Dissecting the Eagles’ offensive line struggles in Chicago

Dissecting the Eagles’ offensive line struggles in Chicago
August 11, 2014, 3:15 pm
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While the bulk of the negative attention fell on Nick Foles for heaving a pair of interceptions in the Philadelphia Eagles’ preseason opener, much of the problem can be traced back to the play of the offensive line. Whether it was pressure or penalties, time and time again, the work up front put the offense in difficult situations.

The Eagles starters played 18 snaps against the Bears last Friday, and they were every bit as ugly as you probably recall. We worried replacement right tackle Allen Barbre might struggled with Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston, but the issue was far broader than that. Chicago’s renovated defensive line gave the Birds fits, and as we’re about to show, that had a lot to do with the offense’s inability to put up any points.


Play No. 2


Foles goes right back to the air after a quick first down, and here’s our first look at the anticipated one-on-one matchup between Barbre and Houston. It’s a win for Houston, as he pushes past Barbre with an inside move. Herremans reaches for the defensive end, but that only slows him down momentarily. Whether or not it’s because he felt the pressure, Foles sticks with his first read and releases the ball quickly to Zach Ertz for a short gain. However, it looks like he has LeSean McCoy wide open at the top of the frame.


Play No. 3


The next play very nearly turns into a disaster. Chicago defensive tackle Stephen Paea bowls right over center Jason Kelce. Kelce somehow manages to keep his feet, but the flood gate is open. Paea has a straight shot at Foles right up the middle, which is pretty much the worst case scenario on any passing play. Foles somehow steps up past the rush, but unleashes a poor throw into traffic that’s almost intercepted.

You can also see Houston running around Barbre at the top of the frame, so Foles was likely to feel some pressure on the play either way. What happened was far worse, though.


Play No. 4


On 3rd and 7, Foles steps up and delivers a perfect strike over the middle to Brent Celek to move the sticks. However, a familiar opponent draws a holding penalty against left guard Evan Mathis. Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jay Ratliff beats Mathis on the play, causing the grab.


Play No. 5


This is why understand situations is so vital. It’s 3rd and 17 now. The chances of converting from that distance are slim. It’s the first series of the game. Unless the quarterback senses something developing, there’s no reason to force the ball downfield. Dump it off and live to fight another day. The protection is fine, but Foles holds on too long. Barbre is battling Willie Young, but the defensive end gets a finger on the pass, turning it into a wounded duck—and an interception.


Play No. 8


A bogus facemask penalty against Jeremy Maclin on Philadelphia’s second series drops the offense into 1st and 20. That being said, what you absolutely can’t have following a penalty is another one. Ratliff is working on Mathis again, and Mathis has to hold him as McCoy approaches on the carry. The defender tries to get away and winds up getting yanked to the ground.

I don’t think I have to tell you 1st and 30 is a pretty rough situation.


Play No. 10


Ratliff is too much for Mathis again. At least he doesn’t draw another flag, but Ratliff is able to get free and dive at McCoy’s feet, disrupting the 2nd-and-one-million play in the backfield. Shady gets away from Ratliff, but is dead in the water. I have to imagine Mathis is relieved Chicago isn’t on the regular season slate.


Play No. 11


It’s 3rd and 26. What do you do? Screen pass. Left tackle Jason Peters is called for holding here, not that it mattered. Eagles punt.


Play No. 12


Final series for the starters, and they’re working against Chicago’s backups. Darren Sproles in now for Shady, and right guard Todd Herremans is going to whiff on the pull block here on No. 52, linebacker Khaseem Greene, which is essentially the most important block on the play. Not hard to envision how this play will end. Fortunately, a facemask penalty gives the Birds a fresh set, but there’s nothing positive to take away from the tape.


Play No. 18


The offensive line settles down a bit, and lo and behold, the Eagles start to gain a little momentum. Of course, the offense should impose its will against the unit that’s out there now. Before long, miscues rear their ugly head again.

It seems unlikely the unblocked pass-rusher in Foles’ face is by design, and I’m basing that on the fact that Peters and Mathis aren’t blocking anybody in this frame. Momah and Ertz add to the confusion by running routes in the same general vicinity, which naturally attracts a large contingent of defenders to that area as well. None of that excuses Foles for what he does next, throwing the ball into traffic for an awful interception, but the communication was clearly off here on seemingly multiple levels.


The offensive line isn’t especially concerning, yet. Barbre wasn’t a total disaster at right tackle, and the Eagles did some things to help him out—tight end chips, moving the pocket, etc. As for Peters, Mathis and Herremans, we know what to expect from them. They’re all well into their 30s, so some decline is not unlikely, but the sample size here is too small to draw any conclusions about that.

Give the Bears credit, too. They went out and signed Houston and Ratliff during the offseason, while Paea returns from injury for further reinforcements. This isn’t the same defense that surrendered 54 points in a loss to the Birds back in December.

Mainly, it just goes to show how reliant offensive success is on winning in the trenches. The pressure made it difficult for quarterback to operate from the pocket, while the penalties put the offense in basically impossible down and distance. Foles still made some poor decisions with the football, but he should improve as long as his line does.