Carson Wentz vs Jared Goff. For the second time in as many weeks, the Eagles face a star-studded quarterback showdown. While the lights shine bright on the pride of the 2016 Draft class, there is a much bigger matchup at stake.
The Eagles have done a great job of patching over the hole left by future Hall-of-Famer Jason Peters. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been supported by a lenient scheme and a cast of lineman and tight ends willing to come to his aid. The loss of Peters almost didn’t feel substantial…until it did. Vaitai and the Eagles marched into Seattle with hopes of steamrolling one of the most intimidating teams in the league. They left limping with a loss hanging above their heads. Of course, there were many factors that played into the defeat, but the play of the offensive line, specifically the left side was worth noting.
The offensive line allowed a whopping total of 27 QB pressures against the Seahawks according to Pro Football Focus. The Eagles highest number of pressures allowed in a single game this season prior to Sunday night was 13. What’s even more staggering is that Halapoulivaati Vaitai accounted for 10 of those pressures. 2 sacks, 1 QB hit and 7 pressures all came at the hands of the TCU product. His running mate, veteran Steven Wisniewski didn’t fare much better, allowing a further 5 hits and 6 pressures.
“In a very challenging environment, there were times [he was] going up against a very good pass-rusher.” Frank Reich mentioned when discussing Vaitai’s form. Coming to his left tackle’s aid, Reich continued. “I thought there were times he held his own really well. I mean, [Seahawks DE Frank] Clark had a few good pass rushes on him. There was one move he made, watching the film again today for the third or fourth time, it was a wicked pass rush move and very good. So I thought in that environment overall, he was fine.”
The left-hand side of the line crumbled under the Sunday Night Lights. Ajayi missed a blitz pickup on the sack from Justin Coleman too, but pressure started to leak from all angles. When all was said and done, the performance was simply not good enough. Wentz was forced to throw under duress way too often and the run-game simply fizzled out. The big plays not he ground disappeared. Trying to execute a zonal rush that relied on Vaitai and Wisniewski was a tall order.
Help has dwindled. Vaitai isn’t seeing the level of support that he was when he first filled in for Peters. Perhaps Pederson just sensed confidence in the young lineman, or maybe his own confidence in the backup tackle exceeded his ability. Either way, Vaitai and Wisniewski could both use a helping hand. Because one week after that tough loss, the Eagles face another stern run defense and a pass-rush that’s even more explosive.
Headlined by an 8 sack season from Aaron Donald, Vaitai will be paired up against Ethan Westbrooks. A 4th season defensive end who is coming off of a two sack outing against the Cardinals. Behind Westbrooks on the depth chart is a speedy edge-rusher in Morgan Fox. The Colorado State-Pueblo product has 2.5 sacks this season and is by no means someone to be unaccounted for. Then of course, there’s the threat of outside linebacker Robert Quinn, who now ranks 4th in franchise history for sacks. There is no doubting that the Rams will smell blood in the Water.
“They’re pretty disruptive. Physical, fast, typical [Rams defensive coordinator] Wade Phillips defense.” Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said of his team’s upcoming opponents. “Everywhere he goes, he has a way of getting the most out of those guys up front, and they’re talented as well.”
If there’s a blueprint for the Rams to follow, it’s the one Seattle deployed. DT Sheldon Richardson was pushed outside at times and was lined up against Lane Johnson, who leads the RT position in NFC Pro Bowl Votes. Moving guys around and calling plenty of stunts left Vaitai scrambling for safety and Wisniewski with a little more to worry about than just pass-protection.
It may be too early to ring the alarms and call for help from the likes of Will Beatty, but the Eagles need to solidify the left-hand side of the offensive line before it’s too late. Seattle exposed a weakness and the Rams may be the perfect team to capitalize on it…which is a terrifying prospect for an Eagles offense that was held to under 100 rushing yards for the first time since week 2 on Sunday night.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports