Offensive Line the One Thing That Is Not Reids Fault

Offensive Line the One Thing That Is Not Reids Fault

LeSean McCoy is finding very little room to run. Michael Vick is getting killed out there. The offensive line is already in shambles, and the news on Todd Herremans is not good. Now ask yourself honestly: is any one man truly at fault for the state of the offensive line?

You can lump a lot of the blame on Andy Reid for the Eagles' 3-5 record, but the offensive line has been hit by a natural disaster. If Herremans is done, that will be the third lineman lost for the season to injury. In addition, Danny Watkins has missed the last two games as well, which means as many as four starters could be out for Sunday's game against Dallas.

Four out of five are hurt. Don't give me depth. No NFL team could survive without 80% of their starting line. Hell, several NFL teams can't even survive with their starting five intact. At least the Eagles appeared to have a decent line back in March.

Then Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon during a private workout, and no matter how much we said next guy up, that was going to be a big hit. There is no replacing a Jason Peters. A five-time Pro Bowler, Peters was coming off of his best season yet, earning first-team All-Pro honors for the first time in his career, and gaining recognition as quite possibly the best lineman in football.

The Eagles tried their best to cover the loss. They re-signed King Dunlap, who had played well in relief situations, and went out and added Demetress Bell, who was regarded as the top free agent left tackle. There was a reason Bell was still available weeks into the league's signing period though, and the team appeared set to let Dunlap walk prior to Peters going down.

Both have been adequate at best when given the chance to play, which is about the level of play you can expect with any backup at that position. There is a reason there is such a premium on left tackles on draft day: they are very difficult to find, and more often not, a good one is not sitting on somebody's bench.

Peters' absence reverberated down the line, but the Eagles were on their way to 2-0 when Jason Kelce suffered a torn ACL against Baltimore. Kelce was the perfect center for Howard Mudd's scheme, arguably had Pro Bowl potential, and suddenly he was gone, too.

We've seen firsthand what the loss of a center can do to an offensive line. The Eagles lost Jamaal Jackson two years in a row. In 2009, Jackson suffered a torn ACL in Week 16, and the Birds' offense pulled up lame in back-to-back losses at Dallas to end the season. The following season, Jackson was knocked out in the season opener with a torn triceps, and the line was shaky all year.

Unfortunately, finding a backup plan at center isn't any easier than it is at left tackle.

After spending last season behind Kelce on the depth chart, Jackson was released in the offseason. He generated some interest from the Giants in May, but left the team after one day, and was rumored to be out of shape. He's still available, so that should tell you how the league views Jackson at this stage. The Eagles signed journeyman Steve Vallos from the Browns, but he ultimately lost a training camp battle to Dallas Reynolds, who spent the previous three seasons on the club's practice squad. The coaches even auditioned Julian Vandervelde during training camp, a second-year guard taken in the fifth round.

We could stop here. Overcoming a loss at left tackle or center would be a challenge for any team. Having to overcome both in the same season might be impossible. Now the right tackle is out, too, and there are only so many quality offensive linemen in the NFL.

The one spot where it appears Reid did make a significant misstep is with Watkins. The Inq's Jeff McLane called the 2011 first-round pick an out-and-out mistake last week, as Watkins has been terribly inconsistent since he was plugged in at right guard last season, and even more erratic so far this year.

That said, while we'll allow for the fact that Watkins hasn't lived up to where he was selected in the draft, he's not exactly the problem here. With a healthy line last season, the Eagles were at least able to mask Watkins' miscues. He was serviceable. Unfortunately, they needed him to be more than that this year given all their injuries.

Of course, Watkins is out right now as well, leaving Evan Mathis as the lone healthy starter. At this point, it simply isn't about a lack of depth. Any way you slice it, the Eagles are starting almost an entire offensive line of backups. Dunlap, Bell, Reynolds, Dennis Kelly... any one of those guys alone might be construed as solid depth to somebody. Together, they're a mix-and-match collection of guys who had never played together before, and weren't good enough to be outright starters coming into this season.

Nobody can seem to stop talking about how bad this group is, but what did anybody expect to happen? We knew the Eagles weren't going to be the same team without Jason Peters, that they were always one more major injury away from catastrophe. Let's not act like we're stunned now, or run around pointing fingers, when there was really no avoiding this mess.

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with Western Conference leader

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with Western Conference leader

Flyers (12-10-3) vs. Blackhawks (16-6-3)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Behind captain Claude Giroux's two goals and overtime heroics Thursday, the Flyers enter Saturday's matinee with the Chicago Blackhawks on their longest win streak of the season.

That and more as we get ready for the afternoon showdown at the Wells Fargo Center.

1. Three's company
With their 3-2 OT win over the Senators, the Flyers have now won three (3!) games in a row for the second time this season, a sign the ship might be turning in the right direction.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol applauded his team's 61-minute effort afterward. Comparing it to Tuesday's win over Boston in which Steve Mason single-handedly stole two points from the Bruins, Hakstol said the Ottawa game was a "real, good, consistent effort" throughout the lineup, which the Flyers will have to mimic again Saturday in order to beat Chicago.

On Friday, Hakstol rewarded the Flyers with an optional practice. Brandon Manning, who has missed the last two games because of a possible concussion, returned to practice Friday and was cleared to play. If Manning returns Saturday, Andrew MacDonald seems like the likely candidate to come out.

Manning's return would be welcomed for the Flyers. The 26-year-old has been one of the team's most consistent players. He's been aggressive, both offensively and defensively, and his play is not deserving of a healthy scratch. But with no morning skate and limited player availability Friday, Manning's status for the Blackhawks' game remains unknown.

2. Power hour
For the Flyers to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday, they will have to do so not only with a sound, defensive game but also on special teams.

If there is one area Chicago has struggled this season, it has been the penalty kill. At 70.1 percent, the Blackhawks have the league's worst PK unit, and have a middle-of-the-road power play despite all of their offensive firepower.

The Flyers, on the other hand, have the league's third-best power play at 23.6 percent, and their penalty-kill units have improved lately, getting up to 80 percent. The Flyers have two PP goals in their last 19 opportunities.

Still, Chicago's power play is dangerous despite its recent struggles. The Blackhawks have just one power-play goal since Nov. 19, and went 0 for 4 on Thursday against the Devils.

3. Corey's crease
The Blackhawks also enter Saturday hot, winning three of their last four games; however, they have gone to overtime in their last three games. Chicago has had issues with slow starts in games recently, and the Devils' game Thursday was another example of that.

New Jersey took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but easily could have had a larger lead had it not been for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who's been excellent this season. Crawford faced 13 shots in the opening period Thursday and kept the 'Hawks in the game, as he has all season long. The Blackhawks sit atop the NHL with 35 points (at the time of this posting), and Crawford is a major reason for that.

Crawford has a 2.27 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this season. He's pitched two shutouts and has faced 33 or more shots in his last four games. Scoring on Crawford has not been easy for opponents this season, but the Flyers do average 3.1 goals, third in the NHL.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let's stick with Giroux. The 28-year-old snapped a nine-game goal drought Tuesday with power-play goal, and then added two more Thursday — one at 5-on-5 and one in the 3-on-3 overtime. Giroux's play at even strength has been scrutinized, but his point production remains potent. Giroux has a four-game point streak — three goals, two assists — and has 22 points in 25 games this season. He also got engaged Thursday in Ottawa.

Blackhawks: So many players to watch, but let's highlight the ageless Marian Hossa. The 37-year-old continues to be an effective player even as he grows older. Now in his 18th NHL season, Hossa leads Chicago with 12 goals, including the game-winner in overtime against New Jersey Thursday. Hossa tallied his 500th career goal against the Flyers back on Oct. 18, and has 15 goals in 48 career games against the orange and black. He still has it.

5. This and that
• Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is out for Saturday's game because of an upper-body injury, per CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers. Toews hasn't played since Nov. 23.

• Mason, Saturday's projected starter, is 7-12-3 with a 3.42 GAA and .890 save percentage in 23 career games against the Blackhawks. After a disaster start to the season, Mason has a 2.22 GAA and .912 save percentage over his last nine games.

• Chicago has five players with seven or more goals, and five players with double-digit assists.

TicketIQ: Affordable seats available to see Sixers face marquee opponents

TicketIQ: Affordable seats available to see Sixers face marquee opponents

Editor's Note: The following is sponsored content written by TicketIQ.

The improvements have been obvious for the 76ers this season. Just months removed from a franchise-worst 10-72 record, the Sixers have begun to see return on their rebuild with rookie Joel Embiid leading the charge.
 
December will be a big month for the team as it looks to rise in the Eastern Conference. Attending an upcoming game won’t come attached with big ticket prices, either. With several marquee opponents headed to Wells Fargo Center over the next four weeks, including the Lakers, Celtics and Raptors, fans can find relatively inexpensive ticket prices on the resale market all month long.
 
On TicketIQ, a ticket search engine that pools tickets and data from over 90 percent of the resale market, the average resale price for 76ers tickets in December is just $58. That makes December among the cheapest months to see the Sixers this season.

 
With the Lakers in town for a December 16 game, it will be the only 76ers home game this month that commands an average resale price above $100. On TicketIQ, 76ers vs Lakers tickets own a $112 average and the most inexpensive are listed from $27 each. It will be the Lakers’ sole visit to Philadelphia this season.
 
The Celtics will be the Sixers’ second most expensive opponent this month, but their December 3 visit is currently averaging nearly half the price the Lakers are seeing when they’re in town two weeks later. As it stands now the average resale price for tickets against the Celtics is $69 with a get-in price of $13.
 
The Nets, Pelicans and Raptors are all generating similar demand for their respective stops in Philadelphia later this month. With all three teams visiting over a six-day period between December 14 and 20, no game will average over $55 on the secondary market. Tickets start from as low as $7 each to when Anthony Davis and the Pelicans come to town on the 20th.
 
For those fans with interest in attending the most inexpensive games at Wells Fargo Center this month, the struggling Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets will serve as the most affordable opponents to see in action in December. The Magic play the Sixers on Friday night, where last-minute 76ers vs. Magic tickets are averaging $43. Their next home game against the Nuggets have an average resale price of just $35.