The Eagles added a slew of talented players to the roster this year in order to shore up several positions. But could it all be for not? They appear to have a key weakness as they prepare for what many hope to be a championship run this season.
Going by the right here and now, with the players they have slated to start in tonight’s game against the Cleveland Browns, the offensive line is a big, big question mark for this team.
Last season, the Eagles starting offensive line for the most part was Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, Mike McGlynn, Max Jean-Gilles (Nick Cole) and Winston Justice.
That group allowed a total of 49 sacks with only three teams allowing more. And when you take into consideration that Michael Vick escaped many sacks, that unit would have allowed many more if the Eagles had a stationary QB behind center.
Of course, the opposite could be true in that Vick’s style of play may have led to more sacks as well. But I recall the general consensus last season when many people felt that had Kevin Kolb been starting, he would have been sacked twice as much.
Sheil Kapadia over at Moving the Chains, has a good article analyzing the Eagles’ offensive line play from last season. The interesting thing of note is that Vick was sacked 34 times.
Of those 34 times, 23 came when the opposing defense only rushed four or five guys. That means the offensive line was beaten many times when it was man-on-man.
Hence, the obvious need for improvement with that group.
Fast forward to right now. The Eagles are set to deploy three new starters on their line in rookies Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins as well as fourth-year man King Dunlap.
The only player I can comfortably say is an improvement is Watkins, the Eagles’ first-round pick. But since he’s a rookie he automatically comes with a question mark next to his name.
Are Kelce, Watkins and Dunlap really an improvement over McGlynn, Jean-Gilles and Justice?
The best answer anyone can possibly give to that question is: I don’t know.
I will note that Kelce is not guaranteed to start once the regular season begins. Jamaal Jackson was the starter before this week. But Kelce is being given a real shot tonight and if he plays well, he could very well be starting come September 11th.
What is complicating things even more is Howard Mudd. Don’t get me wrong, he comes in as a very accomplished OL coach with a proven track record. What I mean is that he is installing a new scheme for the linemen.
As they say, teaching an old dog new tricks can be a difficult task.
Mudd’s style is in stark contrast to what Juan Castillo used to teach them. Watkins and Kelce are a clean slate for which Mudd can work with but Peters, Herremans, Dunlap and Jackson have to basically forget what they’re used to doing and now do things in a whole new way.
Upgrading three positions (or at least two) along an offensive line in one offseason is a tough task in itself. It becomes even more difficult when you also have a new coach teaching a completely new way of blocking.
The thing that really baffles me about all of this is that Andy Reid, an ex-offensive lineman himself, has allowed this to happen. Reid is a smart man but sometimes he keeps leaving glaring weaknesses on his teams.
Bringing in Mudd was a good move but having a lack of talent and enduring a steeper learning curve because of it, was not so good.
To their credit though, the Eagles were said to be extremely interested in Doug Free to play right tackle. Unfortunately that didn’t work out.
Ryan Harris, their apparent contingency plan, doesn’t appear to be working out either. In fact, he might be in danger of getting cut if he can’t get on the field. He has yet to prove himself in an Eagles uniform.
The fact that the Eagles tried for Doug Free and signed Ryan Harris tells you that they obviously feel they need an upgrade at the right tackle position. If they would have gotten Free, Justice’s career with the team would have been over.
Teams that pass as much as the Eagles do need to have a good offensive line. They should have known and/or anticipated how long Justice’s knee injury would keep him out. Not that Justice is the ultimate answer at RT but I’d feel better with him over Dunlap.
The Eagles have a few other concerns this year but the offensive line is at the top of the list for me and it’s not even close. If this group can’t get it together, it’s going to be a long and disappointing year.
The line may hold up okay against the weaker defensive teams but against the better ones they’re going to be in trouble. You’d think they would have done a little better job to protect their franchise QB.
But since they didn’t, Michael Vick better make sure all of his insurance policies are up to date!