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.

Today's lineup: Ryan Howard batting fifth again

Today's lineup: Ryan Howard batting fifth again

In his second-to-last game in a Phillies uniform, Ryan Howard will man first base and bat fifth against the Mets on Saturday afternoon (1:05/FOX).

Howard went 1 for 4 Friday night with a double. The first baseman has three home runs and five RBI in 44 at-bats against the Mets this season. 

Andres Blanco takes Freddy Galvis’ starting spot at shortstop and bats second. Galvis left Friday night's game with hamstring tightness. Blanco has not made a start since Sept. 16, but is batting .294 against the Mets this year.

Cameron Rupp catches and bats sixth for the second day in a row. Rupp went 2 for 3 on Friday night with an RBI. Jimmy Paredes and Aaron Altherr follow Rupp in the lineup and man the corners in the outfield.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Andres Blanco, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Phil Klein, P

And the Mets lineup:
1. Jose Reyes, 3B
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
4. Curtis Granderson, CF
5. Jay Bruce, RF
6. T.J. Rivera, 2B
7. James Loney, 1B
8. Travis d'Arnaud, C
9. Bartolo Colon, P

Love Isn't Always on Time: Approaching the Ben Simmons injury rationally

Love Isn't Always on Time: Approaching the Ben Simmons injury rationally

Does it hurt? Yeah, it hurts. 

You know when the last year the Sixers went into the preseason without a devastating injury to a frontcourt player hanging over their heads was? 2011. Back when LMFAO was big. Since then, it's been:

2012: Andrew Bynum
2013: Nerlens Noel
2014: Joel Embiid
2015: Joel Embiid
2016: Ben Simmons

Even the Blazers, heretofore the NBA franchise with the most cursed big-man luck, got years, decades in between the NBA tragedies of Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, and Greg Oden to grieve. The Sixers seem unprecedently determined to get their bad juju all out of the way at once. 

The last item on that list was, of course, announced last night - Simmons has a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot -- and is especially tough, mostly because it was so unforeseeable. Andrew Bynum had a long history of injury. Nerlens Noel was ruled out for the season before draft night, as was Joel Embiid. But as far as we knew, Ben Simmons had lived a long and healthy life that, failing a Shaun Livingston-type freak injury, was just going to continue in its elongated healthiness. Foot trouble was definitely not in the plan. 

It's also tough because it proves we're not out of the woods yet. Not like anyone thought Philly was gonna win 40 games and challenge for the playoffs this year, but certainly most of us allowed ourselves to believe that the worst was over, and that karma was gonna finally owe us for a little while. Turns out, we may be through with the past, but the past isn't through with us. Doug Collins musta really sold this team's soul to get us to that Game 7 against Boston in the conference semis four seasons ago. 

But we can deal. For better and worse, Sixers fans have developed a hard-earned resilience to news of such maladies, and this revelation isn't nearly as bad as some other casually-in-crisis press releases we've had to deal with in recent years (yet). So once we're done processing the initial sorrow that comes with hearing we're not going to get to see our No. 1 overall pick play meaningful basketball as soon as we deserve, let's make our parents proud by being good little Process Trusters, and approaching this situation rationally: 

This is only a two-month injury. 

This isn't yet, and shouldn't be, a season-ender. ESPN estimates Simmons will be out eight weeks; a wise bet would probably have him staying sidelined a little longer than that Just to Be Sure. Christmas seems like the reasonable mental goalpost for his return, which means -- barring setbacks -- at most he'd miss the team's first 30 games. 

That's a lot, but not really: Jahlil Okafor missed 29 games last season, and I don't think most of us even remember injuries as being a particularly notable part of his rookie year. By this point, the Sixers are used to going entire seasons without proof of life from our star rooks. Two months? We can do that standing on our heads. 

This doesn't necessarily mean anything for Simmons' long-term prospects. 

Feet-related injuries are rivaled only by head stuff as the scariest thing you can see on an NBA medical report — especially for big men, as memories of giants like Walton and Yao having their careers plagued by such maladies continue to reverberate. In Simmons' case, his injury is reminiscent of Nets center Brook Lopez, who lost the better part of several seasons to recurring problems stemming from an initial foot fracture. 

But as that above list shows, the great majority of NBA players to have suffered this injury -- presumed to be an avulsion fracture, not the ghastlier Jones fracture -- have bounced back from it pretty quickly, and not been subsequently effected. Pau Gasol and Mike Bibby both went on to have long, productive, mostly health-drama-free-careers -- hell, Pau just averaged 19 and 13 in 72 games as a 35-year-old. C.J. McCollum suffered the injury as a rookie just three years ago, and I'd already forgotten it was even part of his story. Our Once and Always Dark Lord-willing, it doesn't have to be part of Simmons', either. 

The Sixers — and Simmons — were gonna be bad anyway. 

Not like this much hurts the Sixers' playoff chances, which were basically 0 to begin with. As much excitement as we could have expected from the early parts of this season, "wins' was not gonna be part of the deal just yet — Vegas set our over-under at 27.5, and most of our local experts have logically taken the under. Hopefully we actually get at least one of our first 17 this year, but with a poorly balanced rotation consisting mostly of rookies and free agents, W's were always gonna be slow-coming. 

And I personally believed that Simmons was gonna take a while to blossom himself. We'd get some gorgeous passes and fun full-court shenanigans, sure, but we'd also get a lot of clanked jumpers, missed rotations, and soul-sucking isos that take up 18 seconds of the shot-clock and still finish where they started. He'll still have that rough adjustment period two months or so later, but at least with the season already underway and the rest of the squad maybe finding their footing a little, hopefully there'll be less pressure on him to do everything immediately. 

Simmons can still put in work while sidelined. 

Remember how horrific Nerlens Noel's shooting form was coming into the NBA? The upside of him missing a year with his torn ACL was that he was able to spend a good portion of his should've-been-rookie season rebuilding it. He's still not Kevin Garnett on offense and likely never will be, but he was able to reach Respectably Bad at the free-throw line, and that alone will make an enormous difference in the arc of his NBA career. 

Simmons' jumper isn't nearly so broken, but he could also use the work. Time spent perfecting his mechanics while he doesn't have any other aspects of the game to really worry about could be huge for Benny's early development, and hopefully will give him the confidence to take -- if not yet make -- those open jumpers when first presented to him. 

We still have the two other guys. 

Truth is, Simmons was only the rookie I was third-most-excited about on the Sixers this year, and the other two -- Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, who we've waited a combined four seasons for -- are still on track to play. Of course, putting all (or at least half) our eggs in Emiid's basket is never gonna be a particularly secure feeling, and the mind goes even catatonic considering the possibility of Embiid also getting hurt before season's start. But if (knock on lumber-yard) this as bad as the preseason news gets for the Sixers, and we enter with just the two mega-hyped rooks, with a third on the way shortly... that's still cupcakes and sprinkles as far as I'm concerned. 

So yeah, this is a bad weekend, and a rough development for a fanbase who'd finally begun to let their guard down the teensiest amount. That said, it's not the end of the world, the end of the season, or really the end of anything besides our foolishly unbridled optimism. A valuable lesson in hoping for the best and always fearing the worst, but just because we're not floating in the clouds anymore doesn't mean we're plummeting to the ground yet, either.