Will Eagles' OL live up to PFF's billing as NFL's top offensive line?

Will Eagles' OL live up to PFF's billing as NFL's top offensive line?

We’re just two weeks away from training camp and the Eagles’ offensive line has just been named the top offensive line in the NFL by ProFootballFocus.

The Eagles ranked just ahead of the Dallas Cowboys, who came in at No. 2, followed by the Steelers, Titans and Colts to round out the top five. The other NFC East teams came in 14th (Redskins) and 18th (Giants). 

But will the Eagles live up to that? 

Here’s what PFF said about the Eagles’ OL:  

The Eagles spent their first-round pick on Washington State offensive tackle Andre Dillard to act as insurance should the ailing Jason Peters fail to play a complete season in 2019. However, Philadelphia has earned top-ten team pass- and run-blocking grades in each of the last three seasons and PFF data suggests that they will accomplish this feat again as they enter the 2019 season with the top-ranked offensive line in the NFL.

PFF was right about the projected starting lineup. It’s the same starting lineup the Eagles used to begin the 2017 season and it’s the same starting lineup the Eagles went back to early in the 2018 season: 

Left tackle: Jason Peters
Left guard: Isaac Seumalo
Center: Jason Kelce
Right guard: Brandon Brooks
Right tackle: Lane Johnson

What has made the Eagles’ offensive line so impressive is its consistency with really good players. These guys even have their locker stalls in this order in the Eagles’ locker room. Heck, four of the five guys have been the starters (when healthy) during the entirety of Doug Pederson’s coaching tenure here for three seasons and now into a fourth. The starters at the beginning of the 2016 season were Peters, Allen Barbre, Kelce, Brooks and Johnson. They still even have Super Bowl starter Stefen Wisniewski back as a cheap backup in 2019. 

If those five players are on the field in 2019, the Eagles’ offensive line has a chance to be dominant. But, of course, there are questions: 

Will Peters be able to stay on the field? 

Peters started every game last season, but played just 79 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps. He dealt with a myriad of injuries as he continued to recover from his surgically repaired ACL. The good news is that the further away from the ACL injury he gets, the stronger Peters should get. The bad news is that he’s 37 now and it seems like it’s just a matter of time before he gets hurt again. 

Will Brooks be ready for the start of the season? 

He’s one of the best guards in the NFL and his recovery seems to be going great, but coming back from an Achilles tear isn’t easy, especially not in the timeframe he has to work with. Kelce, after the season, mentioned that they were a right guard away from beating the Saints; that’s how important Brooks is to this line. 

Will Kelce’s laundry list of injuries ever catch up to him? 

Kelce played through a ton of injuries last season and even contemplated retirement. He’s one of the best offensive linemen in the league and a potential future Hall of Famer, but he’s 31 now and has eight NFL seasons as an undersized center. He’s played every game in the last four years, but at some point, you wonder if these injuries catch up to him. 

If any of the starters miss time, will their backups be adequate? 

The obvious replacement for Peters if — or more likely, when — he misses some time, will be Dillard. They drafted him in the first round for a reason. So even though Halapoulivaati Vaitai was the starting left tackle in the Super Bowl, Dillard should be the next man up at left tackle. And Vaitai might be busy anyway. He worked this spring as the first-team right guard in place of Brooks, who is recovering from the torn Achilles, and might be called upon early in the 2019 season if Brooks isn’t ready for the opener. Then there’s still Wiz and Jordan Mailata, who is progressing as a project. 

Ultimately, though, it’s hard to argue with the assessment that the Eagles have the best offensive line in football. If Jeff Stoutland’s group isn’t the best, it's mighty close. But it is worth noting this is basically the same OL from the Super Bowl, but older. Still, it should be very good. And while much of the focus will be on Carson Wentz this season, the biggest key to a successful 2019 season might be the guys in charge of keeping him upright. If the starting five can stay on the field — or if the backups can at least keep things afloat — this should be a really good unit.


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Cooking up on-field comfort food with Carson Wentz

Cooking up on-field comfort food with Carson Wentz

Doug Pederson called Monday night’s 23-17 win over the Giants the best game of Carson Wentz’s career but it certainly didn’t start that way. 

After the Eagles’ second drive of the third quarter, Wentz was actually struggling. 

So what changed? 

Well, the Eagles’ offensive coaches cooked up some “comfort food,” as offensive coordinator Mike Groh called it, for Wentz. 

“I wouldn't want to give away any game-plan secrets there,” Groh said. “But I'm sure you can speculate a little bit as to what those things might be. But try to find easy completions where you can get the ball out of your hand in rhythm and once you get one or two of those, a lot of times you just kind of settle in the game. And then the game comes to you.”

Rhythm can be an important thing for quarterbacks and Wentz is no different. Groh said we could speculate and it isn’t hard to figure out how the Eagles were finally able to get Wentz into a rhythm in the second half on Monday. 

On the third drive of the third quarter, the Eagles began to use an up-tempo offense and utilized short throws and screen passes. 

It worked. 

Just take a look at Wentz’s splits before that drive and after it began: 

Before: 12/23, 98 yards, 63.3 passer rating 

After: 21/27, 227 yards, 2 TDs, 126.4 passer rating 

First, the tempo really seemed to work. The Eagles have used the no-huddle plenty during Wentz’s four years in Philly and it’s just up to Pederson’s discretion. They have even opened games with it before. 

“That’s one thing I’ve always loved about coach since I’ve been here is he has a feel for when we need something to change,” Wentz said. “When we’re struggling. Sometimes we do tempo early because that’s what we see when we’re scouting other teams, that’s what we see is going to work. Sometimes we get to it later in games. Some games we don’t even use it. I think coach has a really good feel for it. I think that was the case the other night. I think that definitely helped us get out of the rut we were in.”

Aside from going with tempo, the Eagles made life easier on Wentz with shorter passes. There were plenty of easy reads, screens and throws to the flat. Those aren’t necessarily all easy throws to make, but they’re also not 20 yards downfield. 

On the tempo drive and the one that followed it, the Eagles seemed to get Wentz in a rhythm. None of the first eight passes on those two drives traveled more than 10 air yards.  

Against the Giants, this is what worked. But the specifics sometimes change. 

“The so-called 'comfort food,' it’s all based on what coverages we’re getting, how teams play us,” Wentz said. “But that concept, just finding completions, finding a way to get into a rhythm. Like I said, each week is always different, but there’s always those completions within a game that do kind of get you going and get you going in the right direction.”

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5 matchups to watch as Eagles visit Redskins in NFL Week 15

5 matchups to watch as Eagles visit Redskins in NFL Week 15

The Eagles (6-7) head to Washington to face the Redskins (3-10) on Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field. 

Here are five matchups to watch: 

Dwayne Haskins vs. Jim Schwartz 

Case Keenum was still starting in the opener, so this will be the Eagles’ first shot at the rookie first-round pick. Haskins has played in seven games this year with five starts and is 2-3. He has completed just 55 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. 

Since Jim Schwartz became defensive coordinator, the Eagles are 4-1 against rookie starting quarterbacks: Dak Prescott x2, C.J. Bethard, Mitchell Trubisky and Luke Falk (the only loss came to Prescott in 2016). In those five games, those quarterback have three touchdowns and seven interceptions. 

And those four quarterbacks in five games have combined for a passer rating of 53.8. 

Schwartz on Wednesday was asked how playing young quarterbacks benefits his defense. 

“I don't know, I've never really thought about it that way,” he said. “We have a job to do every Sunday and we try our best to accomplish that. Every game plan is different, every experienced quarterback is different and every rookie quarterback is different. So, I don't know if there would be a whole lot of carry-over from week-to-week. I don't have a folder somewhere that says, ‘Rookie Quarterback’ and you pull that out and that's the game plan. It depends on a million different other considerations going into it.”

Terry McLaurin vs. Eagles corners 

In his first NFL game, McLaurin had five catches for 125 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles in the opener. That included a 69-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. 

The Eagles have been susceptible to big plays before. And McLaurin has the ability to make big plays. He has averaged 15.3 yards per catch this season. 

Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills will have to be ready for the speedy rookie. 

Adrian Peterson vs. Eagles linebackers 

The future Hall of Famer isn’t playing like he’s still in his prime, but he’s still one of Washington’s biggest weapons. And he still ranks tied for fifth in the NFL in average yards after contact per attempt at 2.7. If you miss tackles against him, he’ll make you pay. 

“He's strong, still has great vision and is a very productive runner,” Schwartz said. “We're going to have our work cut out for us. We saw it last year. He's one of those guys that if you fit a run wrong, he can make you pay by taking it to the house. He did it against us in that first game last year.”

Miles Sanders vs. Washington run defense 

Washington is bad in several key areas. One of them is rushing defense, where they’re giving up 134.8 yards per game. But it’s important to note that they’re giving up just 4.4 yards per attempt. So they’re not really as bad as they appear. 

In that opener, the Skins really bottled up Sanders, who had 11 carries for 25 yards and one catch for two yards. But since then, Sanders has really come around and is having one of the better seasons we’ve ever seen from a rookie in Eagles history. 

Coming into Sunday’s game, Sanders has 948 yards from scrimmage this season. With three games to go, he is just 60 behind DeSean Jackson for the Eagles’ rookie record. 

Brandon Brooks vs. Matt Ioannidis 

The former fifth-round pick out of Temple leads Washington in sacks with 8 1/2 and has four in his last three games. Even without Ryan Kerrigan, who will miss this game, that’s still a relatively solid defensive line and Ioannidis has arguably been their best player. He primarily lines up on the left side of the defensive line, so we get to watch him go against Brandon Brooks, who has been playing like one of the best guards in the league this season. 

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