The Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line was brutal in 2012 and along with the secondary, it was one of the two biggest weaknesses on this team. However, this unit could turn out to be the team’s greatest strength in 2013.
Last season, Football Outsiders rated the Eagles’ OL at 28th in run blocking and 25th in pass protection. They were also 31st in runs that were stuffed at the line (no gain or the RB tackled for a loss) and gave up the fourth-most sacks in the league with 48.
Those numbers match up with what we all witnessed last year, right? Yes, they were B.R.U.T.A.L.
Things got so bad on the OL last year that they had to sign guard Jake Scott off the scrap heap in the middle of the season. The sad thing is that, besides Evan Mathis, he became our best lineman.
The good news is that we won’t be seeing any of the same combinations along the OL this year, no matter what. Jake Scott, Demetress Bell and King Dunlap are long gone and Dallas Reynolds will struggle to make the roster this year.
That doesn’t necessarily guarantee the line will be better, but here are some good reasons for optimism…
The obvious reason is getting the injured guys back. Jason Kelce, Jason Peters, and Todd Herremans will all return to full strength and just that alone should provide a huge boost.
Then, of course, they invested the No. 4 pick in OT Lane Johnson, who figures to be the starting right tackle come opening day. That allows Herremans to move inside to guard, which is a better position for him.
The not-so-obvious reasons to think that the OL will be the anti-2012 unit are the influences of Jeff Stoutland and Chip Kelly.
Stoutland is perceived as one of the top offensive line coaches in college football. Almost everywhere he has coached, his lines performed extremely well and produced some highly regarded draft prospects.
He teaches smart, physical and tough football. He wants his linemen pounding the defense until the whistle. In other words, he expects his OL to do everything last year’s unit did not.
We all know the foundation for a good offense is a good offensive line. And, you don’t always need to have top-tier talent at every position along the line. More-so than any other position group in football, the OL has to play well collectively.
And that’s where Stoutland will improve this team. He’ll get the linemen on the same page and have them play as a well-oiled unit. The players are said to be very enthusiastic about playing for him and his scheme, which was not the case under previous OL coach Howard Mudd.
Furthermore, almost any offensive lineman you talk to will tell you they prefer run blocking over pass blocking. The reason for that is because they get to be the aggressor and take the fight to the defense rather than the other way around.
That’s also good news because Chip Kelly likes to run the football…a lot.
Kelly’s bread and butter at Oregon was the read option offense and his quarterbacks did carry the ball a good amount of times for the most part. However, in looking back at the last four seasons, he ran a run-heavy offense even when you take away the runs by his quarterbacks.
Last season at Oregon, Kelly’s offense actually attempted 373 total passes vs. a whopping 685 runs. Of those 685 runs, 145 came from the QB position so that still leaves 373 passes to 540 runs.
If you count the runs by the QB, Kelly had a 65-35 run-pass ratio heavily slanted towards the run. If you remove the QB runs in an effort to think more along the lines of “true runs by a running back”, then the ratio is more like 60-40 in favor of the run.
If you look back at 2009 through 2011, you see the same thing (I’ve removed the QB runs from the equations)…
- 2011: 386 pass plays vs. 550 runs, a 59/41 split in favor of the run.
- 2010: 395 pass plays vs. 516 runs, a 57/43 split in favor of the run.
- 2009: 338 pass plays vs. 410 runs, a 55/45 split in favor of the run.
That’s a four-year average run-pass ratio of 58/42. Andy Reid’s offense this is not.
Furthermore, if you look at those stats as a progression from 2009 – 2012, he ran it more and more every year. And with the running backs the Eagles have, I expect that ratio to continue in Philly.
As I’ve pointed out several times over the past few months, if you still haven’t read Chip Kelly’s clinic on the zone read option offense you should go read it now. He describes at length his running game and breaks it down and really simplifies things.
Here is a quote I’d like to point out…
The offensive line plays with conviction. If you can keep it simple for the players in the offensive line so they have confidence going into a game, you have an opportunity to win the game. The five offensive linemen are the key to your football team.
I do not think anyone in our offensive line was offered a scholarship coming out of high school. I think the system we run helps our offensive linemen. The key is to make sure they know what they are doing. They are an impressive group of guys and they shop at True Value Hardware for clothes.
If you give your players something to hang their hats on, they will perform.
That’s the great thing about Kelly, he seems to have a knack for keeping things simple, yet it’s very effective. He’s going to give our offensive linemen something to “hang their hats on” so that they can “play with conviction.”
Playing with conviction can’t be understated.
Offensive linemen love to run-block. It builds confidence in their abilities and allows them to be physical. In 2013, they will get plenty of opportunities to be the aggressors and it should have a positive impact on their entire game, pass protection included.
Think about the mental aspect of the game for a minute. Under Reid, the linemen knew they would be pass-blocking the majority of the time. That puts them in the mindset that they can’t be as physical and have to retreat more.
When you’re retreating and have to worry about defenses just tee-ing off, that doesn’t allow you to play with conviction. In other words, it’s almost like being in a “I hope I don’t get beat” mentality rather than a “I’m going to maul you” mentality.
Just having an improved mentality should do wonders for the offensive linemen individually and therefore improve their performance as a collective unit. It may sound basic, but I believe it will make all the difference in the world for these guys.
I fully expect the offensive line to go from near-bottom in the league in 2012 to near the top in 2013.