Offensive linemen know they caused a lot of Eagles' problems

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Vinny Curry, playing in his first game of the season, sacks Chiefs QB Alex Smith.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Vinny Curry, playing in his first game of the season, sacks Chiefs QB Alex Smith.
Posted: September 23, 2013

THE EAGLES' offensive line is supposed to be one of the team's strengths. But the unit played poorly in Thursday night's 26-16 loss to the Chiefs.

While the line did a good job run-blocking for LeSean McCoy, who had another productive game, rushing for 158 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, it did a poor job protecting quarterback Michael Vick, who was sacked five times.

Center Jason Kelce had a pair of bad snaps, including one that resulted in a turnover. And the line committed four penalties, including a costly holding call on right guard Todd Herremans that negated a 19-yard Vick completion to tight end Zach Ertz with less than 3 minutes left in the game.

Rookie right tackle Lane Johnson, who struggled Sunday against the Chargers' Dwight Freeney, had an even tougher night against Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston. Houston had 3 1/2 sacks, three of them at Johnson's expense.

"I needed to block him better than I did," Johnson said. "He got the best of me tonight.

"Live and learn. I'm not going to make any excuses. I mean, I didn't play very well. You've got to go out there and learn. I learned some valuable lessons tonight.

"All I can do now is, I'm looking forward to Denver."

Johnson wasn't alone in his pass-protection struggles. Left tackle Jason Peters had problems all night with the Chiefs' other outside linebacker, Tamba Hali. Peters gave up a second-quarter sack to Hali, as well as five hurries. Two years ago, when he was a first-team All-Pro selection, Peters gave up 17 hurries the entire season.

Herremans teamed with Kelce to open a lane for McCoy on his 41-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run, but got pushed back into Vick by Chiefs defensive end Tyson Jackson early in the third quarter.

"They weren't doing anything crazy," Kelce said of the Chiefs' pass rush. "They had a straight four-man rush the vast majority of the game. They were playing a lot of man-to-man [in coverage] and blitzing linebackers late. That forced us to keep a lot of things solid inside. It left the tackles with a lot of one-on-one blocks. We just didn't do a good job today."

Kelce is playing with an injured right thumb that was heavily bandaged Thursday. But he refused to use that as an excuse for the poor snaps.

"All of the rest of the snaps for the rest of the game were good," he said. "So I'd be disingenuous to blame that."

The first-quarter snap that resulted in a fumble was just a mistake. Vick was in shotgun formation on the play, which the Eagles run 90 percent of the time. But Kelce thought he was under center and snapped it as if he was.

"Very few times am I paying attention to whether the quarterback is under [center]," Kelce said. "Obviously, I need to do that every single play now. But the way the plays are called, the way the plays are signaled, I should know that every single play.

"From an offensive lineman's perspective, really from any football player's perspective, you lose your concentration for one split second and something like that happens [it's inexcusable]."

The Eagles have enough things to worry about right now. They don't need to wonder from week to week whether an offensive line that was considered one of their greatest strengths going into the season is going to betray them.

"That's why this was so frustrating," Herremans said after the Chiefs loss. "We put a lot of work in. Obviously it didn't go our way tonight. But everything is fixable. Every we screwed up [is fixable]. We have plenty of time to get it right next week.

"We've got to play better. There's no secret or magic to it. We've got the players. We've got a good scheme. We just have to all be on the same page and get the job done."

The Eagles once again primarily used "11" personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) against the Chiefs. Fifty-five of their 63 offensive plays Thursday night featured "11" personnel.

They actually opened the game with a lot of "12" personnel (one back, two tight ends, two wideouts). They ran eight of their first 17 plays with "12" personnel, but then didn't use another multiple-tight-end set the rest of the game.

In the first three games, 169 of their 199 offensive plays, or 84.9 percent, have been with "11" personnel. Brent Celek primarily has been the tight end in that formation. He's played 187 snaps so far, although he's been targeted only nine times and has only four receptions. Rookie Zach Ertz has played 54 snaps. James Casey has played only eight.

The two main reasons coach Chip Kelly is playing so much "11" personnel is: 1) defenses primarily are playing nickel (five defensive backs) against it, which is easier to run against; and 2) slot receiver Jason Avant is playing very well. He had five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. Seven of his 11 catches in the first three games have produced first downs.

"A lot of times, in terms of playing multiple tight ends, it depends on what you want to face," Kelly said yesterday. "If you go smaller, they go smaller. Hopefully, we can get some favorable matchups in that situation."

LeSean McCoy, who is on pace to rush for 2,100 yards, is averaging an eye-popping 6.9 yards per carry (351 yards on 51 carries) when the Eagles are in "11" personnel, as opposed to 4.0 yards per carry in "12" personnel (11-44).

* The Eagles rushed four players on 38 of Alex Smith's 46 dropbacks Thursday. Smith was 18-for-28 for 198 yards and was sacked four times when the Eagles sent four rushers. They sent five rushers only five times. Smith was 3-for-4 for 60 yards and was sacked once when the Eagles sent five. They never sent six and went with a three-man rush on only three of Smith's dropbacks. He was 1-for-1 for 15 and yards and scrambled twice for 13 yards when the Eagles rushed only three.

* Curiously, Mike Vick had better numbers Thursday night when was being pressured than when he wasn't. He completed seven of 13 passes for 102 yards, one touchdown and an interception on plays under pressure. He was only 6-for-17 for 99 yards with no touchdowns and one interception on plays with no pressure. But that's an anomaly. In the previous 2 years, Vick had a 50.6 passer rating on throws under pressure, compared with 98.6 with no pressure.

* Vick had four batted passes against the Chiefs. He didn't have any in the first two games.

* Two of the Eagles' more impressive defensive statistics Thursday: The Chiefs converted only one of six red-zone opportunities into a touchdown, and they converted only six of 18 third-down chances. But three of the third-downs they did convert were from 10, 15 and 19 yards.

* Vick hasn't been very effective on third down or in the red zone. He's 27th in the NFL in third-down passing with a 47.3 rating. He's completed only seven of 20 passes on third down in the first three games. He's 2-for-10 in the red zone.

* The Eagles have had 25 missed tackles in the last two games, according to Pro Football Focus. Safety Patrick Chung had seven of them, linebacker Mychal Kendricks six.

* Vinny Curry played only 12 snaps Thursday, but had a sack and three hurries.

* With Wednesday's trade of running back Trent Richardson to the Colts, the Browns continued to stockpile picks in the 2014 draft. The first-round selection they received for Richardson gives them now 10 picks in next May's draft, including seven in the first four rounds. Richardson was the third overall selection in the 2012 draft. But he was taken by the team's previous regime of Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert. Richardson rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, but is not an explosive runner and takes the kind of pounding that usually results in a short career. When the team's new president, Joe Banner, saw an opportunity to get a first-round pick from the Colts for Richardson, he jumped at it. While the Colts' selection figures to be near the bottom of the first round, the Browns' own first-round pick figures to be near the top, and will give them an opportunity to select one of the many potential franchise quarterbacks expected to come out next year. "I just think this puts us in a very good position," Banner said. "We made some real progress this season [in free agency and the draft]. We're in good cap shape. We're positioning ourselves to build the kind of team that is good and sustainable."

* The once-mighty Giants pass rush ain't what it used to be. The 0-2 Giants have only five sacks in their last seven games, dating back to last season. Jason Pierre-Paul, who was one of the league's most feared pass-rushers two years ago when he had 16 1/2 sacks, is struggling to bounce back from back surgery. "Me personally, I know I'm not playing as well, like I did in the past," Pierre-Paul said. "But it is what it is. I'm just doing my best, no excuses. I just have to get healthy."

* Niners coach Jim Harbaugh will face his former Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck, this week. Harbaugh still remembers the first time he ever saw Luck play as a Texas high-schooler. "He was playing for [Houston] Stratford High," Harbaugh said. "Even then, he had just pinpoint accuracy and great command of the offense, the team, his throws, his mechanics. He had a couple of balls, one in particular that really stands out. He threw a post route to a receiver and hit the receiver in stride and then the ball somehow got almost flipped to the free safety who intercepted it. It was one of the freakiest plays I've ever seen. I was sitting with Andrew's dad, Oliver, and we turned back and watched Andrew's body language after that. It was really impressive. There was no sign of flinching or pounding or clapping his hands or anything like that. I remember him going over to the player and talking to him and just patting him on the hip and everything. Then that youngster made a couple of nice plays after that. That always sticks out in my mind. Speaks volumes about Andrew."

FROM THE LIP

* “He’s got the most ridiculous stride. Almost like he’s Usain Bolt running.” — Colts nose tackle Ricky Jean-Francois on former teammate Colin Kaepernick

* “It’s not that I want to run more, but I feel like that’s what we need. And if that’s what it takes for us to win games, then I’m willing to do that.” — Redskins QB Robert Griffin III

* “This is not tiddlywinks, this is real football, and this is a real job, and we’re held accountable every single day for what we do every single day. I’m just trying to convey that message to everybody so that everybody knows that. This is about winning football games.” — Patriots QB Tom Brady on his display of anger and frustration on the sideline last week during the Jets game

BY THE NUMBERS

* Good news for the Chiefs: 75.4 percent of the teams that started 3-0 since the current playoff format was instituted in 1990 (86 of 114) have made the postseson.

* Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is 9-0 at home so far in his career. He still has a ways to go to break the record for consecutive home wins by a QB to start his career. That was 16 by Danny White with the Cowboys in 1980-81.

* Rams QB Sam Bradford hasn’t been sacked in 93 pass attempts. He’s the only starter in the league who hasn’t been sacked at least once.

* In the first 2 weeks, 22 of 32 games were decided by seven points or fewer. That’s the most in history for the first 2 weeks of the season. Eleven games were decided by three points or fewer. That ties the record for the most in history.

* The Cowboys are 9-0 when DeMarco Murray runs the ball 20 or more times. They are 2-8 when he runs it 10 to 19 times, and 2-4 when he runs it fewer than 10 times.

1 Broncos 2-0 (1 last week)

2 Seahawks 2-0 (2)

3 Packers 1-1 (4)

4 49ers 1-1 (3)

5 Patriots 2-0 (5)

6 Texans 2-0 (6)

7 Bears 2-0 (8)

8 Chiefs 3-0 (9)

9 Saints 2-0 (11)

10 Falcons 1-1 (12)

11 Dolphins 2-0 (18)

12 Colts 1-1 (11)

13 Bengals 1-1 (13)

14 Ravens 1-1 (14)

15 Lions 1-1 (10)

16 Cardinals 1-1 (26)

17 Cowboys 1-1 (16)

18 Bills 1-1 (27)

19 Vikings 1-1 (15)

20 Chargers 1-1 (28)

21 Eagles 1-2 (17)

22 Rams 1-1 (19)

23 Titans 1-1 (20)

24 Redskins 0-2 (21)

25 Giants 0-2 (22)

26 Steelers 0-2 (23)

27 Raiders 1-1 (29)

28 Jets 1-1 (30)

29 Bucs 0-2 (24)

30 Panthers 0-2 (25)

31 Browns 0-2 (31)

32 Jaguars 0-2 (32)


Email: pdomo@aol.com

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian.com

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