Nov 7, 2012, 2:22 PM EDT
LeSean McCoy is finding very little room to run. Michael Vick is getting killed out there. The offensive line is already in shambles, and the news on Todd Herremans is not good. Now ask yourself honestly: is any one man truly at fault for the state of the offensive line?
You can lump a lot of the blame on Andy Reid for the Eagles’ 3-5 record, but the offensive line has been hit by a natural disaster. If Herremans is done, that will be the third lineman lost for the season to injury. In addition, Danny Watkins has missed the last two games as well, which means as many as four starters could be out for Sunday’s game against Dallas.
Four out of five are hurt. Don’t give me depth. No NFL team could survive without 80% of their starting line. Hell, several NFL teams can’t even survive with their starting five intact. At least the Eagles appeared to have a decent line back in March.
Then Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon during a private workout, and no matter how much we said next guy up, that was going to be a big hit. There is no replacing a Jason Peters. A five-time Pro Bowler, Peters was coming off of his best season yet, earning first-team All-Pro honors for the first time in his career, and gaining recognition as quite possibly the best lineman in football.
The Eagles tried their best to cover the loss. They re-signed King Dunlap, who had played well in relief situations, and went out and added Demetress Bell, who was regarded as the top free agent left tackle. There was a reason Bell was still available weeks into the league’s signing period though, and the team appeared set to let Dunlap walk prior to Peters going down.
Both have been adequate at best when given the chance to play, which is about the level of play you can expect with any backup at that position. There is a reason there is such a premium on left tackles on draft day: they are very difficult to find, and more often not, a good one is not sitting on somebody’s bench.
Peters’ absence reverberated down the line, but the Eagles were on their way to 2-0 when Jason Kelce suffered a torn ACL against Baltimore. Kelce was the perfect center for Howard Mudd’s scheme, arguably had Pro Bowl potential, and suddenly he was gone, too.
We’ve seen firsthand what the loss of a center can do to an offensive line. The Eagles lost Jamaal Jackson two years in a row. In 2009, Jackson suffered a torn ACL in Week 16, and the Birds’ offense pulled up lame in back-to-back losses at Dallas to end the season. The following season, Jackson was knocked out in the season opener with a torn triceps, and the line was shaky all year.
Unfortunately, finding a backup plan at center isn’t any easier than it is at left tackle.
After spending last season behind Kelce on the depth chart, Jackson was released in the offseason. He generated some interest from the Giants in May, but left the team after one day, and was rumored to be out of shape. He’s still available, so that should tell you how the league views Jackson at this stage. The Eagles signed journeyman Steve Vallos from the Browns, but he ultimately lost a training camp battle to Dallas Reynolds, who spent the previous three seasons on the club’s practice squad. The coaches even auditioned Julian Vandervelde during training camp, a second-year guard taken in the fifth round.
We could stop here. Overcoming a loss at left tackle or center would be a challenge for any team. Having to overcome both in the same season might be impossible. Now the right tackle is out, too, and there are only so many quality offensive linemen in the NFL.
The one spot where it appears Reid did make a significant misstep is with Watkins. The Inq’s Jeff McLane called the 2011 first-round pick an out-and-out mistake last week, as Watkins has been terribly inconsistent since he was plugged in at right guard last season, and even more erratic so far this year.
That said, while we’ll allow for the fact that Watkins hasn’t lived up to where he was selected in the draft, he’s not exactly the problem here. With a healthy line last season, the Eagles were at least able to mask Watkins’ miscues. He was serviceable. Unfortunately, they needed him to be more than that this year given all their injuries.
Of course, Watkins is out right now as well, leaving Evan Mathis as the lone healthy starter. At this point, it simply isn’t about a lack of depth. Any way you slice it, the Eagles are starting almost an entire offensive line of backups. Dunlap, Bell, Reynolds, Dennis Kelly… any one of those guys alone might be construed as solid depth to somebody. Together, they’re a mix-and-match collection of guys who had never played together before, and weren’t good enough to be outright starters coming into this season.
Nobody can seem to stop talking about how bad this group is, but what did anybody expect to happen? We knew the Eagles weren’t going to be the same team without Jason Peters, that they were always one more major injury away from catastrophe. Let’s not act like we’re stunned now, or run around pointing fingers, when there was really no avoiding this mess.
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