Inside the Eagles: Line play is totally offensive

Posted: October 15, 2012

Jason Peters and Jason Kelce aren't walking through that door, to put another spin on an old Rick Pitino catchphrase.

Injuries happen. The teams that are best prepared to endure setbacks are the ones that win Super Bowls. Two seasons ago, the Packers lost an NFL-high 91 games by starters because of injury. They lost their starting running back in the opener and had 16 players on Injured Reserve by the end of the season.

But Green Bay survived - and prevailed - because the Packers had depth at key positions and ultimately, because they had drafted well.

The Eagles aren't blaming the injuries to Peters and Kelce for their offensive line's continued wretched play, which was at full wretch in Sunday's 26-23 overtime loss to the Lions. That would be going against the next-man-up philosophy that coaches preach.

"We're all capable players out here," right tackle Todd Herremans said.

The blame, instead, should be pointed at Andy Reid and Howie Roseman for failing to properly stock their offensive line and for making some poor player evaluations.

It's easy to point the finger at Michael Vick. He is, after all, the quarterback and just one player. And truth be told, Vick hasn't been very good. There's no sugar coating 13 turnovers.

But the problem is much bigger than one man - even bigger than Reid. At this point, every facet of the Eagles can be criticized for an underwhelming 3-3 start. At the same time, there's a positive to be found in every group and some hope that they can get their acts together post-bye and save this season.

(Well, except for Bobby April's special teams. They may be incapable of being saved.)

But in terms of the offense and defense, the offensive line will be the unit that will keep the Eagles from doing very much damage. Again, Vick has his issues and will never be truly great. But that does not excuse Reid and Roseman for protecting him with a line that has only two legitimate starters.

Vick was hit by the Lions 11 times in the pocket, according to the stat sheet. The official scorer was apparently the only one gentle with Vick on Sunday. Vick took some vicious hits from linebacker Stephen Tulloch.

Some were his fault for either holding onto the ball too long or failing pick up a blitz. But there aren't many quarterbacks in this league that would have survived that kind of beating and still managed to put their team ahead by 10 points with just over five minutes left in the game.

Vick was also sacked three times, a remarkably low number all things considered. He had to scramble on nine occasions, though, and managed to gain 59 yards. Two of the sacks came on the first two plays of overtime.

Herremans took responsibility for the first. He was flat-out beaten by Lions defensive end Cliff Avril. The second sack could be pinned on left tackle Demetress Bell, who had trouble with end Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Vick, who spun to his left and was dropped by defensive tackle Nick Fairley and Vanden Bosch.

Vick was asked after the game if his line was giving him enough time in the pocket.

"You know, I do the best I can," he replied. "I give everything I got. I'm pretty sure my teammates do as well. Other than that, they wouldn't be out there on the field."

Indeed, Danny Watkins, Dallas Reynolds and Bell are likely giving everything they got. The same goes for Evan Mathis and Herremans, who have been more consistent.

But that's not enough.

Watkins, right now, should not be starting at right guard. But he's the Eagles' 2011 top pick and they have no other alternative. It's not hindsight to say Reid and Roseman should have never drafted a 26-year-old football novice in the first round.

Reynolds was put in a tough spot when Kelce suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. He spent his first three seasons in the NFL on the practice squad and was suddenly thrust into the spotlight because he was the best Reid/Roseman could do.

Bell, also, had a difficult task in learning a completely new system after the Eagles signed him in April following Peters' Achilles tendon rupture. Reid/Roseman did, many have said, the best they could in patching up the left tackle spot.

But they could have had their solution had they not traded Winston Justice away for virtually nothing. No one is saying Justice was a stud here, but he's faring quite well at right tackle for the Colts this season, according to most estimates.

Mike McGlynn, another discarded Eagle, is next to Justice at right guard. A.Q. Shipley started at center for the Colts last week and handled himself with aplomb. The argument isn't that these linemen are great - or even good for that matter - but they would have been better options off the bench.

They weren't Howard Mudd guys, of course.

And how are Mudd's guys playing for the offensive line coach this year?

Reid/Roseman would never give a straight answer to that question because it would reflect poorly upon their decisions.


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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