The Offensive Line

One of the biggest problems the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles have faced is their lack of talent on the front lines on offense. Even now, despite improvements, the Eagles’ offensive line still isn’t anything to write home about. It’s been an abysmal performance up front this season.

As a run blocking unit, the offensive line hasn’t been anything to write home about. Football Outsiders calculates something they call “adjusted line yards” which essentially measures the amount of credit an offensive line’s run blocking gets, the Eagles are 28th in the NFL. This, combined with the fact that the Eagles are ranked fourth in second level yardage and third in open field yardage would suggest that LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown are creating yards and plays largely because of their own skill. And when LeSean McCoy and Brown can’t create yardage, the offensive line isn’t helping them much, the Eagles are stuffed on 27% of run plays, a mark that is 31st in the entire league. All together, the total rushing production from the Eagles has dropped from being ranked 5th in the NFL in 2011 to 12th in 2012. In the 2011 the Eagles averaged 5.1 yards per carry, in 2012 they’re averaging 4.6.

As a pass blocking unit, the Eagles have been one of the worst in the NFL. While we’re not the worst, take no solace in being better than the Arizona Cardinals. The Eagles have allowed 42 sacks (5th worst) and a total of 105 QB hits (2nd worst). ProFootballFocus has attributed the Eagles’ offensive line with the third most combined sacks, hits and pressures allowed in the entire league. It’s been pretty brutal at times.

This dreadful showing appears to correlate with the injuries that have stricken Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans who are going to miss a combined 38 games by the end of our season. It’s going to make a big difference when those three return but it won’t be as smooth a ride as some would have you believe.

Injuries

The return of Jason Peters is certainly exciting on paper but sometimes, I think people are forgetting that Jason Peters, the “340 lb.” Jason Peters, the “soon to be 31″ Jason Peters, is coming off of two achilles tears. If he returns and is 100% right off the bat, I’d be shocked. Every single player that tears their achilles displays a noticeable drop in effectiveness the following season, recent examples would be DeMeco Ryans and Jon Beason. And in some cases, a weakened lower leg has led to more lower leg problems (again, see Jon Beason).

Jason Kelce is coming off of a torn ACL. While a torn ACL is a problem for everyone, it’s seemingly more problematic for a center whose strengths mostly centered around his movement and athletic abilities. And while a loss in straight line explosiveness might not be as noticeable in an offensive line we shouldn’t discount the constant pressure that is put on one’s knees when constantly crashing into other enormous men.

And while Todd Herremans’ injury is considered rare, the broken bone in his foot is relatively minor compared to the other injuries along the OL. But what most people don’t realize is that before Todd Herremans broke his foot he wasn’t performing at the same level he was in 2011. And like Jason Peters, Todd Herremans isn’t getting any younger.

However, with that said, all three are likely starters heading into next season.

 Age

The Eagles offensive line is old. Todd Herremans and Jason Peters will turn 31 next year. Evan Mathis will turn 32 mid-season. Danny Watkins, despite only heading into his third season, will turn 29 mid-season. Dallas Reynolds, despite heading into his “second” (he’s spent time on the practice squad) season is going to turn 29 this offseason. Jake Scott (who isn’t under contract for next season) will turn 32 this offseason. And King Dunlap (who also isn’t under contract for next season) will be 28. Really, the only youthful pieces on the offensive line who appear to be valuable moving forward are Jason Kelce (25 years old) and Dennis Kelly (22 years old). The lack of valuable young pieces on the offensive line will hurt this team moving forward. The team is stocked with older players and there are no clear replacements.

Scheme Fit

Jason Peters, Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis all have experience in a variety of blocking schemes so a shift away from a zone blocking scheme shouldn’t affect them too much. Jason Kelce on the other hand, is in the crosshairs if a shift away from the zone blocking scheme is made.

Lets not beat around the bush, Jason Kelce isn’t the most powerful center in the NFL. He’s not going to consistently move defensive tackles the way a power scheme would call for. He played in a zone scheme at Cincinnati and he slide right into Howard Mudd’s zone scheme in Philadelphia, it’s what he’s good at. If we do switch schemes a coach might decide to head in another direction, just like Howard Mudd did with the whole Jason Kelce/Jamaal Jackson situation. His calling card in a man scheme is going to be his intelligence; he’ll need to be the lynchpin of the unit who makes effective calls, is effective as a positional blocker and help blocker.

Depth

I think this season is basically going to be my argument for depth for the rest of my life.

2075:
“Man, RGXI is pretty fantastic and he’s being blocked for by Tyler Matthews, the great, great grand-son of Jake Matthews and great, great, great grand-son of Bruce Matthews! We’re going to the Superbowl!”

Me: “Yeah, but remember 2013 when everyone got hurt and we were forced to start DeMetress Bell and sign a man-eating homeless person off the street (see: Jake Scott)? DEPTH MATTERS.”

I mean really, offensive line depth really killed this team. A team so dependent on their injury prone QB and deep passing game REALLY should’ve invested more in depth along the offensive line. I mean really, when Dallas Reynolds is your back-up center and Dennis Kelly, a rookie 5th round tackle prospect, is your back-up RG, you’ve got big problems.

What depth pieces do we have moving forward? Really the only piece we’ve got is Dennis Kelly as a swing tackle who can slide inside in emergency situations. DeMetress Bell is going to be cut and King Dunlap and Jake Scott both have expiring contracts. That leaves us with Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans, Danny Watkins and Dennis Kelly as the only pieces on the offensive line (yes, I’m ruling out Dallas Reynolds, Nate Menkin, Matt Tennant and Matt Kopa as reliable options moving forward). This depth problem isn’t going to just disappear, looking for talent in the draft and free agency is going to be a big, big deal for me.

What to do in 2013?

He good.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a little concerned about Jason Peters. He’s been a frontside pass protector for Michael Vick and he was probably the best LT in the NFL in 2011 but in 2013, he’ll be just over a year removed from two achilles tears and he’ll likely be blocking on Nick Foles’ backside. That’s a fairly big change for the big guy. I really can’t see him returning to full strength and when you consider the absolute GLUT of talented pass rushers, I’d be more comfortable with Jason Peters on the right side of the line where we can afford him more help, put him in tighter quarters and lessen the amount of crazy athletic pass rushers he has to face. And something that everyone is glossing over is that Jason Peters was a dominating right tackle in Buffalo before the Bills decided they’d seen enough and moved him to the left side, he’s got experience at right tackle.

So that leaves us with: On a similar note, Evan Mathis has experience at right guard and left guard. He played both spots in Cincinnati, he played RG in Miami and he was getting reps at RG for the Eagles before Howard Mudd split Todd Herremans out to RT. Todd Herremans on the other hand was strictly a left guard for nearly his entire career before playing RT. I think putting Evan Mathis at RG and Todd Herremans at LG makes sense.

? – Herremans – Kelce – Mathis – Peters

Lucky for the Eagles, the market is FLUSH with blindside protectors this offseason. In free agency, Ryan Clady, Brandon Albert, Jake Long, Will Beatty, Sebastian Vollmer and Jermon Bushrod all have expiring contracts. And the Eagles are in position to potentially have their pick of a strong offensive tackle class that features players like Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Eric Fisher.

So, lets pretend for a second that we draft Luke Joeckel (widely considered the best OT prospect since Joe Thomas) with our first round pick, that would leave us with a starting offensive line of: Joeckel – Herremans – Kelce – Mathis – Peters. Which, looks REALLY good to me.

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