The Eagles have had a stunning start to their 2018 campaign and the outlook has changed from a season go intrigue, to one of playoff expectation. Standing in their way however is a tough end to the schedule…and it all starts with a showdown against the ruthless Denver Defense this weekend.
To make life even harder for the Eagles, their offensive line has sustained a huge setback in losing one of the best left tackles of all time. Jason Peters is out for the season after suffering a heartbreaking injury two weeks ago. In his place, second-year tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is looking to prove himself as the eventual heir to the throne. But after a relatively impressive outing against the Niners, there’s a pass-rush that shows no mercy lying just around the corner.
The Broncos Defense has easily become one that defines this generation of Football. Year after year, all-pro corners are supported by a group of versatile linebackers and monster defensive linemen. This year is no exception, with Von Miller leading the team in sacks with 7.0.
Miller may well be the best defensive player in the NFL right now. With 80.5 sacks to his name, the five-time Pro Bowler has enjoyed another lethal season and with an ability to switch sides with ease, could prove nightmarish for a young, developing tackle.
“I would expect him to move around.” Said Eagles offensive coordinator, Frank Reich. “He’s moved over to our left, their right, as you say, enough times that every team has to prepare for it for sure.”
For Vaitai, this may be his toughest challenge since the trial by fire against Ryan Kerrigan one year ago. The good news for the Eagles is that the TCU product has played more consistently during his limited action this season than his time last year where he was thrown into the deep end.
“Yeah, he did a solid job. He did a solid job.” Reich said of Vaitai. “This [49ers] front was a good front. We knew that going in. We knew [the 49ers’] record wasn’t that great, but when you just looked at their defensive unit, we talked about it all week as an offense, make no mistake about it, this is a formidable defense. They gave us some problems at times and they played well. I give those guys credit. That’s a good defense.”
“I think he held up extremely well. Doug Pederson told reporters earlier this week. “He gave up the one sack, and it was a combination of him getting a little off balance and Carson [QB Carson Wentz] hanging onto the ball while just waiting for the routes to open up down the field. Things like that are going to happen, obviously, but you take away that play, and he played really well.”
Development has become a sentiment synonymous with this Eagles team. From corners to receivers, building a strong coaching staff to help young players marinate has been pushed to the forefront of building this team around Carson Wentz. When asked about Vaitai’s progress this week, Howie Roseman spoke glowingly of last year’s fifth-round pick.
“We draft and develop players, and V [Halapoulivaati Vaitai] was probably one of the most improved players on our football team during training camp, and you draft those guys, you develop them, you put them through the program so that they get opportunities like this.” Roseman said. We have a lot of confidence in him and the rest of the offensive line is intact and we have some veteran players behind that that have started games and been success in the National Football League.
Current ability and potential are two very different attributes however…and losing a veteran like Jason Peters would sting any team. As things stand, Denver has the best statistically ranked defense in the NFL. Von Miller has been accountable for 7 of the 17 sacks racked up by the Broncos this year and will sniff blood in the water when lining up against Vaitai.
The Eagles will need to do all they can to get their young offensive lineman some help. Be that in the way of Brent Celek or potentially some extra mustard up front, Vaitai faces a task that will either show just how far he’s come…or how far he has to go.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports