Two weeks into the 2017 Eagles season the team is 1-1, with a road victory against a division opponent and a tightly contested loss at one of the toughest venues in the NFL against one of the toughest teams in the NFL. There’s a lot to be happy about.
But one of the more surprising parts of the early success is that it’s come while one of the expected strengths of the team has been one of the more glaring weaknesses: the offensive line.
Entering the first week of the season the offensive line is always at a bit of a disadvantage because there is no current tape on the defense they’ll be facing.
“There are always a few un-scouted defensive looks that they present,” Head coach Doug Pederson acknowledged after the Eagles first game against Washington.
The Eagles struggled to run the ball in each of their first two games. While LeGarrette Blount saw the majority of work, holes were hard to come by for any ball carrier and the Eagles failed to find a run longer than seven yards while averaging just 2.4 yards a rush.
“It’s good when you have enough talent and when you play good enough where you can win on the road against a division opponent and still have a lot of things to work on” Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.
A sack-laden opener could have been worse if not for the tactful movement of Carson Wentz in the pocket. Most notable was his evasion of the rush before throwing the Birds’ first touchdown to Nelson Agholor.
There was less of that evasion to go around and more sacks to be found in Week 2 against the Chiefs. Kansas City brought Carson Wentz down six times, batted balls at the line of scrimmage, and turned one into an interception and two into fumbles. The majority of the damage was done by Chris Jones, who was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after the game.
The Eagles again struggled to feature a consistent running game despite some acceptable final numbers aided by Wentz’ scrambles. Blount had zero carries following his featured role in Week 1, and the Eagles threw the ball 46 times compared to 17 rushing attempts (four of these quarterback scrambles). That disparity is partly do to an inability to establish the run that forces throwing situations on the team.
“A lot of times, when you’re in these games like this, and you struggle to run your core runs, it becomes hard,” Pederson said Monday. “And then you put yourself in a second and 12, a second and 13.”
The blame for the struggles has been shared out amongst the team equally, whether Wentz says he holds the ball too long, or the coaches acknowledge they need to do a better job. But several questions have focused on the role of second year guard Isaac Seumalo, the team’s third round draft pick last season out of Oregon State who is two starts into his career at left guard. The team opened the spot for Seumalo by trading veteran Allen Barbre in the off-season.
Seumalo has struggled in the run game in particular, and the availability of experienced backups behind him: Chance Warmack (48 career starts at guard) and Stefan Wisniewski (83 career starts including six for the Eagles last season) leads to questions about how long a leash he will be on this season. Pederson wasn’t shy in his support for the young guard.
“He’s smart and he knows where to go,” Pederson said. “He understands the scheme, both run and pass. He’s one that we continue to work and build with.”
Regardless of his struggles this season, it’s clear Seumalo is in the Eagles plans for the long term.
The line’s struggles in the pass game have often been exacerbated so far this short season by a running back’s inability to pick up their blitzer. Reich said after the Washington game the problems are with the blocking itself rather than any failure understanding schemes.
“We were assignment sound,” he said. “Where we missed sometimes was on technique.”
The Eagles will have to clean up these issues in Week 3. Sunday they play the Giants, a team with numerous pass-protection issues of their own the Eagles can exploit, but one with their own dangerous pass rush and opportunistic defense. Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul will have enjoyed watching some of the Eagles game tape this past weekend. Let’s hope they don’t feel the same after Sunday.