Last season was one of frustration for Eagles Center Jason Kelce. With a new chapter unveiling itself in 2016, Jason Kelce was another player hoping to turn the page and rekindle his impressive 2014 form. In the Eagles win over Cleveland on Sunday however, Kelce had a very inconsistent game..something that simply cannot happen if Carson Wentz and the rest of the Offense are to enjoy sustained success in 2016.
Jason Kelce is a rare breed of center. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in sheer athleticism. In a zone-blocking scheme under Doug Pederson, Kelce is a perfect fit. But he struggled to find a rhythm against the Browns pass rush..so much so that he was the lowest graded center in the NFL in the opening week according to Pro Football Focus, with a score of just 37.4.
Kelce had a tough day at the office, but that’s not to say there weren’t positives. The 6’3, 295 pound center seemed to fluctuate drastically in form. From opening up the run game in crucial scenarios for big gains, to being constantly beaten by the much heavier Danny Shelton.
In terms of run-blocking, Kelce’s struggles weren’t nearly as bad. While he was often unable to sustain his blocks, plays like the one below that played to his athleticism were still impressive. Kelce bounces to the outside and makes a crucial hit, allowing Mathews to jump over and push through for a few extra yards.
A nice block here opened up a huge lane for Ryan Mathews as Kelce teamed up with Allen Barbre to try and stop Jamie Meder. Although Kelce did let the block slip once Barbre had shifted in an attempt to stop an oncoming defender.
Here is another one of the few great examples showing the athleticism of Kelce. After pushing the first man with Brandon Brooks to the outside, Kelce shifts back to the middle and forces a small window for the elusive Kenjon Barner to run through.
However, the pass protection was not nearly as impressive..or consistent. There is a common misconception concerning how efficient Carson Wentz was under pressure. Against the blitz, the Eagles rookie was terrific, completing 8/8 passes. When under pressure, Wentz had a passer rating of a surprising 52.9, completing 40% of his passes. When he held the ball for over 2.6 seconds, he completed 45% of his passes. It’s easy to get the two mixed up, but a blitz doesn’t necessarily mean that the QB is under intense pressure..but the pressure Wentz did suffer during his professional debut, was often down to errors made by Jason Kelce or an overpowering Browns tackle getting the better of him.
The Eagles center was thrown around like a toy at times, meaning that Wentz was often forced to get the ball out quickly. Shelton was a matchup nightmare for Jason Kelce, constantly beating him and shedding the blocks with ease.
This is arguably the most representative example of Kelce’s play, but at the same time it’s probably more telling of how tenacious Shelton really is. Beating both Brooks and Kelce, the 335 pound tackle rushed Carson Wentz and if it wasn’t for some quick thinking to get the ball out of bounds, it would have been a big sack.
Wentz was forced into similarly quick thinking on play-action later in the game. Kelce was thrown aside and Wentz again took a big hit after throwing the ball out of trouble. Wentz stood tough in the pocket and placed the pass well, but the blocking was close to non existent here.
Kelce’s play seemed to deteriorate as the game progressed. As the pocket shifted in the play below, Kelce stormed through the hole with the intention of stopping Christian Kirksey..who simply cut to the outside and if it wasn’t for a very late push preventing the tackle, the outside run would have been thwarted much sooner.
The problem seemed to be for the most part that Kelce could not sustain blocks in neither the rushing or the passing game. Partnered with his mismatch against a much heavier Shelton, Kelce , like in 2015..found it tough to establish momentum. The problem is that even though the run-blocking scheme suits Kelce’s skill set, the pass blocking arguably requires more sustained blocks due to more play-action looks.
In total, Kelce allowed a quarterback hit and a hurry while often allowing his man to end the play on the ground. It would be easy to brush this off as a one off, but this isn’t the only time Kelce is going to be lined up against much more physically intimidating players this year.
Under pressure, Carson Wentz struggles..but it’s to be expected. However, the rookie quarterback’s mental awareness and processing speed enabled him to escape some dangerous situations. That’s not to say that against a tougher Defense, the result won’t be more detrimental to the Offense. Sacks, bad throws and other mistakes are all bound to surface considering how young Carson Wentz is in his developmental cycle. It’s a process and one that the Eagles are prepared to go through having seen flashes of what the NDSU product can turn into..but to get to the finished product, they have to make mistakes and learn from them.
The mistakes however, can be limited with strong pass protection..something that the Eagles have been devoid of in the last few years. Jason Kelce struggled in 2015 but seemed confident in rekindling the 2014 fire in a much more O-Line friendly scheme with less intensity between plays. But if Jason Kelce is being beaten this badly, this consistently against the Browns, what will the Seahawks, Vikings, Steelers and Ravens be able to do?
The Eagles Offense has a lot of potential, from quarterback to wide receiver. But the success all starts with a strong offensive line..and if the Eagles are to sustain success in 2016 and give Wentz the best opportunity to succeed, they simply need Jason Kelce to perform much better than he did in week one.
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