Fix­ing of­fen­sive line is­sues should be Pri­or­ity 1 for Ea­gles

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL SPORTS -

PHILADEL­PHIA (TNS) — If not for quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz and the best magic we’ve seen on the Philadel­phia Ea­gles this side of Jon Doren­bos, Mon­day’s scene at the No­vaCare Com­plex would have been grim, with the Ea­gles search­ing for an­swers on their way to an 0-2 start.

In­stead, it was up­beat. Af­ter all, they’re 1-0 over­all and 1-0 in the NFC East fol­low­ing Sun­day’s 30-17 de­mo­li­tion of a fright­fully flawed Wash­ing­ton Red­skins squad.

Nev­er­the­less, a re­view of their of­fen­sive per­for­mance re­veals flaws on their of­fen­sive line and with their run­ning back corps that, if not cor­rected or at least cov­ered up, will lead to tragic con­se­quences and the start of a down­ward spi­ral be­fore the end of the month.

We start first with left tackle Jason Peters, who may just wind up in the Hall of Fame but hardly moves like an elite player now, at age 35, even when he’s healthy, which he’s not.

Peters left Sun­day’s game in the sec­ond quar­ter with a groin strain, re­turned to start the sec­ond half but then pulled him­self out again for good af­ter just one play.

“I didn’t want to hurt it no more than it was,” he said, “but I’ll be ready for Kansas City [next Sun­day].”

Sec­ond-year man Halapouli­vaati Vaitai took Peters’ place and strug­gled al­most as much as he did when se­lected to re­place sus­pended Lane John­son on the right side against the same op­po­nent a year ear­lier.

Left guard Isaac Seu­malo and cen­ter Jason Kelce mis­com­mu­ni­cated on a blitz that al­lowed one of the two sacks Wash­ing­ton had on Wentz.

John­son was less than his nor­mally dom­i­nant self as well.

That said, the of­fen­sive line wasn’t solely to blame for the prob­lems the Ea­gles had run­ning the ball and pro­tect­ing Wentz. The backs played just as big a role.

On two of LeGar­rette Blount’s 14 rush­ing at­tempts, he had open­ings of at least 5 yards and no­body in his path. But he wasn’t able to get through it be­fore it closed. That’s not due to vi­sion or in­stinct. It’s due only to not hav­ing NFL-cal­iber speed any­more.

Big prob­lem — and not eas­ily solved be­cause if they re­place him with, say, any­one on the ros­ter but Dar­ren Spro­les, who’s not built to be a work­horse back and is on the verge of re­tir­ing at age 34, they risk get­ting Wentz killed with their in­abil­ity to pick up blitzes. Of course, Blount didn’t prove to be any bet­ter in that depart­ment on Sun­day.

It’s a Catch-22 sit­u­a­tion, to be sure, and Ped­er­son prob­a­bly does not have the abil­ity to fix it with­out some ros­ter ad­just­ments.

The Ea­gles are car­ry­ing only three re­serve of­fen­sive line­men: Vaitai, Ste­fen Wis­niewski and Chance War­mack, a for­mer starter in this league who is so lost right now that he shouldn’t be one of the eight in that po­si­tion group.

The feel­ing here is that of all the play­ers plugged in at right tackle dur­ing John­son’s 10-game ab­sence last fall, Seu­malo did the best job in his one and only start at that spot.

So if they have to be with­out Peters for awhile, could mov­ing Seu­malo to right tackle, John­son to left tackle and plug­ging Wis­niewski in at left guard be a bet­ter op­tion?

“No, but those are all con­sid­er­a­tions based on what we did last year,” Ped­er­son said. “... Ob­vi­ously, Big V, I thought stepped in, and with re­ally lim­ited reps at tackle dur­ing the week and did well.

“... Those are con­ver­sa­tions we’ll have th­ese next cou­ple of days.”

How­ever they choose to at­tack this prob­lem, bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion will be es­sen­tial. This line barely played to­gether in the pre­sea­son be­cause Ped­er­son lim­ited ev­ery­one’s reps and Peters was es­sen­tially placed in bub­ble wrap to pre­serve a body that’s on the verge of a ca­reerend­ing break­down. In the mean­time, they traded their best and most ver­sa­tile re­serve, guard/tackle Allen Bar­bre, to Den­ver, think­ing they had more than enough depth this year to cover that loss. They were wrong. Wentz’s in­cred­i­bly im­proved scram­bling abil­ity will give the of­fense a chance to over­come its de­fi­cien­cies ev­ery week.

Even­tu­ally, though, he will be­gin to fail more than he suc­ceeds if they can’t plug at least some of the leaks.

That’s true of ev­ery quar­ter­back who ever played in this league.

Wentz’s ca­reer span also will be tied to how long they take to get this thing fixed.

If they want this man call­ing sig­nals for the next decade or so, their best bet is to keep him from get­ting knocked into obliv­ion.

Peters be­lieves the line will do the job.

“It wasn’t pretty to­day,” he said. “It was one or two guys get­ting thrown off a block. We’re go­ing to fix that.

“One time, I got tripped up and my guy made the play back side. But from a hole stand­point, the run game, we got it go­ing a lit­tle ear­lier with Blount and [Wendell] Small­wood and [Dar­ren] Spro­les. We’ve just got to go back, look at the tape, fix what we can fix and get ready to open up some more holes for the Kansas City game.”

One thing is for sure: what­ever they don’t get fixed will fall on Wentz.

Per­haps lit­er­ally.

PHOTO BY COURT­NEY STUBBS / C.S. PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Ea­gles run­ning back LeGar­rette Blount finds a lane Sun­day, Sept. 10.

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