Lane Johnson shares some advice with Halapoulivaati Vaitai

ap-eagles-halapoulivaati-vaitai.jpg
AP Images

Lane Johnson shares some advice with Halapoulivaati Vaitai

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Lane Johnson has some advice for teammate Halapoulivaati Vaitai. 

Use it. 

Use everything you can to motivate yourself. The bad games, the naysayers. All of it. Coming off a pretty bad game against the Seahawks last weekend, this would be the time for Vaitai to heed that advice. 

"I think some of the games you don't perform well in, you can learn the most out of," Johnson said at Angel Stadium this week. "Just speaking for myself — suspensions, bad games. I use that as a huge motivator and I think he can too. That's the one thing Jason Peters has done in his career. He wasn't drafted, this, that and the other, and he's about to be in the Hall of Fame. 

"So I think what he needs to do is just bottle up everything that's not right or has gone wrong and use it as a motivator for him. He'll do it, man. He's still young."

Against Seattle last Sunday, Vaitai had his worst game of the season since taking over for Peters at left tackle. He gave up two sacks, one quarterback hit and five quarterback hurries. 

Johnson said he thought the one thing Vaitai had trouble with against the Seahawks was getting off the ball. Because of the crowd noise and silent count, that was a little more difficult, especially from the left tackle position, because right guard Brandon Brooks is the player who taps the center pre-snap. 

That's tough enough, but then Vaitai had to deal with a pretty good and really quick pass rusher in Frank Clark. 

On one particular occasion, Clark used what offensive coordinator Frank Reich called a "wicked pass rush move" to beat Vaitai for a sack. Reich didn't think many guys would have been able to stop it. 

Even after a poor performance last week, Vaitai is still the Eagles' best option at left tackle. He's a fifth-rounder in his second year; there were bound to be hiccups. The only other backups on the team are Isaac Seumalo and Will Beatty. 

Vaitai, who was not made available to reporters after repeated attempts this week, is a player who thrives on confidence. It's why we've seen him get stronger as games go on; he's able to prove to himself he can do it. 

Now, it'll be up to him to figure out a way to regain that confidence this Sunday, when the Eagles face the Rams at the LA Coliseum. 

Doug Pederson at his best when facing challenges — on and off field

Doug Pederson at his best when facing challenges — on and off field

When I think about how the Eagles will respond to Sunday's loss and the abrupt loss of their status as consensus GREATEST TEAM ON EARTH, I think back to last year and everything the Eagles dealt with.
 
Legal issues for Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Nigel Bradham. Sam Bradford going AWOL for two weeks of minicamp. The Bradford trade and Carson Wentz's sudden ascent from third-stringer to the starting lineup eight days before the opener. Lane Johnson's suspension. A mid-season five-game losing streak. Brandon Brooks missing a couple games with what he later revealed was extreme stress.
 
It was a lot for an NFL rookie head coach to deal with, and the one thing you kept noticing was that Doug Pederson always found ways to keep the thing on the rails and navigate his team through every challenge it faced.
 
Whatever chaos was swirling around the Eagles last year, you never saw things snowball. You never saw things get out of control. Pederson continually demonstrated a knack for dealing with whatever issues arose around the football team, and by the end of the season, they were playing pretty good football.
 
That's a unique skill and just as important for a head football coach as calling plays, making substitutions or challenging bad calls.
 
All those little mini-dramas can take a toll on a football team, but it seemed like with each one, the bond in the Eagles' locker room grew stronger, as did the respect the players have for Pederson.
 
All of which is why I'm not all too worried right now.
 
What this team went through last year has a lot to do with the success it's experiencing this year, and I don't think that's going to change.
 
The Eagles lost a football game Sunday for the first time since Week 2, and we've got to keep this in perspective.
 
They lost. Sometimes teams lose.
 
The Seahawks have the best home record in the NFL over the last six years. They've lost eight home games with Russell Wilson at quarterback since 2012. Yes, two of them were in November, but it's not the end of the world losing to an elite football team and Hall of Fame QB in a really tough stadium after nine straight wins.
 
Big picture?
 
Nobody in the NFL has a better record than the Eagles. And for a franchise that's been around for 84 years, they've had a better record after 12 games only three times.
 
No, they no longer control their own playoff destiny. They could conceivably win out and still have to travel to Minneapolis for the NFC Championship Game. (And if that happens, Case Keenum is not beating this team … but that's another story.)
 
But when you step back and take stock, this football team is sitting here 10-2 with four games left. Last time they lost? They won their next nine.
 
There are worse places to be than first place in the NFC East sharing the best record in football with one loss since Phillies season ended.
 
And if the Eagles haven't demonstrated over the past two seasons their ability to respond positively when faced with a little adversity, I don't know what else they have to do.
 
Teams lose games. Teams bounce back. This one is really good at it.
 
I don't think any of us had any idea what the Eagles were getting when they hired Pederson, but he's definitely got his finger on the pulse of the team in a very powerful way.
 
He gives the players leeway but trusts them to do the right thing, and they respect him for it. If they tell him practice is too hard, he adjusts. He leans on his assistants. He involves everybody in the organization. He listens.
 
This is as strong a locker room as I've seen, and Pederson is a big reason for it. It's a bunch of guys with a chip on their shoulder. Late-round picks. Undrafted dudes. Guys released by other teams.
 
They're hungry and they are unselfish and they are determined and want to win. They love to work hard, they love playing for Doug, and one loss isn't going to change any of them.
 
If anything, it will motivate them even more.
 
That loss Sunday night in Seattle doesn't change the fact that the Eagles are still one of the NFL's best teams.  
 
It does put into focus a few things they need to work on.
 
They have to protect the ball at the goal-line. They have to find their offensive rhythm earlier. They have to avoid the defensive breakdowns that led to the Seahawks' big plays. They have to adjust when they realize an opposing quarterback recognizes a zero-blitz is coming. Big V needs to play better. Doug has to stay aggressive.
 
The Rams are very good, and playing back-to-back games on the West Coast isn't easy. Nobody is going to hand home-field advantage to the Eagles.
 
There are a lot of challenges facing this team right now, but facing challenges is something they've proven to be very good at.

Eagles Film Review: Vaitai sure looked like a backup in Seattle

Eagles Film Review: Vaitai sure looked like a backup in Seattle

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.