How important is a healthy offensive line to the success of the Eagles?

Eagles lane johnson
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 22: Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Tackle Lane Johnson (65) celebrates a touchdown in the first half during the game between the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles on September 22, 2019 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

2020 was a year to forget for the Philadelphia Eagles. Throughout their frenzied 4-11-1 season, they were forced to deploy 14 different offensive line combinations, and projected starters Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard were lost to injury before the season begun. After a long offseason of rehabbing injuries and adding some key pieces to the line, Nick Sirianni will be hoping to inherit a group that resembles the unit that was once heralded as one of the NFL’s finest. For Jalen Hurts especially, the resurrection of the line is absolutely crucial.

Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts both showed plenty of weaknesses last year, there’s no denying that. Wentz exhibited an implosion that is rarely seen at the NFL level and Hurts was always bound to have teething problems as a rookie who was dropped into the deep end to save a dying season. But there’s only so much they could do behind a never-ending carousel of bodies protecting them.

How bad did things get for the Eagles?

The Eagles allowed a league-worst 65 sacks last year – an average for those counting at home of 4 per game. Wentz was sacked 50 times and Jalen Hurts was pulled down 15 times across his 4 starts and dips into the offense beforehand. That alone isn’t great. Hurts also fumbled the ball 9 times, which is an absurdly high number for such a small sample size.

What is very interesting though is that Jalen Hurts actually had more time to throw than any other QB in the NFL last year, coming in at 3.11 seconds. This is in large part due to his ability to escape the pocket and get out of trouble, something that Carson Wentz seemed to forget how to do entirely. Having said that, even Wentz ranked 6th thanks to his statue-like play. Two very different quarterbacks who experienced the ball being in their hands way too long, but for equally contrasting reasons.

After spending much of his rookie season running for his life, Jalen Hurts will now be playing behind an offensive line that is not only filled with Pro Bowl talent, but who have spent plenty of time together. The issue with having 14 combinations in one year is a total lack of chemistry. From that Jamon Brown game to a myriad of penalties, misfires, and confusion, the quarterback was often looking for an escape before he was trying to find a receiver. That should change in 2021.

It’s all well and good criticizing Hurts for struggling to come off of his first read or delivering inaccurate passes, but when you’re playing behind an offensive line that’s given up 80 QB hits and 53 pressures, prompting 49 scrambles, what else an anyone expect? Eagles QB’s were pressured on 27% of their dropbacks last year, which was unsurprisingly among the highest rates in the NFL.

We all know how good the Eagles offensive line can be. We’ve seen how integral their form was to the success of Carson Wentz during the Super Bowl run and beyond. Serviceable depth was absolutely vital during the Doug Pederson era and 2020 was the only real season they lacked it. The results spoke for themselves.

Now, with the band getting back together and a quarterback who can buy time outside the pocket, the Eagles offense should look very different to the mess we saw in 2020…hopefully.

The scary truth

The Eagles barely ran the ball last year, effectively wasting a year of development for Miles Sanders, who flashed plenty of home-run potential during his limited action. Doug Pederson was very reluctant to run the ball and while it could be assumed that the lack of run-blocking consistency could play a factor, it actually didn’t.

By the end of the season, the team ranked 7th in the amount of rushing attempts that went for a first down, while sitting third in yards per carry. When it comes to runs that broke the 20-yard mark, they ranked 8th. This is staggering considering they sat 24th in rushing attempts. When they did run the ball, it clearly worked…it was just something Pederson seemed hesitant to sit with.

What’s even more impressive is that this was achieved with a group of backup offensive lineman who were leaking pressure left right and center, as we’ve learned and painfully remember.

A breath of fresh air

Nick Sirianni now joins the ranks as Head Coach on the back of a season that embodies the prioritization of running the football. Under his coordination, Jonathan Taylor racked up 1,169 rushing yards while averaging 5 yards per carry along with 11 touchdowns. The team also used Nyheim Hines in the passing game and he was able to put up 482 receiving yards on 63 receptions.

The Colts offensive line ranked 2nd in PFF’s recent 2021 examination, having finished 7th in 2020 and 1st in 2019. There’s no denying that the success of Indy’s rushing attack can be correlated to their athletically dominant o-line.

Sirianni now joins the Eagles who will be getting Lane Johnson back in the fray after a lingering ankle injury required surgery. Brandon Brooks should be set to make his return at some point in hopes of getting back to his best, which saw him easily rank among the best guards in the league, and then there’s the continued growth of Jordan Mailata, and athleticism of ageless wonder Jason Kelce. Partnered with a refreshed intent to run the ball, we should see a lot of weight lifted from the shoulders of Jalen Hurts in 2021, affording him comfort in the pocket and adding to his chances of success.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire