Eagles' offensive line makes progress vs. Dolphins: 'Good, but sloppy'

Eagles' offensive line makes progress vs. Dolphins: 'Good, but sloppy'

The ground attack was boom or bust. Quarterback Carson Wentz was pressured and got smacked around but was able to lead a pair of scoring drives. It wasn't pretty, yet Thursday night was considered progress for the Eagles' offensive line.

"We got two scores, and we had 50 yards rushing in the first quarter, so I'm fine with that," Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said following the team's 38-31 win over the Dolphins. "It's a good day for us."

Eagles starters wound up playing just 19 offensive snaps in the third and most important preseason contest. That was enough time for LeGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood to combine to rush eight times for 47 yards, while Wentz completed 6 of 10 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

It was also too much time for the Eagles to cover up all of the flaws that plagued the O-line in the first two games. Blount was stopped for two yards or less on three of his four carries, and Wentz took three wicked hits and threw an interception that was directly the result of pressure in his face.

"It was a little bit better today," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "Still could've been better. It's just a little bit sloppy, it's a little bit not being on the same page."

The lack of cohesion is understandable, to a degree. Thursday marked the first time the Eagles had all five starting offensive linemen this preseason. Last week, left tackle Jason Peters was out for personal reasons, and right guard Brandon Brooks missed the opener with an injury.

"Now that we have all five offensive linemen here, everybody's out there, we can really start building that chemistry, building the camaraderie of the offensive line," Kelce said.

With only two weeks to go until the Eagles meet the Redskins in a game that will count in the standings and the starters likely finished for the preseason, there isn't much time left to create continuity.

"We have to improve," Johnson said. "This week in practice, we're getting the twos and threes ready to play, but we really need to focus on practicing well and treating it like a game, and just be ready for Washington."

At least the first-team offense was finally able to get something going in the running game. Blount in particular struggled to find room. Prior to ripping off a 16-yard run on his final carry against the Dolphins, the 30-year-old back had nowhere to go, managing all of 20 yards on 12 attempts.

Getting the ground attack going was an emphasis for the Eagles on Thursday, and the O-line paved the way for Blount and Smallwood to average 5.9 yards per rush.

"That was our goal," Johnson said. "We knew we had the ability run the ball, so all we had to do is just go do what we did in practice, and that's what we did.

"We just have to do a better job of protecting Carson."

Kelce remained critical of the unit's performance but was encouraged it will get fixed.

"Good, but sloppy," Kelce said, "I'd like for the run game, especially during this preseason, to have been more effective, and I think I speak for everybody in that respect. But it's close. You see on the plays, it's one guy here, one guy there. It's little things that we have to clean up."

Another reason for optimism is the simple fact that the Eagles haven't been preparing for specific opponents.

Ordinarily during the regular season, teams will call specific plays aimed at exposing an opponents' weaknesses. They'll study an opponent's tendencies and blitzes, then devise a plan to beat those packages.

The Eagles have been doing little to no game-planning during the preseason, and while that might seem like a crutch — one that players and coaches alike were hesitant to fall back on — it puts blockers in some difficult situations.

"There were a couple of unscouted blitzes," said Eagles coach Doug Pederson. "But it's no excuse. We've got to be ready for everything and anything and just a lot of quick pressure on Carson."

"As we start preparing for opponents throughout the work week, start getting used to the blitzes, the different looks, the different things that they have to offer, that just cleans everything up," Kelce said.

It's worth noting the Eagles have a veteran offensive line. The only new starter up front in 2017 is second-year left guard Isaac Seumalo. Everybody else has at least four NFL seasons under their belt.

Perhaps that's the best reason of all there's no reason to panic. Pretty much every guy on this line has a track record of success, so when they say it's close, you almost just have to believe it.

After all, it's only preseason.

"I feel like all a preseason game is is just a scrimmage, just to go against other guys, see where you're at, see where you're deficient at, see where you can improve," Johnson said. "That's the way it is every year.

"A lot of people get carried away with preseason. Hey, you can go 0-4 in preseason and have a great season."

What you need to know for Eagles-Vikings tailgate

USA Today Images

What you need to know for Eagles-Vikings tailgate

Several parking lots outside the Linc will open as early as 11:30 a.m. Sunday for fans who require extra time preparing for kickoff for the NFC Championship Game.

The Wells Fargo Center lots as well as the M and N lots — located just east of the stadium — and the P lot, next to Citizens Bank Park, are scheduled to open at 11:30 a.m., the Eagles announced.

The Linc's K lot, just north of the stadium, will open at 1 p.m.

The Citizens Bank Park lots are scheduled to open at 3 p.m.

Gates to the Head House Plaza open at 3:30 p.m. and the inner gates to the stadium open at 4:30 p.m. Located on the north end of the stadium, The Head House Plaza offers outdoor bars, food stands, live music and numerous other pregame activities for fans arriving early. It also includes an entrance to the Eagles Pro Shop.

The Eagles and Vikings kick off the NFC Championship Game at 6:40 p.m.

Eagles-Vikings NFC Championship Game predictions

USA Today Images

Eagles-Vikings NFC Championship Game predictions

Another week, another game with the Eagles being the underdog.

After a dominant defensive performance in a 15-10 win over the Falcons in the divisional round, the Eagles will welcome the No. 2 seed Vikings to the Linc for the NFC Championship Game (6:40 p.m. on FOX).

Despite the Eagles being the No. 1 seed and having home-field advantage, Minnesota is the favorite to advance and play the Super Bowl on their home field in Minneapolis.

Our analysts all had the Birds winning last week. This week, we’ll see who has the Eagles advancing to Super Bowl LII.

Reuben Frank (15-2)
Two great defenses blah blah blah. Underdogs blah blah blah. Carson Wentz got hurt blah blah blah. Forget all the storylines you've heard this week, and say these 16 words out loud with me: "Case Keenum is not going to come into the Linc and win the NFC Championship Game." OK, LOUDER: "CASE KEENUM IS NOT GOING TO COME INTO THE LINC AND WIN THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME." Maybe I'd feel differently if the Vikings were home or if a future Hall of Famer like Drew Brees were coming to town, but you're talking about a relatively inexperienced quarterback who plays his home games in a dome coming into South Philadelphia and dealing with crowd noise, changing weather, a hostile environment and a ferocious defense that's allowed five touchdowns and 9.2 points per game in its last six home games. I don't think Case Keenum can handle what he's about to face Sunday afternoon. I think we're all headed to Minneapolis. 

Eagles 18, Vikings 9

Dave Zangaro (14-3)
I never thought this day would come, if I'm being honest. If you told me in the summer the Eagles were going to be in the NFC Championship Game, I wouldn't have believed you. 

If you would have told me they were going to be in the NFC Championship Game without Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos and Caleb Sturgis, I would have told you that you were crazy. 

Now, I'm the crazy one. Because despite all of that and despite the Eagles' technically being the underdogs in this game, I think they're going to win it. 

Had the Saints won last Sunday, I probably wouldn't think that. The thought of Brees coming to town would have been enough for me to pick against the Birds. But then the Minnesota Miracle happened and as great as it was for the Vikings, it could end up being great for the Eagles too. 

Sure, the Vikings are a really good team and maybe they have the best statistical defense in the league and maybe Case Keenum will never come back to Earth. But the Eagles have a pretty good defense too, a good defense that's even better at home. Nick Foles doesn't need to be Wentz, but he will need to make some big-time throws Sunday; I think he does. I think the defense clamps down at home. I think this improbable run somehow keeps going. 

I think the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl. 

Eagles 18, Vikings 13

Derrick Gunn (14-3)
These two teams mirror each other so much. Both are guided by quarterbacks who were backups on their depth charts when this long journey began. Both have defenses that can clamp down on opposing offenses. Both with identical records. And both have never won a Super Bowl (Vikings 0-4, Eagles 0-2). 

For Foles, it's imperative that he stays within himself. Stick to the short, high-percentage passing game and hopefully get some much-needed help from the run game. 

Against the Falcons, the Eagles had 49 yards rushing in the opening quarter but only 47 the rest of the game against Atlanta's ninth-ranked run defense. 

Minnesota's defense is ranked No. 1 overall, No. 2 against the run, No. 2 against the pass and No. 1 in points allowed. 

The Eagles' defensive front has to get to Keenum before he can find Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Both are excellent route runners with exceptional hands. What a matchup up this is. Pat Shurmur's offense against Jim Schwartz's defense. 

I've gone back and forth all week on who will win this game in what could be your basic backyard brawl. So what I came up with is this: In the final seconds of the game, the Eagles will be down one point when Jake Elliott gets the call and nails a 50-yarder as time expires. Eagles win and dance their way to the Super Bowl.

Eagles 23, Vikings 21

Ray Didinger (15-2)
Offenses are scoring at a record pace and yardage totals keep mounting. The typical NFL Sunday is all about the point totals climbing and fantasy owners cashing in. But now we're in the post-season and this is when the defense flexes its muscles. This is when scores go down and hitting picks up.

When the Eagles and Vikings meet for the NFC championship, it will be all about defense. The Vikings allowed the fewest points (15.8 per game) and fewest yards (276 per game) during the regular season. The Eagles allowed the fewest yards rushing (79 per game) and allowed just 26 points in the last three games, including the 15-10 win over Atlanta in the divisional playoff.

The Vikings had the best defense in the league on third down allowing 25.2 percent conversions. The Eagles defense was equally stingy at home (26.6 percent). The key to winning this game on the offensive side will be avoiding negative plays. A sack, a penalty, anything that creates a third-and-long situation will kill a drive. A five-yard run will be a big play in this game.

I think the Eagles pressure will eventually get to Keenum and that will be the difference.

Eagles 16, Vikings 13

Andrew Kulp (14-3)
The Vikings are a vastly better team than the Falcons in 2017-18, so I'm not sure I quite understand the confidence in the Eagles locally. Nonetheless, I tend to agree with the notion that it's hard to pick Keenum at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Championship.

Home-field has and will continue to be a big advantage for the Eagles. The crowd will rattle Keenum the way it did Matt Ryan last week, while simultaneously allowing Foles and the Birds' offense to communicate protection calls against the Vikings' exotic pressure packages.

Compare the two rosters side by side, and they're relatively close in terms of talent. It's pretty much a coin flip. The fans are what move the needle here. Plus, the way this entire season has gone, how can anybody around here possibly pick against the Eagles?

Eagles 26, Vikings 17

Corey Seidman (12-4)
Equal QBs. Eagles have the run game advantage. Vikings have the better WR group. Eagles have the better TEs and offensive line. Vikings have the better secondary. 

This one feels like an extremely close game. But with homefield advantage and a better kicker, I’m 52 percent confident the Eagles pull it out and advance to the Super Bowl. 

(Wouldn’t it be the most Philly thing ever, though, if the Jaguars upset the Patriots, Eagles fans go crazy, and then the Birds lose?) 

Eagles 13, Vikings 10