Philadelphia Eagles

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.

Zach Ertz: Criticism of Doug Pederson's play-calling was 'definitely misconstrued'

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USA Today Images

Zach Ertz: Criticism of Doug Pederson's play-calling was 'definitely misconstrued'

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and right tackle Lane Johnson clarified comments that were interpreted as critical of coach Doug Pederson’s play-calling.

Several Eagles players lamented the lack of offensive balance following the Eagles’ 27-20 loss to the Chiefs in Week 2, with Ertz’s postgame interview in particular drawing attention (watch here). The fifth-year veteran’s statements about the lopsided run-pass ratio were viewed by many as a direct indictment of Pederson — evidence, perhaps, the head coach runs the risk of a locker-room mutiny, if he runs nothing else.

Ertz attempted to set the record straight on Wednesday.

“Those were definitely misconstrued,” Ertz said after practice. “I would never second-guess Doug’s play-calling. I’ve never been a guy to question the head coach. People kind of took it way out of context.”

While Ertz acknowledged balance was an issue in Kansas City, he explained the ratio was a symptom of the problem, for which some of the responsibility falls on the players.

“I said, ‘It started with myself in the run game. I’ve got to be better,’” Ertz said. “And I said, ‘Ideally, in a game, it would be 50-50 if the situation presents itself,’ but that game, it never presented itself to be the opportunity to run the ball because we were down. We had to throw the ball 17 straight times at the end of the game, so the numbers were very skewed.

“People took my comments way off. I was pretty disappointed with how they were perceived, but I guess it is what it is.”

Pederson’s play-calling has been closely scrutinized since last season, but the fervor over offensive balance reached new levels this week. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz dropped back to pass a whopping 56 times, compared to only 14 handoffs in the loss.

Everybody, including Ertz, seemed to recognize it’s difficult to beat an NFL opponent that way.

“You can't be throwing the ball 40 times in a game,” Ertz said Sunday postgame. “How many times did he throw today?

“That's not ideal. Low 30s is probably where you want him at. Thirty runs, 30 passes, if you're going to get 60 plays.

“We want to be a balanced offense. We’ve got the linemen to do it, we've got the running backs to do it, we've got the tight ends to block, we've got the receivers to block, we've just got to go out there and put it together.”

At the same time, the Eagles have struggled to run the football consistently in 2017, averaging only 3.5 yards per handoff. Furthermore, the passing game was working against the Chiefs, allowing Wentz to throw for 333 yards. The Eagles offense never took the field with a lead at any point during the contest, either, and therefore maintained an aggressive approach throughout.

Johnson appeared to question the run-pass ratio postgame as well, saying the Eagles have to run the ball to take pressure off of Wentz. On Wednesday, however, Johnson defended the game plan against Kansas City’s defense.

“(Pederson) felt outside on the edge that they couldn’t guard Zach, they couldn’t guard (Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery). You saw (Ertz and Jeffery) made big plays, so they really couldn’t.

“That’s what he saw, pretty much was mismatches all week. You saw Ertz with a big game. That’s why we threw the ball so much.”

Ertz also feels Pederson’s plan was appropriate plan given the circumstances.

“You’re going to put your team in the best position,” Ertz said. “Whatever he thinks the matchups are to benefit the team, whether it be in the run game or the pass game, that’s going to be the majority of the play calls.

“It’s going to differ each and every week, and that’s why you build an offense like we have, because we’re able to be so different each and every week, and it’s just going to depend on the week, on the matchup.”

There’s no denying that Ertz, Johnson and probably the rest of the roster would either agree with or wouldn’t mind a little more play-calling balance from Pederson. That’s not a sign of a head coach losing the locker room. The players are confident in Pederson to make the correct calls and right the ship – and for their part, that they will be able to execute in the run game when the time comes.

“We have a lot of great pass-catchers on this team,” Ertz said. “That’s not a knock on (our run game). I think we’re a very balanced team. Our O-line can run the ball when we establish the run game.

“We’re going to be better at it this week, the rest of the season hopefully. We have a lot to improve on as an offense. We’re not going to be where we are now in five weeks or so. We’re excited about having the opportunity to play a really great front this week, and we have to establish the run game.”

Eagles injury update: Secondary hamstrung for second straight day

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CSN

Eagles injury update: Secondary hamstrung for second straight day

It looks like all three members of the Hamstrung Trio (see story) weren't practicing again on Thursday. 

At the start of Thursday's practice, Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins, who suffered hamstring injuries on Sunday against the Chiefs, were not participating. This will be the second straight day all three will miss practice. 

McLeod was the only member of the trio to even make an appearance at practice before reporters were kicked out after individual drills. He walked onto the field with a compression sleeve on his right leg and began to watch.

There was, however, a new safety on the field. Newcomer Trae Elston, who was claimed off waivers from the Bills, was on the field for the first time with the Eagles. He was wearing No. 35. 

It'll be tough for the Eagles to get Elston caught up by game time on Sunday at 1 p.m. Aside from Elston, the Eagles have just Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos as safeties, although linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill could be used in a pinch and Jenkins thinks a couple cornerbacks have the ability to play safety (see story)

Ronald Darby (ankle) and Destiny Vaeao (wrist) were the other two Eagles who weren't practicing on Thursday. Darby is out for at least another few weeks with his dislocated ankle. 

Vaeao missed the Chiefs game and looks to be in danger of missing another week. In his absence, rookie sixth-round pick Elijah Qualls played nine snaps and played well. Qualls could see his workload increase as the fourth DT against the Giants.