Michael Vick was sacked six times against the Chiefs. He was sacked five times in the Eagles' first two games combined. (AP)
One of the surprises from the Eagles’ loss to Kansas City last Thursday was the play of the offensive line.
After two phenomenal efforts, Chip Kelly’s five-man wall of protection had trouble keeping the Chiefs off Michael Vick’s back. Vick, in turn, had his worst game of the season. He completed 43 percent of his passes, threw his first two picks of the season, was sacked more times (six) than the total of his first two games (five) and hurried much more.
Kansas City, copying a few notes from San Diego’s playbook, played mostly man coverage with safety help on DeSean Jackson. The Chiefs attacked Vick up front mainly with four-man rushes and some occasional blitzes.
Conventional wisdom says five guys shouldn’t have problems blocking four, but the Eagles struggled more than usual despite the man advantage. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, two bookend offensive tackles, especially struggled against Kansas City’s edge rushers.
Peters, nursing a dislocated finger from the opener that popped out against the Chiefs, suffered some uncharacteristic breakdowns. Johnson, the fourth-overall pick in April’s draft, made his share of rookie mistakes.
“They get paid, too,” Peters said. “I’m human. That’s just part of the NFL. Ain’t no offensive lineman not going to get beat in 90 plays.”
It stands to reason that Denver will copycat the formula that enabled Andy Reid to exact revenge on his old team. The Broncos are another team with big bodies up front and experienced pass rushers.
“I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” center Jason Kelce said. “On paper, it looked good. It worked [for] the Kansas City Chiefs. I would argue that if we don’t have have as many turnovers and we don’t do as many things wrong, I think that we’re still successful against Kansas City.
“But I think the way they did it, putting our tackles on an island … we’re still confident we can put our tackles on an island and put them one-on-one and they’ll win most of the most matchups nine times out of 10.”
Don’t expect Kelly’s blueprint to be altered in the aftermath of his offense’s worst effort of the season. The design of his spread attack is intended to keep defenders from crowding the box and create more one-on-one matchups for running backs and receivers.
But it also means less personnel kept in to guard against pressure. The Eagles rely heavily on five-man protection schemes. Not until late in the third against Kansas City did Kelly routinely keep in tight end Brent Celek for added protection. But there were times when Celek and a running back stayed in and Vick still took a pounding.
“If you look at it, there's guys … we had seven guys in protection and Mike [Vick] got sacked,” Kelly said. “They run around our left tackle. You can look at it, there's times where Lane gave up the sack, thought the guard was with him. There's not one answer that is the answer.
“On everybody you can go back, on this particular play, if we had done this, that's great. But you can't do that. You can't go back. Do we keep a tight end in protection? Do we use seven‑man protection? Yeah, we do use that.”
When teams play man coverage, the Eagles should lick their chops. Maybe one or two corners in the league can stick Jackson for more than three seconds, and neither plays for the Chiefs.
But the connection can’t happen if the defenders are routinely being peeled off Vick’s back after the play. Jackson managed a season-low 63 yards against Kansas City, 40 coming on one catch.
“We shot ourselves in the foot quite a few times,” said right guard Todd Herremans, who routinely gave up inside pressure. “As a group up front we need to play better. We need to protect better, especially in situations when they’re playing man coverage. We need to give more time for receivers to get separation. Everything I saw that we screwed up was fixable.”
It helps that Denver won’t have Pro Bowl defensive end Von Miller, who’s serving a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Miller had 18.5 sacks last year and has 30 in his two-year career.
The Broncos’ next-best pass rusher is Robert Ayers, whose three sacks leads the team. But they’ve got two interior tackles -- Terrance Knighton and Kevin Vickerson -- who each tip the scales at around 330 pounds.
“The biggest thing that happened last week was that our offensive tackles were put on an island a lot,” Kelce said, “and unfortunately it didn’t go our way last week. But that’s what film is for. We’ve broken it down since and it’s all correctable.”