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.

Loss to Warriors leaves Brett Brown pondering NBA championship ingredients

Loss to Warriors leaves Brett Brown pondering NBA championship ingredients

The Golden State Warriors are the definition of the new NBA.

They have multiple superstars, play a fast-paced and free-flowing style, defend well and shoot a lot of three-pointers. They make a lot of those threes too.

Every team outside of Cleveland would love to have the components of their roster (the Cavaliers probably wish they had some of those pieces as well).

Count Sixers head coach Brett Brown among the admirers.

"For them to rank No. 1 in so many offensive and defensive areas -- and you should probably hear that louder than the offense because that's what we all think when we think of the Golden State Warriors' roster -- is just daunting," Brown said. "You pick your poison and you try to find ways that you think can put you in the best position to go steal a win and it's hard to find an area of weakness. They really hit both sides of the box offense and defense."

That was before the Warriors flexed their defensive muscle. After Golden State limited the Sixers to 45.7 percent shooting from the field, 29.4 percent shooting from three-point range and forced them into 23 turnovers on Monday night, Brown had even more appreciation for the NBA's best team.

"I felt the most obvious thing, to me sitting there coaching against it in relation to how good they are, was the defense and that they can switch everything," Brown said after the Sixers' 119-108 loss (see Instant Replay). "They're all so long and they can just switch stuff so that the game is always in front of them. They don't scramble much. They're not in rotation much. You coach against that during the game in real time, I felt that more than I did their offensive brilliance."

Still, even Brown admitted the new-age NBA is all about offense and the Warriors have it in bunches. Despite struggling with their shooting all game (44.9 percent from the field, 20.7 percent from three), the Dubs got enough scoring when they needed it against the Sixers. That was mainly provided in the form of former league MVP Kevin Durant, who had a game-high 27 points.

"They get another really amazing ingredient. They just go up another level," Brown said of the Warriors' addition of Durant. "It's just adding to something that they were great at to begin with."

"It's scary to think they can shoot much better," T.J. McConnell said.

The Sixers don't have anywhere close to that level of firepower offensively. For them to compete against the NBA's juggernauts, they need to play fast and share the ball -- a couple of the things they can realistically borrow from the Warriors.

"We kind of try to model our team after how they move the ball, how they play together and not have too much isolation ball," Jahlil Okafor said of the Sixers, who had 24 assists on 37 made field goals. "They're one of the best teams in the league at sharing the ball and they showed that tonight."

They sure did. Golden State assisted on 31 of its 40 made field goals. 

Combine that with a breakneck pace, and it's just two of the ingredients that make the Warriors so special. 

Brown feels like he is starting to get that mentality with his Sixers. The team has progressed in both areas as the season has progressed and its now fifth in the league in pace with 100.8 possessions per game and ninth in assists a night with 23.6.

"The two things that stand out most to me that we have spent time on is we're No. 1 in the NBA when we turn people over and we run out of it," the coach said. "Our pace has been excellent. I'm proud of the improved pace. I hope that when you have a coach and a sports science program that comes in from Day 1, and we've talked about this, where we said, 'You're going to be in the best shape of your life, you're going to be in career-best fitness.' The quick sentence after that is the reward is we're going to run. You can't say then that we're going to walk it up the floor. That's not who we are. Our pace has been relentless lately. We're proud of our pace. 

"We are No. 2 in the NBA on assist percentage, where we really pass the ball. If you look and judge how we score, it's not like we give it to T.J. and watch him break everybody down and go to work. We need collectively to move the ball. If we don't have that team stuff, we don't have what lots of NBA teams have -- the iso guys, the NBA All-Stars, somebody that can create their own shot -- it's just not who we are. Not one of them, especially when you start taking out Joel (Embiid). The pace of which we do things on offense and the fact that we share the ball, we move each other, we move the gym, those things are all we have to get those 100-plus points."

The Sixers reached the 100-point mark but still suffered a loss because they don't have the requisite stars to take over when things bog down. With Embiid and No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons both on the shelf (see story), Brown can only dream about when he'll have topflight talent to take the Sixers' scheme to the next level.

"In different weak moments, you get a little bit frustrated," Brown said. "But when you really sort of look at your purpose of trying to take some punches and hits in order to move the program forward -- I'm not 30 years old -- I'm fine. I really believe in what we're doing and that the more this thing shakes out and plays out, I believe it more and more. I think we're starting to build a culture and we're starting to build an attitude and a system behind the scenes that can absorb talent, that can absorb high draft picks and healthy Ben Simmons and healthy Joel Embiids."

For now, Brown will have to settle for seeing that top tier of basketball from afar. And as far as he's concerned, he just witnessed the best in the business (see story).

"What's it take to win a championship? That's all I think about," Brown said of what he learns from watching elite teams like the Warriors. "What's it really take? How do you beat that team four times? What's it really take? What's the future of our game? What's it look like in 2020, 2025? We've talked about this. Personally, I see it. I think, clearly, I could be wrong. You're seeing a bunch of do-all players that are long and can switch out on everything and shoot a lot of threes, play with speed, tenacity. They don't miss a beat. There's not really a weakness here.

"As you're looking at it, you're looking at what's it take to beat them? We've had heavyweights come into this building from San Antonio to Cleveland to teams in the East with the Celtics and Toronto. That's a different beast."

"You project it out. You wonder, 'How do you get to that level? Who do we have we think that can play in that game? What do you feel like you need to draft and grow? What do you need to go purchase -- free agent.' All that. That's all you think about. That's the holy grail, what they have. That is the king, in my opinion, in our league as we speak, so you're always wondering how does that work for us?"

Should Eagles take a top-3 WR in the first round?

Should Eagles take a top-3 WR in the first round?

As the Eagles fly to Indianapolis this week for the annual NFL combine, they'll do so with two needs that seem to outweigh all others. 

The Eagles need big-play makers and big-play stoppers. Receivers and cornerbacks.

Still well over a week away from the start of free agency, this could change some. The Eagles could hit the market and try to sign a player or two to shore up those positions. But even if they do, it's likely receiver and corner will still need to be upgraded when they're on the clock at 14 or 15 in late April. 

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock held his annual marathon conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday afternoon, about two months from the start of the 2017 draft. The highly-respected draft analyst said this year's draft is "one of the best defensive drafts I’ve seen."

That's high praise from someone who has been doing this a long time. And he didn't stop there. Mayock continued to praise both edge rusher and, wait for it, cornerbacks. 

"I can get through four rounds of quality corners and I've never been able to say that before," he said. 

That seems like awful good news for the Eagles (see storylines).

While this draft is really deep at corner, Mayock said it's not so deep at receiver. So when asked about what his plan would be, given that the Eagles are in desperate need of both positions, Mayock said the Eagles should seriously consider a top receiver for their first round pick. 

"I think the Eagles have to figure out what their order of preference is, what kind of style they want," Mayock said. "But they've got to be looking hard at all three of those guys and know up front if one or two or all three of them are available, who they're going to take. And then I think they can drop back in a later round and it wouldn't bother me at all if they drafted a couple corners. I think they could."

This seems like a pretty solid plan. Snag one of the top receivers, then pick up value in the second round (and later rounds) by adding cornerbacks who would have gone much higher in a more ordinary year for that position. 

But last month in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl, Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman brought up a thought-provoking point about the depth of cornerbacks in this year's draft. 

"It's interesting, because last year we sat there and said defensive tackles in this draft are unreal," Roseman said in January. "You're going to get an opportunity to be there in the fourth or fifth round and there's going to be a second- or- third-round guy. And what happened was they all went. And we had looked at it before and in years where there's positions of strength, when you think you can get guys later, what typically happens is there's a run on those guys and [teams] want to get their own guys. So you just have to be careful that you're not sitting there going, 'This is a great draft at position X and we'll be sitting there in the sixth round and we'll get a great guy.' That's why just sticking to your board and not getting cute and just making sure you just get the best player for the Philadelphia Eagles."

So maybe the Eagles won't get cute. Perhaps when they pick at 14 or 15, they'll have a corner ranked high enough to say, "To heck with value, let's take our guy." Now, maybe that wouldn't create the best value overall, but if it gets the best player, it's unlikely Eagles fans will care. And they shouldn't. 

But what if one of the top three receivers is on the board and is their highest ranked player? Mayock seems to think they should pull the trigger. The top three, according to him, are Western Michigan's Corey Davis, Clemson's Mike Williams and Washington's John Ross. Mayock said he could see all three going from picks 10-20. 

While Ross has some medical concerns, Mayock seemed really intrigued about the idea of the Eagles' taking him. He compared Ross to Will Fuller, whom the Texans took at No. 21 out of Notre Dame last year. In fact, he said he expects Ross to run just as fast as Fuller (4.32), but is quicker and a better natural catcher. 

"He's probably the best vertical threat in the draft and I think that would help the rest of the Eagles underneath," he said. "They desperately need speed. So if you're talking about a guy that's going to run a 4.35, which I think he will."

Or how about Williams from Clemson? On his way to a national title, Williams impressed on the biggest stage and could become a huge target for Carson Wentz and the Eagles. 

"He's a big, physical dude," Mayock said. "I think he welcomes press coverage. He uses his physicality, he catches back shoulder. And again, if you're looking from an Eagles perspective, scoring and red-zone opportunities, he's probably the best guy at the wide receiver position in this draft in the red zone because of his catching radius and his physicality."

And then there's still Davis, whom Mayock ranks as the best receiver in the draft. Davis won’t be able to compete at the combine with an ankle injury, but is still a first-rounder. 

Based on the evaluations given by Mayock on Monday, it seems like any three of these receivers could come in and make an immediate impact with the Eagles on Day 1. That isn’t always the case with receivers. 

In January, Roseman talked about how the great receiver draft of 2014 had really altered expectations for rookies, saying in the past receiver hasn't been a "plug and play" position. Some ran with those comments and took them to mean that the Eagles would try to fill the receiver hole through free agency. 

And, besides, the Eagles were burnt by a first-round receiver not too long ago, when they took Nelson Agholor with the 20th pick in the 2015 draft. In his two seasons, Agholor has largely been a disappointment in the NFL. 

Still, that miss wouldn't make Mayock hesitate this year. If Davis, Williams or Ross are there, one of them could be the Eagles' pick. 

"I struggle thinking that the three of them (top receivers) will struggle like Nelson Agholor did, who was also a first-round pick," he said. "I think they're going to be fine."