There is plenty of blame to go around with the Philadelphia Eagles during their recent three game losing streak. The defense has stunk, the offense has stunk and the special teams has been exceptionally sloppy. Not everyone is completely at fault, but no one or no position unit has been great through the first seven games.
The offensive line has received much the criticism in both the local and national media. Is it deserved? The Eagles have given up 20 sacks on 266 pass attempts for a rate of one sack on every 13.3 attempts. They are also averaging 4.0 yard per carry. They are ranked 16th in yard per carry and have given up the sixth most sacks this season. But stats do lie, so I took a look at the game tape from the Falcons game and analyzed the line play from that game.
I thought the offensive line played well against Atlanta considering the fact that they were without their starting left tackle (Jason Peters), center (Jason Kelce) and right guard (Danny Watkins). They replaced them with left tackle King Dunlap, center Dallas Reynolds and right guard Dennis Kelly.
Replacing three starting offensive linemen is a really tall task. Chemistry is everything for a offensive line, especially in Howard Mudd’s blocking scheme. There has been a lot of confusion when the defense is blitzing or showing different looks up front. This has been the biggest issue in pass protection for the Eagles. This is not surprising for a team that lost it’s starting center to a season ending knee injury. Center is right up there with quarterback is the position you don’t want to every lose to injury.
Overall I thought this group played well from what I saw. They weren’t dominating, but they held their own. You can’t ask for much more from this group. They aren’t elite and you can’t expect them to play elite. You just don’t want them to play poor. They didn’t against Atlanta. They consistently gave Michael Vick two and three seconds to get a clean pass off. You want your quarterback to get the ball out close to three seconds or less. The longer a quarterback holds the ball, the more likely he is to take a sack or at least take a big shot.
King Dunlap should be an NFL starter. He is solid in pass protection and has potential to be a much better run blocker. He isn’t a great fit in Mudd’s blocking scheme, but he plays hard and is trying to make it work. He is, however a scary sight when he gets upfield on screen passes. Nobody has much of a chance against him when he gets his momentum.
Evan Mathis isn’t a Pro Bowl player, but he is a solid starter. That is how he has played all season and that is how he played against Atlanta. He got a lot of one-on-one matchups with the defensive tackle early as Dallas Reynolds and Dennis Kelly were blocking together on the other defensive tackle. Mathis didn’t jump out at me on tape, but he didn’t make many mistakes either.
I did a complete 180 on Dallas Reynolds after watching him much closer on tape. He is a better athlete than I gave him credit for and his effort was off the charts. He was the best linemen on both of the Eagles touchdowns. He had the best push on McCoy’s two yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Nobody else got much of a push so McCoy bounced it to the outside. Reynolds also got upfield and sprung the key block on McCoy’s seven yard screen touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The thing I loved about Reynolds from that game was the number of plays where he blocked two different players on the same play. He is never satisfied with just one block. When he gets a chance, he gets upfield in a hurry and finds his next victim.
Dennis Kelly is going to challenge Danny Watkins for the starting right guard spot from here on out. Watkins can be a better starter, but he makes a lot of mistakes. Kelly played as mistake free of a game you can expect from a fifth round draft pick who played tackle in college. The role of the right guard isn’t a big one right now for the Eagles. Against a four man rush, I expect the Eagles to keep using Reynolds and Kelly together double teaming their man, while Evan Mathis and everyone else can be trusted in single blocking assignments.
Todd Herremans is a solid starter at right tackle as well. He gets upfield in a hurry on screens and draws and is a physical blocker in pass protection. He needs a a chip when he is going against some of the quicker pass rushers, but overall he is a good player.
As long as the Eagles adjust to the capabilities and limits of this group, they won’t be the weak link on this offense. It starts with a more balanced running game and Michael Vick getting rid of the ball in about three seconds or less. If they do that then this group will be solid over the final nine games.