There have been many contributing factors to a rollercoaster Eagles season and one of the more overlooked has been the play of the offensive line. Things didn’t start off swimmingly for the league’s top ranked offensive front last year, with QB hits, penalties and some poor blocking all weighing an elite group down. Injuries were to blame for some of these setbacks, while the benching of Stefen Wisniewski appeared to try and spark a catalyst. However, now that we’re nearing the season’s end, the Eagles offensive line is beginning to play like the group of old.
The performance on Sunday night may have been the group’s finest of the season. Not only did they help pave the way to a nearly perfectly balanced offense, but they carved open the floodgates for a team-total 111 rushing yards and a 2-touchdown performance from Wendell Smallwood. Most impressively of all perhaps, was the damage they dealt to the NFL’s most lethal defensive lineman.
By now, Aaron Donald’s name is almost mythical, as is his production. Leading the NFL in sacks and QB hits by quite some margin, Donald has pushed himself into a tier of his own this season, leading the league in sack yards by an astonishing 50+ yard margin. His nine forced fumbles sent warning alarms to an Eagles offensive line that had leaked pressure all season long and a quarterback who hadn’t taken a snap since week two.
Donald started his night licking his lips and ended it with 0 sacks, 1 QB hit and 2 tackles.
“The offensive line played really well the other night and gave Nick [Foles] time.” Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said on Tuesday. “We know the kind of pass rush and guys that they have up front out there in Los Angeles and what they are able to do. You’ve got to give those guys a lot of credit up front, all of them, across the board, did a heck of a job in protecting the quarterback and then creating some running lanes. We were able to be effective with the run game and then our running backs, really by committee, whether it’s [Darren] Sproles or Wendell [Smallwood] or Josh [Adams] – they all were effective running the football. We got a complete game out of the O-Line. We need that kind of effort again this week because we know Houston has got an excellent defensive front.”
Whenever the Eagles seemed to pull off a big play, it seemed as though Aaron Donald was being suffocated by double teams, getting increasingly frustrated each time. Donald’s impact was nullified and that seemed to be the aim for the Eagles. If they can rip the jugular vein out of that dominant pass-rush, the o-line felt confident handling their business against the edge rushers and Suh.
The injuries have healed, the mistakes are minimizing and the dominance is resurfacing…which is just as well considering that J.J Watt and the Texans now stand between the Eagles and a potential playoff berth. However, it would be wrong to speak so highly of the offensive line without mentioning just how strongly the tight ends have been blocking recently.
Both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert have been absolutely integral to opening up the run in 12-personnel looks, sustaining blocks and helping to push the crease and get to the second level to help those zonal rushes come to fruition.
“I think I mentioned this last week when somebody asked about Dallas [Goedert], and that’s one of the areas that he’s shown a tremendous amount of improvement in.” Groh went on to say. “He was not asked to do a ton of that in college, so to really being doing it for the first time in the NFL is something that usually takes tight ends a year or two. He’s really developed. [Eagles tight ends coach] Justin Peele has done a great job in getting him coached up. Dallas is a tough guy and he has a lot of strength at the point of attack. I think Zach takes a lot of pride in being a complete player and not just a pass catching tight end, and he’s done a really good job, too.”
The Eagles offense exploded into life against a Rams defense that on paper, should’ve put the final nail in the coffin. Credit will naturally go to an excellent performance from Nick Foles and Alshon Jeffery, but they say football is won and lost in the trenches. That was absolutely true for the Eagles last year and just in the nick of time, it may be true once more.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Greg Trott via AP