Eagles

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."