Fixing offensive line issues should be Priority 1 for Eagles
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.
Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount finds a lane Sunday, Sept. 10.