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


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.

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.

After 2 fumbles, Mathews says he must fight urge to fight for more yards

After 2 fumbles, Mathews says he must fight urge to fight for more yards

Doug Pederson said this week he’s so concerned about Ryan Mathews’ late-game fumbling problem that he’ll consider using a different running back in crucial late-game situations (see story).

If Mathews is concerned about it, he’s not letting on.

“I don’t worry about stuff like that,” he said at his locker on Thursday. “Worrying about stuff like that just causes more stress.

“I can’t control any of that. The only thing I can control is trying to give him 100 percent every time I touch the ball and trying to get better.”

Mathews likely cost the Eagles a win over the Lions with his late fumble in Detroit three weeks ago. Last week, he lost another fumble in the final minutes of the Eagles’ win over the Vikings.

He’s the first back with two fumbles in the final five minutes of two games in the same season since Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants in 2010.

He has single-handedly accounted for two of the three fumbles by NFL running backs in the last five minutes of games this year.

Pederson on Wednesday said, “By no means am I down on Ryan,” but also said he would consider using Wendell Smallwood or Darren Sproles in late-game situations moving forward.

Mathews is averaging 3.9 yards per carry on a team-high 11 carries per game.

He said Thursday he has to learn not to fight for extra yards when the situation calls mainly for ball protection.

“You can’t fight for more yards, you’ve just got to go down,” he said. “Don’t put the ball on the ground.

“There’s no secret cure or anything like that. You’ve just got to get what you can get and get down. You can’t really fight for more yards like that.”

Mathews said it’s difficult for him to ramp down his natural aggressiveness in situations that call for him to be more conservative and protect the ball instead of trying to fight for extra yards.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I’m not the one to really shy away from not going down on first contact. But situations like that, you’ve just got to be more aware.”

Sproles (4.6 average on 31 carries), Smallwood (4.1 average on 28 carries) and Kenjon Barner (5.8 average on 16 carries) all have higher rushing averages than Mathews.

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said he’s not concerned about Mathews and said his confidence in the 29-year-old former Pro Bowler hasn’t waned.

“I love our guys,” Reich said. “I wouldn't trade our guys for anybody. We use a word around here a lot, and I know sometimes it gets thrown around, but it's family.

“You know, not every family's perfect, and we all make mistakes, but when we put guys out on the field (we’re confident in them). I can't play like that. I can't coach like that. You've got to have confidence.

“Now with coaches, it’s a business and coaches make decisions based on things. And when those decisions get made, they get made. But when a guy is in the game, we have to play with confidence and we have to coach with confidence and I don't see any other way to do it.”