PFF: Eagles' O-line the best, and it's not close

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PFF: Eagles' O-line the best, and it's not close

The Eagles' offensive line did a poor job protecting Nick Foles in the 24-22 win in Dallas, allowing five sacks and five more QB pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, but the unit again did a terrific job blocking in the run game.

The Eagles averaged 4.03 yards per carry and finished a clutch, 11-play drive late in the fourth quarter by opening running lanes for Bryce Brown, who rushed for a six-yard first down then a five-yard touchdown. Nine of the 11 plays were runs.

It's nothing new for the best run blocking unit in the NFL. Pro Football Focus, which assigns a grade for each player and team on every play of every game, had the Eagles as by far the best O-line to run behind.

The Eagles graded out at plus-100.1 in run blocking, with the next-best team, San Francisco, checking in at plus-39.5.

Inside, outside, doesn't matter.

Guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans graded out as the two best interior run blockers in the NFL. Jason Kelce was third among centers.

Among tackles, Jason Peters was fourth in the run game and Lane Johnson was 12th. You might laugh at this, but former Eagle King Dunlap was actually the top-ranked run blocking tackle in the NFL. Dunlap enjoyed a career year in Mike McCoy's system out in San Diego.

For good measure, Brent Celek was the top-ranked tight end in run blocking. You rarely see such excellence across the board.

The Eagles didn't do as solid a job in pass protection. Herremans allowed 35 QB hurries according to PFF, second-most in the NFL. Johnson allowed 40, which was seventh-most among tackles.

Pro Bowl snubs Kelce and Mathis were still among the best in the game in pass blocking, however.

The Eagles this season had their most rushing yards since 1949. It was a combination of having an elite offensive line, arguably the game's best running back and a Chip Kelly offense predicated on athleticism and space.

On Monday, former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook said on Philly Sports Talk that Kelly's second year will truly tell us how efficient his offense can be (see story).

"Does this offense work after everyone in the NFL, all the defensive personnel, all the head coaches in the NFL, has had a year in the offseason to study it?" Westbrook asked.

“And now can you make the same thing work again? That’s going to be the true test.”

As long as the Eagles continue to execute at the line of scrimmage and as long as Shady is forcing more missed tackles than any back not named Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch, this run-based offense will continue to thrive.

There are three parts to the Eagles' success on the ground and the O-line has been the most underrated one.

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

The Eagles need cornerbacks. Plural. 

It's not a secret that the team's biggest weakness heading into next week's draft is at the cornerback position. So it would stand to reason that their best bet might be to simply take the best one off the board when they're on the clock at 14.

But NFL Network's Mike Mayock, on his annual pre-draft conference call marathon extravaganza Friday, said he thinks they should take a different approach. 

Looking at the top corners in the draft, Mayock is convinced Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore will be off the board well before the Eagles are on the clock at 14. His next rated corner is Gareon Conley. After that, Mayock has Marlon Humphrey but pointed out his major flaw of struggling to find the football in the air. 

So if Conley makes it to 14, the Eagles should pick him, right? 

Not so fast. 

"So I look at it this way, if Conley's on the board at 14, you have to compare him to the best playmaker on offense on your board," Mayock said. "Because I'm not convinced the Eagles should go defense, to be honest with you. 

"If Conley's not there, I think you want to go get your corner in the second or third round and I think they need two corners. But my perspective is, you drafted Carson Wentz. You better support him. You signed two wideouts in free agency (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) who are both effectively one-year contracts. Your slot receiver, (Jordan) Matthews is in the final year of his deal. (Brent) Celek, the tight end, is 32 years old. 

"So you might sit there and go, 'This year looks OK,' but get a running back. Get a (Christian) McCaffrey or a Dalvin Cook. Get a tight end, O.J. Howard. Get weapons. Get one of those wideouts you like. So I would be comparing Conley to the highest playmaker you have on the board offensively. And I might be leaning towards offense if it was me." 

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. 

When Zach Ertz looks at the recent history of great quarterback-tight end duos in the NFL, he can't help but notice one thing stands out. 

"Those guys have been together for a long time," Ertz said Thursday afternoon. 

Brady and Gronk have been together for seven seasons. Cam and Olsen have been together for six. And Brees and Graham were together for five. 

"And I think just having that, where you're on the same page regardless of the coverage," Ertz continued. "If they give you this coverage, you know exactly what you're going to do. If they give you that coverage, he knows exactly what I'm going to do. When to expect the ball vs. certain coverages, it might be a little earlier, it might be a little later. So it's just that constant camaraderie where we're able to know what the other person is thinking without thinking about it."

Ertz hopes that's the kind of relationship he can forge with Carson Wentz, who will enter his second NFL season in 2017. 

Ertz and Wentz spend a lot of time together in the facility and away from it. A group of Eagles went to Ertz's wedding earlier this offseason, and of course, Wentz was present. If it seems like Ertz is going to great lengths to build a rapport with his quarterback, he is. 

After going through Mike Vick and Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, the Eagles' starting tight end finally has a quarterback that isn't going anywhere for a while.  

"It's going to be huge," Ertz said about playing with Wentz for a second straight year. "I think when Carson was drafted, from the receivers and tight ends, that was the one thing we were really excited about. That we knew for the next five, 10, 20 years, hopefully, in Philadelphia, we knew who our quarterback was going to be."

Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Stanford, Ertz has been an extremely productive player. But that has set up huge expectations as fans wait for a "breakout year." Zach Ertz might never be Rob Gronkowski, but the numbers are hard to argue. 

In the first four years of his career, Ertz has 247 catches for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. Since 2013, here's the list of tight ends who have more catches and yards than Ertz: Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates. 

Ertz and Jeremy Maclin are the only two players in Eagles history to put up those numbers in their first four seasons. 

The argument often heard about Ertz's numbers is that they come in garbage time. Ertz has historically been an absolute beast in December. In the last few years, that hasn't meant much to a struggling Eagles franchise, but if they're in the playoff hunt in upcoming years, they'll probably want that trend to continue. 

The one statistic that doesn't seem to match the others: touchdowns. While Ertz has been among top tight ends in the league in receptions and yards, his 13 touchdowns rank 17th among tight ends since 2013. (It's not a stat, but for what it's worth, Ertz would likely be among the league leaders in touchdowns called back for penalties in the last few years.)

"I want to be the guy in the red zone, believe me," Ertz said. "For the first four years in my career, I think the most touchdowns I had in a year was four. So this year, we didn't have a lot of red zone touchdowns and that falls on us as players to get it down when we get down there, make plays when the ball's in the air. That's something I do pride myself on, making those tough and contested catches, whether it be in the red zone or third down. I want to be more of a go-to guy in the red zone, but I've got to earn that this spring and summer, earn that trust of the quarterback as well as Doug (Pederson). It's going to be a process, but when you look at the great tight ends in the league, the first thing that stands out is touchdowns."