Eagles offensive line improvement lost in loss to Cowboys

Posted: November 12, 2012

FROM A physical standpoint, the Eagles' offensive line made some strides in Sunday's loss to the Cowboys. But mentally, this group still has a long way to go.

With the Eagles threatening to go up two scores in the third quarter, the cerebral inadequacies of the line, and more specifically of King Dunlap, singlehandedly killed a drive.

Over a four-play span that started at the Dallas 13 yard line, Dunlap tackled Jeremy Maclin, negated a first down with a penalty and cost the Eagles a timeout. They settled for a field goal to go up 17-10 before the Cowboys reeled off 21 straight points.

After kicking out to help block on a second down wide receiver screen, Dunlap got turned around and ended up knocking Maclin to the ground after the catch. On the next play, Dunlap was whistled for an illegal hands to the face penalty after Foles hit Damaris Johnson for a first down.

And then on fourth down, Dunlap mysteriously went to the sidelines, leaving only four offensive linemen on the field for a field goal attempt, forcing Andy Reid to burn a timeout that would have proved very useful in the game's final minutes. A disgruntled Dunlap wouldn't talk to reporters after the game.

"I don't think it is nothing to harp on," said Demetress Bell of his teammates' performance. "It is just one bad game. Shoot, I had a bad game in New Orleans. I had a terrible game in New Orleans, if you ask me."

Bell had two penalties of his own on Sunday, but otherwise didn't appear to be the liability he looked like in previous weeks. In all, the Eagles offensive line racked up five penalties for 45 yards. They negated 34 yards of positive offensive gains, which adds up to a net 79-yard swing.

"There were some penalties there that they had and there were a couple rushes that got past them," said Reid afterwards. "You know, they did some good things in there, there were some things there that you can't do. The penalties obviously hurt us."

Ironically, in the game when Michael Vick's body finally gave out on him, the line play was solid beyond the penalties. Vick was hit but never sacked and Nick Foles, after replacing Vick, was not sacked until the final minutes of the game.

"They were fighting all night. They were giving me time," Foles said about his line afterwards. "That is what you want from your O-line. You want them to fight every single play. They were opening holes for our running game, they were giving me time to throw it and sometimes stuff is going to happen."

Just a week after Steve Spagnuolo and the Saints used the blitz to expose the Eagles, the Cowboys curiously refrained from sending the house after Vick and Foles. But once the Eagles fell behind by two scores, they were forced into passing situations and the pressure intensified.

Foles was sacked two plays before Stanley Havili's touchdown that cut the lead to eight, and then was crushed near the goal line in the final minute by Anthony Spencer. He lost the ball and Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher fell on it in the end zone, effectively ending the game.

"We kind of held our own throughout," said Dennis Kelly, who was making his third straight start. "Unfortunately that one sack happened at a bad time. But I thought we played better as a whole."

After learning Wednesday that they would be without Todd Herremans for rest of the year, this group was able to practice together the entire week. If you compare it to their performance in New Orleans, the improvement showed.

"We were able to have a full week of practice and we were all together in the same spot," Kelly said. "With [Herremans] going down last week, it put us in a little bit of a frenzy, you could say."

After the game, it was unclear which play resulted in Vick's concussion. Early in the second quarter, he scrambled and was hit by Jay Ratliff. On the next play, a blitzing Ernie Sims ran into Vick and he went to the ground, but the impact did not appear to be severe.

"I ended up messing up on the play," Kelly said of the play that Sims got loose. "I lost count of the down lineman and I assumed or thought that Dallas [Reynolds] was coming with me and he wasn't. That was what happened - just kind of a mental error on my part."

In what looks like a lost season, the Eagles must start to gauge what they have in young players like Kelly. But for the first time in weeks, the offensive line was not a deciding factor in the loss.

The unit showed progress. If Reid decides to permanently turn the offense over to Foles, they're going to need to show more to help his development. It starts with cleaning up the mental mistakes.

"They're fighting, they're not giving up," Foles said of his line. "I was really proud of them. We're going to keep fighting and I think they played their butts off."

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