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.

Eagles' rookies get their first taste of what Dallas week entails

Eagles' rookies get their first taste of what Dallas week entails

At the conclusion of his weekly Wednesday radio show on 94WIP, Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan was asked about the Dallas Cowboys and the rivalry game on tap this weekend.

First, he said he and his teammates don’t need any extra motivation for this one. But before he got off his mic — in a few seconds that didn’t make it on the air — Logan eloquently dropped a “F--- Dallas.”

Logan gets it.

No, maybe the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry isn’t what it once was. Maybe the days of Seth Joyner refusing to think about signing with the Cowboys because he just couldn’t wear a star on the side of his helmet have passed. But there’s still some bad blood. It’s still a rivalry. And fans in the Delaware Valley still care about two things: winning football games and beating Dallas.

Logan has been with the Eagles since 2013, so he understands. For Carson Wentz and his fellow rookies, this will be their first crack at it.

“I know how much this means to the city, how much it means to these fans,” Wentz said. “There’s a lot of excitement going on just with Eagles football, but definitely this week. I recognize that.

“But at the same time, I don’t let that bother me or let it distract me from the main goal and that’s just preparing every day. Because I know if I get sidetracked by any of those things, it’s going to mess up the preparation and it’ll affect the game on Sunday.”

Head coach Doug Pederson emphasized the importance of “business as usual,” but admitted this rivalry isn’t just usual. He’s been a part of it as a player in 1999 and as a coach under Andy Reid.

He took the correct coach approach on Wednesday, saying the Cowboys game is important because it’s a division game. And it’s even more important because the Eagles lost their first division game a couple weeks ago in Washington.

“It is a little bit different, but our guys have just got to come ready to play, and it's a road game,” Pederson said.

While this is Jalen Mills’ first time being a part of the rivalry as a player, he was raised near Dallas in DeSoto, Texas, and grew up with it as a part of his life. The most important games of the year, he remembered, were Cowboys-Eagles and Washington on Thanksgiving.

Mills said the rivalry was a “pretty big deal” in his house as a youngster. Now, he finds it pretty cool that he gets to be a part of it.

“Oh man, no doubt,” Mills said. “It’s an experience that I can’t wait to experience, but it’s going to be exciting.”

The defensive back said, without hesitation, the biggest rivalry he’s ever been a part of before was LSU-Alabama. The most important thing he learned from those games is that execution is key. It’s OK to buy into the hype during the week, but he realized it was counterproductive to change anything about preparation.

“You can’t get caught up in it,” Mills said. “Of course you’re going to hear about it, like right now before the game. But once that clock starts, it’s all about just playing sound football.”

Like Mills, Halapoulivaati Vaitai grew up in the Dallas area (Haltom City) and has been around the rivalry his whole life. In fact, both rookies have previously played games at AT&T Stadium. Sunday will be the first time Vaitai’s parents get a chance to see an NFL game. Eagles-Cowboys is a pretty good start.

And it’s not just Eagles rookies who are getting ready to experience the rivalry for the first time. Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott will live it for the first time on Sunday too.

How much does he know about the rivalry?

“A little bit, man,” he said on a conference call with Philly reporters this week. “I grew up a Cowboys fan. I can’t tell you certain games or things like that from the past. But I’ve always known it to be a good game anytime they meet up and a good rivalry in the division.”

Nah, not exactly Logan-like responses from these guys. But give them time. They’re rookies.

Gunn's Bullet Points: Flags could fly in secondary for Eagles-Cowboys

Gunn's Bullet Points: Flags could fly in secondary for Eagles-Cowboys

Some notes and keys ahead of Sunday night's Eagles-Cowboys game:

• Since throwing for 301 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 3, Carson Wentz's aerial numbers have declined — 238 yards in Detroit, 179 in Washington and 138 vs. Minnesota.

• Even though he missed two games with an injury, I still can't understand how Zach Ertz has been targeted only 16 times in four games this season.

• Dallas WR Cole Beasley is arguably the best slot receiver in the game right now. Last November against the Eagles, he had nine receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns. With the Eagles' best slot cornerback, Ron Brooks, out for the year with a ruptured quad tendon, Malcolm Jenkins will have his hands full trying to keep up with Beasley in the slot.

• Eagles and Cowboys defensive backs beware: Jerome Boger's crew is officiating this game. This season, Boger's crew has called 36 penalties for defensive pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding.

• The Eagles' 20 sacks ties them for third-most in the league. Dallas has allowed just nine, second-fewest in the NFL.

• Does Doug Pederson still have faith in RB Ryan Mathews late in games? Mathews has fumbled with less than five minutes left in two of the last three games. The head coach says he has not lost faith in Mathews, and Mathews says he'll stop fighting for more yards late in games. Time will tell.