Is there a fundamental problem on the Eagles Offensive Line?

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Nearly a week has passed since the Eagles opened their preseason against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a lot has changed in that time. Just today, the Eagles traded Dennis Kelly for wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and while it seems like a steal for the Eagles on the surface, it ignores a greater need..one that could be the thorn in the side of an Eagles Offense that on paper could cause a few surprises this season.

The problem has evaded being the Elephant in the room until very recently. It wasn’t until Lane Johnson was accused of a second PED violation, probably resulting in a ten game suspension, that we began to wonder, what happens now? That question took a very dark turn last Thursday night.

On the surface, the Offensive line didn’t play too badly. In terms of opening up the running game, they were actually very productive and moved the pocket well. They helped a committee of Eagles backs rush for 93 yards against a Bucs Defense that ranked 11th in the league in rush Defense last year.

But in terms of pass protection, the performance was shambolic. I know it’s preseason, it’s the opening game and this is the time where everyone makes sensationalized comments and criticisms about players when in reality it means very little. But this is a binary opposite. If this level of production continues deep into the preseason, the Eagles are in big trouble.

The problem isn’t coming from the starters..and that’s part of the problem. The Eagles invested heavily in depth this year. Who could blame them? Jason Peters is at the tail end of his career and with Lane Johnson acting as the heir to the RT throne, the Eagles need some strength in the depth positions, especially considering how vital and yet disappointing the backup play was last year.

So how bad was the situation? The biggest errors came from some of the most important names in the future of the Offensive Line.

Stefen Wisniewski,
Andrew Gardner,
Isaac Seumalo and
Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

We’ll get into why they are so important shortly, but for now..the cold facts. Chase Daniel had ten pass attempts last Thursday, he was sacked four times. If it wasn’t for the mobility and athleticism of Carson Wentz, the rookie would have been sacked countless times and likely sustained more than just a hairline fracture.

Stefen Wisniewski:
The Eagles brought Wisniewski in after he ranked as the third best pass protecting Center in the league a year ago. Having never been a backup in his career, Wisniewski was adamant that he would compete for a starting role, his versatility dictating that role would be at the LG spot. So how did he get on against the Bucs?

He struggled. There were countless times where he would be late to initiate a block or allow a rusher to blast around his outside (like above) and hit the quarterback. He wasn’t the worst Lineman by any stretch of the imagination, but for a veteran thought to be competing for a starting role or at least a number two for a couple of positions due to his versatility, he seemed to have a tough time stopping the Bucs pass rush.

 

Andrew Gardner:
Where do we start with Andrew Gardner? The missed tackle that saw him land flat on his face in the first quarter?

How about an inability to stop pressure coming on a screen pass? This could have turned very ugly, very quickly if Daniel had released the ball a second later.

Gardner was simply burned on this next play. It was almost like he was covered in Oil as the pass rusher was able to blast through with no questions asked.

Gardner had an atrocious game to put it bluntly. Play, after play, after play..he was exploited as the pocket crashed from the left hand side. Chase Daniel was often forced into quick throws, or forced to the ground after a big hit due to shoddy blocking, He may not be regarded as one of the more efficient backups on the roster, but Gardner is certainly one of the older and more experienced players. We’ll come back to why this is important later. Onto the rookies…

 

Isaac Seumalo:
The Eagles drafted Seumalo in the third round of this year’s draft in the hopes that he would prove to be a solid backup who could one day develop into a starter. The ceiling was there in the third round and he was a dominant and versatile lineman at Oregon..and to some extent, in Training camp considering that he missed all of OTA’s. In the opening preseason game however..

..Seumalo, like Gardner struggled holding blocks. He lacks the power and dominance that people look for in guards but makes up for it with fantastic technique. Unfortunately, Seumalo was overrun in this game. There was a miscommunication the play below in which the ball was snapped too early. Wentz reacted well, the Eagles third round pick didn’t. Seumalo was the last to move off the line and the one man that got closest to Wentz initially was due to his poor reaction time.

Seumalo suffered but both he and Wisniewski proved to be imperative when opening up the run game. Whether it was the “Lead Weak” play that was so popular under Andy Reid or pushing the pocket..both showed strength. When it came to stopping the pocket collapsing, it was an entirely different story.

 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai:
The one play that everyone’s going to be talking about is the miscommunication that almost cost the Eagles dearly on 3rd and long. The ball was snapped early but the last lineman to move was Vaitai.

The rook had a tough night in pass protection. There were times where he was almost ran over and others where like Seumalo, he looked to play too nervous..and it cost him.

The problem to me at least is glaringly obvious. The Eagles have placed such an emphasis on athletic and versatile lineman to efficiently block in a zonal scheme, opening up the run game and forcing the outside runs with ease. But when it comes to pass protection, it’s not where they shine..and that’s a glaring red light for the Eagles for a few reasons.

 

Where is the future of this team?:
The future of the Philadelphia Eagles is not a committee backfield, it’s Carson Wentz..and as athletic and instinctive as the NDSU signal caller is, he cannot be forced to scramble or to throw the ball away out of panic on nearly half of his plays.

The one criticism I have always had with Wentz is that he holds onto the ball for too long. After playing behind such a dominant line at NDSU, Wentz is coming to a binary opposite with the Eagles. The time he had in the pocket at College where his team were the powerhouse..is simply non existent. So if you partner a major weakness in your franchise QB and a huge drawback on the Offensive line..it’s not going to bode well.

 

The Bye-week:
I’ve said this a million times, but I cannot emphasize it enough. The Eagles Bye-week falls after just three regular season games. With Johnson already suspended for ten and Peters battling a degenerative injury, it’s almost inevitable that the backups are going to see significant playing time. With that in mind, the backups struggled against the Bucs 2nd/3rd string pass rush in the second half. What happens 8 consecutive game weeks after the Bye where the Eagles could be in a playoff race, running low on depth and are unable to stop a run of the Mill Defense?

 

Immediate impact:
There is of course, a concern for the longevity of Sam Bradford. He may be the healthiest he has ever been, but Bradford has been unable to shake the “injury prone” tag off of his name for quite some time. With so much resting on the success of Sam Bradford, both in terms of seasonal success and getting some of the assets given up for Wentz back in a trade if he has a good season, the Eagles can’t afford to let him get hit as often and as hard as Wentz did last Thursday. Wentz is not game ready..and Daniel hardly set the world on fire.

 

The excuses:
Many of you will be reading this and thinking “it’s just one preseason game, they had to build chemistry and settle into their form under a new Head Coach.” That’s fine, but Wisniewski was brought in as a veteran. Gardner is entering his seventh season Allen Barbre, (oh we missed this..it took one play for Allen Barbre to completely lose his assignment)

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was listed as the team’s starting LG throughout Training camp and on the first unofficial depth chart. These are guys who have been in this environment and around the league long enough to have the “rookie” excuses listed as still valid. It’s easier to understand why the rookies struggled, it’s their first taste of an NFL game and there will have been a lot of nerves..but this seemed like a much more fundamental problem, raising concerns further.

 

The overall picture:
The bottom line is this. When you take away the penalties (the Eagles lost over 200 Offensive yards due to O-Line penalties last year and at one stage in the 2nd quarter on Thursday had more penalty yards than Offensive yards), Lane Johnson, one of the most important players on the roster is probably going to be suspended for the first ten regular season games. The Eagles are going to have to rotate guys and with such an early Bye, depth is going to be more important than ever.  Jason Peters could be entering his final season and it’s unlikely he will start in all 16 games for longevity purposes. With Dennis Kelly traded who was another reliable (to an extent), experienced backup, the Eagles are left with the players listed in this article as their next best options..players who allowed things like this to happen on a constant basis on Thursday.

Is there a fundamental problem on the Offensive Line? It’s perhaps too early to tell. We don’t know if the rookie nerves came into play or if Pederson and Jeff Stoutland can help iron out these errors before the Eagles meet the Browns in week one of the regular season. But it’s interesting how the Line seemed to elegant in run blocking but so unsophisticated when it came to protecting the quarterback..and given how much rests on this season, the catalyst of Lane Johnson’s suspension and how much is resting on the shoulders of Sam Bradford…the Eagles need to work out the kinks. Fast.

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