the beleaguered quarterback still has coach Doug Pederson in his corner.
Wentz looks to reward Pederson's faith on Sunday afternoon when the Eagles (3-5-1) visit the Cleveland Browns (6-3). Philadelphia will be playing the first of five consecutive games against teams that currently have winning records.
Wentz has come under fire this season, and perhaps for good reason. He leads the league in interceptions (12) and turnovers (16) and is ranked 32nd in completion percentage (.582) for an Eagles team that is teetering atop the moribund NFC East.
Pederson, however, has no regrets about the team's decision in 2016 to couple the eighth overall choice of that NFL Draft with a third- and fourth-round pick that year as well as a first-round pick in 2017 and a second-rounder in 2018 in a trade with the Browns. The Eagles received the second overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft -- which they used to select Wentz -- and a fourth-round pick in 2017.
"Oh heck yeah, I'd do it all over again," Pederson said Wednesday. "He's the guy we wanted back then. He's still the guy we want today. And I love everything about Carson Wentz, and he's a great leader for our team and our city and I'd do it all over again."
Unfortunately for the Eagles, Wentz has struggled mightily this season while playing behind a makeshift offensive line. He completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes for the fifth straight game in Philadelphia's 27-17 setback against the host New York Giants last week.
"All that matters to me is the locker room, this organization and how we're going to get better," Wentz said. "Honestly, right now we're just not clicking on all cylinders, but I'm really confident that we're going to get it turned around."
The turnaround could start with the potential return of three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz on Sunday. Ertz, who had been sidelined due to an ailing ankle since Oct. 18, was designated to return from injured reserve on Monday.
While Ertz practiced on Wednesday, the Eagles had safety Rudy Ford (hamstring) and rookie linebacker Shaun Bradley (illness) sit out.
The Browns were buoyed last week by the return of Nick Chubb, back from a four-game absence caused by a knee injury. He rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland's 10-7 win over the Houston Texans. The 24-year-old easily could have scored another TD, but he alertly stepped out of bounds at the 1-yard line to effectively seal the win.
Chubb and fellow running back Kareem Hunt will look to exploit an Eagles rush defense that has yielded a league-seventh-worst 133 yards per game.
Cleveland hopes to have star defensive end Myles Garrett on the field. The NFL's current sack leader (9.5) was kept home during Wednesday's practice because of an illness, though coach Kevin Stefanski was quick to calm all fears.
"He's not going on the COVID list," Stefanski said of Garrett, who tested negative for COVID-19. "So he's sick, and we'll make sure that we follow all the protocols."
Like Garrett, center J.C. Tretter (knee) did not practice on Wednesday. Guards Joel Bitonio (elbow) and Wyatt Teller (calf) as well as defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (knee) were limited.
The Browns placed starting right tackle Jack Conklin, kicker Cody Parkey and long snapper Charley Hughlett on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. Those three players could return to the field on Sunday if they continue to test negative.
--Field Level Media