Why Carson Wentz is fits KC Chiefs as Mahomes’ NFL QB backup

In the early 2000s, when Ron Jaworski joined Monday Night Football for a brief stint, he and Jon Gruden attended an Indianapolis Colts practice.

They noticed, as he told the story in his book, that star quarterback Peyton Manning rarely gave way to a backup, even for a couple of practice reps. So Gruden asked about it.

“If 18 goes down, we’re (screwed),” Moore said, as Jaworski wrote, before an all-time line: “And we don’t practice (screwed).”

It’s worth squeezing that story into virtually any conversation when relevant, and for now, the relevance is that the Chiefs signed Carson Wentz to a one-year contract to serve as Patrick Mahomes’ backup. It’s closer to the football significance of a 1-yard carry than a 50-yard post pattern.

But here? Let’s present an argument for its relevance.

Even when Mahomes is healthy.

Look, the Moore sentiment applies — snaps with Mahomes on the field will have overwhelmingly better overall production, better expected points, all of it, than when he’s on the bench. But there is perhaps just one tiny exception.

The quarterback sneak.

The play Mahomes won’t run — or the play coach Andy Reid won’t let him run, I should say. He certainly has his reasons. Mahomes dislocated his kneecap on a quarterback sneak attempt in Denver in 2019, missing two games. Reid deleted the play from his sheet afterward.

Wentz offers him the chance to bring it back.

It’s telling that these are the first numbers I tried to find after news broke of Wentz’s signing, but Sports Info Solutions allows you to sort by quarterback sneak plays. Take a look at Wentz on a year-by-year basis with the sneak:

  • 2021: 10 attempts, 9 first downs (9-for-10)
  • 2020: 10-12
  • 2019: 13-15
  • 2018: 3-4
  • 2017: 10-10
  • 2016: 2-2
  • Total: 47-53

That’s a success rate of 88.7%. A comparison? Jalen Hurts, benefactor of the Tush Push in Philadelphia, was at 83.3% last season. The two most valuable quarterback sneak seasons over the past decade, in terms of expected points added, have been Hurts in 2022 (30.9 EPA) and Hurts in 2023 (21.4 EPA).

Next on the list: Wentz, as the Colts starter in 2021, with 16.0 EPA. (In other words, it’s not just that Wentz also got to run them behind Jason Kelce at center.) The best non-Tush Push season on the list. Oh, and seventh on that same list: Wentz, in 2017, with 10.9 EPA.

There’s an even more pertinent comparison for this conversation. The Chiefs have struggled in short yardage (3rd- or 4th-and-1 plays) over the past two seasons. They were 25th in the NFL in short yardage in 2022-23 combined, converting only 52.4% of them.

All one-yard-to-go situations are not in quarterback sneak range, to be sure, but certainly a portion of them are. And the Wentz sneak has been 36 percentage points more successful than the Chiefs have been in short-yardage situations.

That’s, uh, a lot. Find me another edge in football where the play-call gains you 36 percentage points.

It’s not as though the Chiefs don’t realize the value of the quarterback sneak. They’ve tried to run it after the Mahomes freak injury — with tight ends. That’s how badly they wanted to call them. It actually worked initially. Blake Bell was pretty good at it, more than your memory would probably have you believe.

But then the league sort of knew what might be coming when Bell squatted under center, and the fall from grace was swift.

Wentz, by contrast, would offer the opportunity, or at least the threat, of throwing the football — even if it’s the precise contrast for the validation of putting him in the game.

Which means you’d have to at least give Wentz some practice reps throwing the ball out of the formation too. After all, practicing it would prevent you from being, well, (screwed).

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Sam McDowell is a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star who has covered the Chiefs, Royals, Sporting KC, KU and MU for more than a decade. He has won national awards for columns, features and enterprise work from the APSE and other organizations.

First appeared on www.kansascity.com

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