Improved offensive line play is biggest reason for Eagles' turnaround

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Improved offensive line play is biggest reason for Eagles' turnaround

The Eagles have faced a murderers’ row of great pass rushers during their four-game winning streak. 

Guys like Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Ryan Kerrigan and Khalil Mack have the ability to completely destroy games. 

Didn’t happen against the Birds. 

Because during the Eagles’ late push into the playoffs and then in their wild-card win in Chicago, their offensive line has been playing at an extremely high level. So go ahead and give credit to Nick Foles and the defense (they deserve it). 

But, to me, this offensive line has been the biggest reason for this team’s turnaround. 

I’ve said this all season long, we've got a ton of confidence in our entire offensive line unit, and we just found a little bit of a groove, I guess,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. 

“Got some traction and guys are playing confidently, playing well and really preparing hard and preparing smart and taking advantage of the reps that we get every day out there at practice. We're going out there and we're executing at a high level right now.

It’s not all about sacks, but that’s part of the story. Check it out: 

• In the first 12 games of the season, the Eagles gave up 32 sacks (2.67 per game)

• In the four-game winning streak, they’ve given up just five (1.25 per game)

So the Eagles have cut down on the number of sacks given up by half. Some of that credit goes to Foles for getting the ball out quickly, but the bulk of the kudos needs to go to that healthy and stout offensive line. 

Here’s what Foles said about this group: 

They’ve done a great job this whole season. They’re the best group I’ve ever been around. As a group that can communicate and play well with one another, they’re the best. Our offense runs off of them. If they’re blocking, doing their job, it helps us … you know, they’re the key to our offense. I can’t say enough. The last couple years I’ve been here, we’re fortunate to have a great group of guys up front that are the best in the game.

In the playoff win against the Bears, the O-line gave up just one sack to that extremely talented front seven. No, the Eagles didn’t have a ton of success running against the Bears, but no one did this year. 

Let’s take a look at each member of the starting offensive line and figure out how they got to this point: 

LT Jason Peters: The future Hall of Famer played every snap Sunday and pretty much shut down one of the best defensive players in the league. At 36, it wasn’t easy for Peters to come back from his torn ACL and he wasn’t completely healthy until about Week 8, he estimates. And from there, he’s had a myriad of other injuries. During this season, he hurt his biceps, quad and ankle. But he’s also playing his best football right now at the perfect time. 

LG Isaac Seumalo: It raised some eyebrows when the Eagles went back to Seumalo for the wild-card game. Seumalo missed the previous three games with a pec injury and the Eagles were winning with Stefen Wisniewski, who was the starting LG in the Super Bowl. But the Birds went back to Seumalo, who is bigger, stronger and more athletic, and it worked. He had a good game and has played pretty well all season. 

C Jason Kelce: He hates to admit it, but Kelce was hurt earlier this season. He had a significant knee injury and played through it. Since that knee has healed, he’s been back to his normal dominant self. For the second straight season, he wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl but was an All-Pro. He means so much to this team, not just athletically, but as a brilliant mind at the center position. 

RG Brandon Brooks: Of every offensive lineman, Brooks has been the most consistent this season on the way to his second straight Pro Bowl bid. He had some trouble with Akiem Hicks last week, but Hicks is pretty monstrous. Brooks has been able to stay healthy this season and his ability to remain a mainstay at right guard has really helped the team. 

RT Lane Johnson: The Eagles should hope Johnson gets snubbed for the Pro Bowl every season. Because since that happened, he’s been incredible. Johnson, like Kelce, had an MCL sprain earlier this year and that came after a high ankle sprain. Once he got healthy, Johnson has been back to his normal level of play. He’s been one of the best tackles in the league recently. 

The other part of all this is that, aside from Seumalo, these guys have been able to play a lot more together since everyone has been healthy. That has paid off with their communication and cohesion. If this game Sunday becomes a shootout, the Eagles have the firepower to stay in it … but only if the O-line continues to dominate. 

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Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster after spring practices

Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster after spring practices

The last time I predicted the Eagles’ 53-man roster was before OTAs and minicamp, so we have more to go on now. 

The Eagles had a total of 13 practices and reporters were allowed to watch seven of them. Based on what I’ve seen over the last several weeks, I’ve updated my prediction: 

Here is is: 

QB (3): Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson 

This didn’t change. Thorson didn’t have a very good spring, but I still think they’re going to use a roster spot on him. Over the last couple weeks, he’s looked overwhelmed and has made some poor decisions and equally poor throws, but he’s a fifth-round rookie. Unless he’s awful in training camp, I think this is his spot. 

TE (3): Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers 

No changes here either. These guys are pretty much cemented. Goedert had a tremendous spring. 

WR (6): Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Marken Michel  

I think these top four guys are still making it. I know Hollins still isn’t a full-go, but his ability on special teams keeps him around. Last time, I had them keeping five receivers, but I think there’s a chance they keep six. And I think there’s a better chance of them keeping an extra offensive player than a defensive player. Then, I gave this last spot to Michel, but there are plenty of candidates: Shelton Gibson, Greg Ward, Charles Johnson. I think that’s a pretty talented group, talented enough that one of them will do enough to force the Eagles to keep six wideouts. 

OL (10): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Andre Dillard, Stefen Wisniewski, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jordan Mailata, Matt Pryor 

The only change from the last time is Wiz is back on here after being re-signed. That kicked Ryan Bates off the list, but he has a chance to stick as a practice squad player. I do wonder about Pryor’s job security. He was a sixth-rounder last year and they kept him on the roster all year, but with Big V’s emergence as a guard, there might be less of a use for Pryor, who they might be able to keep around on the practice squad. 

RB (4): Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Corey Clement, Boston Scott 

The big change here is Scott over Wendell Smallwood. No, I don’t think it’s really fair to compare Scott to Darren Sproles and I’m not on the hype train yet, but Scott had a good spring and might be a more complementary player than Smallwood or Josh Adams. And his ability as a punt returner is what might most help him make the team. 

DE (5): Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller

No changes here, although I do think Daeshon Hall might push for a job. I’ll need to see more from him when the pads go on. 

DT (5): Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Tim Jernigan, Hassan Ridgeway, Treyvon Hester 

Last time, I had just four DTs, but keeping five makes sense and I was able to steal a spot from the cornerback group (more on that soon). Hester and Ridgeway might be competing for the same spot, but there’s a decent chance both are on the roster. 

LB (5): Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, L.J. Fort, Zach Brown, Nate Gerry

I kept six last time because I wasn’t sure which player to remove. Sorry, Paul Worrilow. It’s not that he had a bad spring, but that knee injury did flare up and it’s starting to feel like all five of these guys are definitely going to be on the roster. 

CB (5): Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc 

You’ll notice the omission of Jalen Mills, who is still coming back from a lengthy foot injury. While other recovering players have been working out on side fields, Mills has been noticeably absent and I’m beginning to wonder just how close he is. I heard a few weeks ago that he was expecting to be ready for training camp, but we’ll see. Until I see him doing something, I’m not ready to keep a roster spot for him. I don’t think the PUP is out of the question. 

S (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Andrew Sendejo, Tre Sullivan

Folks want to cut Sendejo to save a compensatory pick, but I don’t see it happening. Sendejo has been working as as starter as McLeod recovers, so I think he’s their third safety for now. Sendejo had a good offseason, so he would need to play poorly this summer to get cut. 

ST (3): Jake Elliott, Cameron Johnston, Rick Lovato 

Unless Kamu really applies himself to becoming a kicker, these three are set.

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3 Eagles land in PFF's top 50 NFL players going into 2019

3 Eagles land in PFF's top 50 NFL players going into 2019

There’s plenty of hype surrounding the Eagles this season and there should be. The Birds are coming off back-to-back playoff seasons and have a really talented roster. 

They also have three players on the ProFootballFocus’ list of top 50 players heading into the 2019 season.

(For reference, the Eagles had four players in their top 101 players from the 2018 season.)

In the top 50 list, the Cowboys also have three players (29. Travis Frederick, 32. DeMarcus Lawrence, 40. Zack Martin), the Giants have one (43. Saquon Barkley) and the Redskins don’t have any. Sorry, Washington. 

Let’s take a look at the Eagles on the list: 

41. Brandon Graham 

Here’s what they said: Sacks don’t tell the whole story for any player in the NFL, and no player epitomizes that more than Graham. He’s recorded double-digit sacks in PFF’s system only once (2017) but has been as consistent as they come from an overall pressure and pass-rush grade standpoint. He has recorded 45 or more pressures in six of his last seven seasons in the NFL and has earned 81.0-plus pass-rush grades in five of them.

My take: It’s true that sacks don’t tell the entire story, but Graham had just four last season. That’s too low. He was hampered by an ankle injury at the start of last season and it showed; he got off to a slow start. But Graham has been consistently disruptive over the past few years. He’s a very good player, but falls short of being great. I don’t know if he's a top-50 player, but it is nice to see his all-around game get recognized because his sack total has never officially gotten to double digits and he’s never made a Pro Bowl team. 

24. Jason Kelce

Here’s what they said: Kelce’s four-year overall grade (91.1) ranks fourth among the 94 interior offensive linemen with at least 2,000 offensive snaps played since 2015, and his 93.4 run-block grade ranks first among the same group of qualifiers. Most recently, Kelce earned a career-high 88.0 pass-blocking grade in addition to his 80.7 run-blocking grade in 2018. He also earned a 94.6 run-blocking grade throughout the Eagles’ Super Bowl run in 2017, a single-season mark that ranks first in the PFF era (2006-18) among qualifying centers and one that landed him PFF’s top run-blocker award in 2017.

My take: Kelce was the highest-ranked center on the list and the second-highest offensive lineman behind OT David Bakhtiari at No. 13. It’s high praise for Kelce, but he deserves it. He had a really good season in 2018 and has consistently been one of the top centers in the league for a while now. You can argue about whether or not he’s the best center in the league, but there’s no questioning whether or not he’s one of the best. With his football knowledge, Kelce keeps getting better despite being over 30 and despite all his injuries. He’s been an All-Pro the last two years, but hasn’t made the Pro Bowl in those seasons, which is an absolute joke. 

4. Fletcher Cox 

Here’s what they said: It’s a shame that Cox plays in the same league as Donald; he’d be the unanimous decision for top defensive interior if it weren’t for the Rams' superstar. Cox’s pass-rush win rate in 2018 (20.9 percent) is the fourth-best single-season mark of any defensive interior in the PFF era. And his 91.2 pass-rush grade this past season, another career high for the big man, also ranks inside the top 10 among qualifiers since 2006.

My take: The only players ranked higher than Cox were 1. Aaron Donald, 2. Tom Brady, 3. Bobby Wagner. That’s some impressive company, but it’s about time Cox gets his due. He’s a dominant player. Is he the fourth-best player in the league? I don’t know. What PFF does, ranking players regardless of position, is really tough. Is Cox better than Patrick Mahomes, who comes in at No. 6 or Drew Brees, who comes in at No. 5? I have a hard time saying he is. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Cox is an absolute wrecking ball. He’s gone to four consecutive Pro Bowls, but finally made his first All-Pro team in 2018. PFF is right, it’s a shame he’s playing in the same era as Donald, who is a future Hall of Famer. But it’s not just Donald; there have been plenty of other great interior lineman over the last few years — Gerald McCoy, Ndamukong Suh, Damon Harrison, Geno Atkins, Kyle Williams, Jurrell Casey. It has taken a long time for Cox to get his credit, but he really is one of the best players in the league. 

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