How Great Is Eagles Need at Offensive Line?

How Great Is Eagles Need at Offensive Line?

In retrospect, the Eagles’ 2012 season was over before it
ever got started. It was right around this time last year when they were hit
with the bad news that would destroy them.

All-world left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles
tendon during a private workout last March, and again while trying to get
around his house three weeks later. The front office went into scramble mode, quickly
re-signing King Dunlap, then chasing down the top free agent available in
Demetress Bell. Everyone prayed for the best.

If only replacing Peters were that easy. It was damaging
enough to the Birds’ cause that the injury happened to a player who many
analysts were describing as the best offensive lineman in football, but also at
one of the toughest positions to fill no less. More than half of the starting
left tackles
in the NFL are first-round draft picks.

Dunlap and Bell were (somewhat predictably) nothing short of
terrible, and the absence of Peters had a domino effect on the rest of the
line. After making a strong transition to right tackle a year earlier, Todd
Herremans was suddenly called upon to anchor the unit, a role in which he struggled. Sophomore
Danny Watkins looked lost next to him, and from the very beginning it appeared as though the
problems were going to reverberate down the line to Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis,
and obviously back to the Dunlap/Bell platoon.

But that’s only part of the story. Kelce suffered a torn MCL
in Week 2 against the Ravens, opening another enormous hole at center, and if
all of that wasn’t enough, Herremans dislocated a bone in his foot in Week 9 at
New Orleans. Factor in Watkins got beat out for his job by street-free agent
Jake Scott, and virtually the entire thing was a mess.

We all remember what the end result was. Michael Vick was
punished until he couldn’t take no more, and the Eagles’ once-explosive offense
never got off the ground.

You can preach about depth all you want – this was an
impossible situation for any organization. That being said, most fans don’t care
about excuses true or otherwise, they just want the problem fixed.

The question is how
much actually needs fixing?

For starters, don’t let the rest of the line play reflect
poorly on Mathis. Despite everything going on around him, he was a rock, to the
point where many observers felt he was worthy of a trip to Honolulu. He signed
a five-year pact last offseason, so left guard at least seems to be solidified
for awhile.

Let’s not forget that three of these guys are coming back,
either. Herremans’ break was rare, but there is no indication that it was
anything he won’t make a full recovery from, and like Mathis, he’s under contract
through 2016. Knee injuries such as the one Kelce suffered are always
concerning for linemen, but he’s only 25 and should still be considered one of
the franchise’s building blocks.

Most important, Peters’ recovery sounds like it’s going
well. He was already up and running around toward the end of last season, and
may have even tried to jump back into the lineup had there been anything left
to play for down the stretch. Chip Kelly told reporters last week that Peters
will participate in the Eagles’ first practice in April.

Now the bad

That’s all well and good, but pessimists would point out
that this is a 328-lbs., 31-year-old man trying to come back from multiple
surgeries on his Achilles tendon. The notion Peters will ever be “the best”
again is one nobody should hold too tight, and we’ll have to wait and see in
September what he can do on a football field.

Peters is undoubtedly the left tackle going into this season,
but the team needs to begin at least considering a future without him. His
contract expires in two more seasons, and Achilles or no, he’ll be in or
nearing the downside of his career. An extension isn’t out of the question yet,
but the Eagles can’t afford to find themselves without a left tackle a year or two down the
road.

They need to find a solution at right guard as well. There is a faint sliver of hope Watkins can rebound – after all,
the 2011 first-round pick didn’t have a terrible rookie season. With former offensive-line coach Howard
Mudd’s complicated zone-blocking scheme out of the equation, it’s plausible
Watkins could bounce back under a new system and coaching staff. He’ll turn 29
in November already, so it’s tempting to view him as nothing more than a sunk
cost (which he may be), but change could be positive for him.

If the Eagles were able to acquire another tackle – through the draft being
a distinct possibility, but by whatever means – Herremans could always slide over. He
played left guard for the first six years he was in the league.

Outlook

Obviously the Eagles can’t rely on Watkins having any value
to the club beyond depth, and while Peters is still the man for now, the front
office must at least consider making other arrangements there. However, it wasn’t
all that long ago when this was an up-and-coming unit, in fact probably one of
the better offensive lines in the NFL.

In the second half of 2011, Peters and Mathis were
absolutely dominating on the left side, Kelce was developing into a fine, young
center, and Herremans was effective at right tackle with a little assistance
from tight ends and backs. Even Watkins showed some promise while taking his
lumps. The bench is not entirely devoid of prospects, either – rookie fifth
rounder Dennis Kelly looked like he might be able to play a little bit once he was
inserted at right tackle.

It’s an area the Eagles need to and will address, but not
one that needs a total overhaul. Some better luck in the health department,
along with some relatively full recoveries, and they are no more than one piece
away from returning to form in 2013.

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Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Red Wings' Vanek, Nielsen score in 6-5 SO win over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski lead Sharks past rival LA Kings, 3-2
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in overtime to lead Oilers past Panthers 4-3
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."