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Eagles' Carson Wentz on crash course toward troubling sack numbers

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PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is on track to join a club he wants no part of.

With 46 sacks through 11 games -- already a career high -- Wentz is projected to finish the season with 67 takedowns. If he continues on that trajectory, he will become the eighth QB in NFL history to be sacked 60 or more times in a season, joining David Carr, Jon Kitna, Steve Beuerlein, Randall Cunningham, Ken O'Brien, Neil Lomax and Deshaun Watson.

"My god, I can only imagine what his body feels like now in the cold weather, taking a pounding like that," said former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, who is one of two players to be sacked 60-plus times in a season twice, along with Carr.

The punishment is adding up. Wentz has absorbed 109 QB contacts -- second to Baltimore's dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson (123) -- and is being hit on 19.6% of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, good for fifth most in the league.

There are a few factors at work here, including extreme instability along the Eagles' offensive front. Due largely to injury, Philadelphia has had 10 different O-line combinations through 11 games. One lineman, center Jason Kelce, has played in every game to date.

"Listen, nobody wants to give up a sack," Australian rugby player turned Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailata said. "Seeing your QB get hit, it's the worst feeling in the world."

Meanwhile, Wentz's average time before a pass is 2.88 seconds, his highest since coming into the league. It's symptomatic of both Wentz's indecisiveness this season and the receivers' failure to separate with regularity.

Put that combination together, and you have a quarterback getting clobbered at an alarming clip. Not great for a player who has already had three significant injuries as a pro.

"Physically, I'm thankful. I'm in a good spot," said Wentz, who added some 13 pounds of muscle this offseason and appears to be benefiting from the protection. "My body is recovering well every week, so I'm thankful for that."

The accumulation of hits can take its toll, however, and in some circumstances lead to erosion of play. The most dramatic example is Carr. The No. 1 overall pick by the Houston Texans in the 2002 NFL draft, Carr was sacked an NFL-high 76 times his rookie season. Under siege during much of his time in Houston, he never developed as an elite QB as anticipated.

The constant pressure can alter mechanics, lead to a QB "dropping his eyes" -- or focusing on the rush instead of keeping his eyes downfield -- while having adverse effects both mentally and physically.

"It's the old theory of reduction," said Ron Jaworski, who was sacked 363 times over his 15-year NFL career and was part of the 1986 Eagles team that set an NFL record with 104 sacks (72 of which were taken by Cunningham). "I know how defenses look at hits on the quarterback: The more you hit the quarterback, the less he's going to be inclined to hang in there and take that bullet.

"Physically, when you begin to take all these hits, on your biceps, on your triceps, on your ribs, you're not the same guy. It's easy now to say you've got to play through it, but when you're actually doing it, it's difficult. You've got a sore arm, you've got a sore shoulder, you've got a sore foot, you've got bruised ribs. It affects your talent level. It affects velocity on the football. It affects your hands if you get hit in the hands, when you brace yourself for a fall. All those things begin to come into play. The hits to the head, the concussion potential. All those things begin to accumulate and make it hard to play at a consistent level."

Beuerlein, in his mid-30s at the time with the Carolina Panthers, had offseason elbow surgery after taking 62 sacks in 2000. He missed the entire 2001 campaign and started five more games total before retiring.

It's not all doom and gloom. Houston's Watson has rebounded since taking 62 sacks in 2018, and Cunningham racked up nearly 230 TDs in the air and on the ground after taking 72 sacks in 1986, some of which were on designed runs as opposed to traditional dropbacks.

But it's a challenge to keep your game in check once you've faced that kind of heat.

"The thing for Carson is he just has to keep playing ball. He's got to be smart, he's got to keep his mechanics right," Cunningham said. "It's hard when you're trying to keep sacks down because when you start focusing on that, then the focus is in the wrong place. You can't focus on what not to do, you have to focus on moving forward."