COSTA MESA, Calif. — Since Jason Peters went out a few weeks ago, Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been a very pleasant surprise for the Eagles.
He obviously hasn't been playing at the level of the future Hall of Famer he replaced, but he's been an adequate backup at left tackle.
That wasn't the case on Sunday.
Instead of seeing the Big V that has been solid all year, the Big V from 2016 showed up. Vaitai had trouble all night against Seahawks pass-rusher Frank Clark.
According to ProFootballFocus, Vaitai gave up two sacks, a quarterback hit and seven quarterback hurries in Sunday night's 24-10 loss to the Seahawks.
We'll take a look at those two sacks and the hit (both came from Clark):
This is the Eagles' fourth offensive play of the game. They had just picked up a first down on a scramble and then got a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call to push them even farther forward. It was 1st-and-10 from their own 38-yard line, down 3-0.
On this play, Carson Wentz motions the running back into the slot, so Vaitai is all alone against Clark on the top side of the line.
Clark times the snap and uses a speed move to simply beat Vaitai around the edge. Wentz feels this coming so he gets rid of the ball early for an incompletion.
You can see that Big V gets his hands on Clark, but Clark is too wide for Vaitai to do any significant damage. He gets around him and turns the corner.
Vaitai is able to get a little shove to push Clark wide. That's not great, but at least it buys Wentz enough time to get rid of the football before the sack.
Here's the full play:
This next play comes on the next possession in the first. It's 3rd-and-6. This time, the running back stays in and chips Vaitai's side. There's a problem, though. The Seahawks use a tackle-end stunt to pick up a sack.
After the snap, Sheldon Richardson pushes outside on Stefen Wisniewski, which completely opens the A-gap and Clark is about to shoot through it. Vaitai is still in his backpedal and doesn't realize what's going on early enough to stop it. You'll notice Clement is there ready to chip, but Clark is about to head back inside, away from the help.
Clark cuts inside, shoots the gap, and Vaitai is left chasing him. Wentz tries to escape, but Clark has a clear shot at him and Richardson beats Wisniewski on the play, trapping him in the pocket.
A full look:
This last play we'll look at comes in the fourth quarter. The Eagles are in desperation mode with 3:30 left in the game. They're down two touchdowns, so they can't afford any mistakes.
The defense just forced a punt, so Wentz and the offense start at their own 21-yard line. It's 1st-and-10.
Vaitai was beaten earlier by Clark on an outside move, so he's prepared for that. Once again, Clement is on that side of the field to help Vaitai chip outside, but Clark sets Vaitai up outside and cuts back in.
With a quick move inside, Vaitai is left trying to grab Clark with his right arm, but that isn't good enough. Clark has a straight shot at Wentz and drops him for a seven-yard loss. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich called this a "wicked pass rush move."
The full play:
Without Peters for the rest of the year, the Eagles are going to need to rely on Vaitai. Even after his poor performance against the Seahawks, he's the Eagles' only real option. The next guys in would be Isaac Seumalo, who isn't even a natural tackle, and Will Beatty, who doesn't know the offense and who has played just six games in the last two years.
The big thing for Vaitai is getting his confidence back. The one thing we've learned about Big V is he's a player who thrives on confidence. It had likely been building until Sunday. There are bound to be games like this for a second-year, fifth-round pick. Now, Vaitai needs to forget it and work on re-building his confidence for the stretch run.