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November 13, 2020

Mailbag: The future of the Eagles' offensive line

Eagles NFL
138_11032019_EaglesvsBears_Brandon_Brooks_Jason_Kelce_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Brandon Brooks (79) and Jason Kelce (62) during the Philadelphia Eagles game against the Chicago Bears at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on November 3, 2019.

In our Eagles chat on Thursday, there were a lot of questions that we could not get to in time or other questions we did answer but could use more color. And so, let's do a mailbag post to answer some of the overflow, as well as some commonly asked questions on Twitter and via email.

To note, we had so much overflow of good questions that we'll have two mailbags (one now, one on Saturday).

Question from Bird Gang: I've heard Chris Long say that in the Eagles’ system, once the OT crashes down, the DE's responsibility is to follow him down the line, and not contain against things like reverses and naked boots. If that's the case (and I have no doubt it is), whose job is it to protect against that stuff? They've been getting killed with it for years.

The following maybe doesn’t answer your question, but I think it’s relevant to your question, if that makes sense. LB coach Ken Flajole got asked this week about those misdirections and reverses and such, from a linebacker perspective, and his answer was essentially that getting beaten on a few of those is simply the cost of doing business the way they want to run their scheme.

“I’m going to put the majority of that on me as a coach. I’m such a hard press guy to say that we got to play downhill in the run game, that a lot of times when we get the misdirection runs, does that put us behind the eight ball? Probably. We could back them off a little bit, but in my opinion all you’re doing is swapping problems. To us, we’re a gap-controlled defense and we play a lot of eight-man fronts. So we’re very heavy, very urgent about playing downhill and securing our gaps. 

"Does that come with a cost with the reverses and the misdirection runs? Maybe to some extent. We continue to try and work on those things. But, again, job No. 1 for us is to be able to stop the running backs. And, again, if a lot of the yardage is coming off of wide receiver reverses, jet sweeps, those kinds of things, again, it’s kind of the price of doing things with how we operate as a defense.”

Question from greenwithenvy: As you pointed out, the Eagles are on pace for a ridiculous amount of sacks this year. Is O-line the biggest off-season need? I don't know how you rely on Brandon Brooks or Lane Johnson at this point.

In that article, which was already really long, I stopped short of adding in my own big picture notes, which I probably should have done. But one of them would have been that the offensive line has “only” been responsible for 14.5 of the Eagles' 32 sacks allowed, which still isn’t great, but given that they have been missing four starters at times this year, it could be worse.

I do think you they have to have a plan in case Brooks and Johnson just can’t stay healthy anymore, but I don’t think it’s their biggest need. I think there are stronger arguments for DE, DT, LB, CB, and slot WR.

Question from Kristen Roche of Roche Realtors: If some of the bigtime O-lineman (David Bakhtari, Joe Thuney, Trent Williams) hit free agency, do you think Howie makes a move despite limited cap space? Thinking similar to Brandon Brooks as a free agent years ago.

Well, as you note, the lack of cap space is going to prevent them from spending a lot of money on anyone, really, and I can’t see them dumping another mountain of financial resources into what is already projected to be the most expensive OL in the NFL in 2021.

But also, when you look at the OL, there aren’t really any spots to fit a new guy in:

LT: Like it or not, Andre Dillard is going to get his shot.

LG: Seumalo is young, a solid starter, and relatively cheap.

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C: We’ll see if Kelce retires. If so, drafting a C, or sliding Seumalo inside would make sense, and then they’d have to fill the LG spot, which I think they could do with either Jack Driscoll, another rookie draft pick, or you could ask a guy like Nate Herbig to hold his own.

RG: Brooks and his contract aren’t going anywhere.

RT: Johnson and his contract aren’t going anywhere. 

Also, it’s “Kristin Roach of Roach Realtors,” ha, and thanks for listening to the podcast!

Question from Cutter: Which is better?

A. JP-Seumalo-Kelce-Herbig-Lane

B. Mailata-Seumalo-Kelce-JP-Lane

For weeks I have thought that Jordan Mailata has played better than Jason Peters. After going through my sacks allowed exercise, I’m not so sure that was right. Mailata has had some pretty bad reps, and I think we’re just more forgiving of them because he’s new to the sport, while JP has played forever. 

So there are a number of different ways to answer this question:

What will the Eagles do? A.

What is probably the best combo for immediate success? A.

What would I do, knowing that this season is not going to result in a Super Bowl? Either B, or maybe even Mailata-Seumalo-Kelce-Herbig-Lane.

Question from Bird Gang: Does Nate Herbig have the description of "average starting NFL OG" in his future?

Herbie has already shown that he can at least be competent at LG or RG. We haven’t seen him play center yet in a real game, but the team has given him reps there in training camp (and probably in practice during the season). Ideally, I think he’s a Stefen Wisniewski type, who can come off the bench and play any of the three iOL spots.

Question from Footba11Joe: If you were GM Jimmy and someone called and offered a 2nd round pick for Fulgham right now, (trade deadline has passed, but shut up), would you take it?

I would not.

Question from SpongeWorthy: Is Fulgham signed for next season?

He is. He’ll be a restricted free agent in 2022.

Question from todonedee: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has 2 years left on his contract. Convert him to TE in the offseason?

I don’t think they’ll go that route, but I do think it’s worth considering, since the Eagles will have Travis Fulgham, Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward (maybe), John Hightower, and Quez Watkins (maybe) in 2021, plus a possible addition in the 2021 draft.

He’s a willing blocker, and he has some size, at least for a receiver, but he would be a very small TE. Here’s what his spider chart looks like at TE.

Maybe one comp, at least size-wise, would be Jordan Reed, who is 6’2, 242. Arcega-Whiteside is 6’2, 225, so he’d have quite a bit of bulk to add.

Question from Scojos: Now that we’ve seen more of Boston Scott and he is who we thought he was, what’s your ideal type of RB2 back to complement Miles Sanders? And any mid-round guys in 2021 who fit that mold?

Well, to begin, I do think Boston Scott has a useful skill set and is worthy of a role in this offense, but he is not a three-down back, by any stretch. As you are all aware, Scott has receiving skills, and he’s a nice change-of-pace, shifty, complementary guy. 

On occasions in which Sanders isn’t available, which has been sort of a common theme for him early in his career, Scott and a bigger back who can get tough yards inside could combine to give you something close to what Sanders is on his own.

I think there are a lot of those types of guys likely to come out in the 2021 draft. I would just say categorically that we’ll get to as many of those guys as possible in our Grocery Shopping series this year, but we’re on the same page there.

Question from PF: Hey Jimmy, have you or any of the other beats done a deep dive on the Eagles' screen game issues? They've been horrible in that area this year, but it seems that Doug wants it to be a key piece of the offense. Is it just the OL continuity or are there other factors at play?

I’ve been meaning to do something with the screen game, or lack thereof. It’s hours of work merely going through 8 games and finding all the screen plays before I can even start to figure out why they’re failing. So it’s just been a matter of trying to find the time to isolate those plays.

But anecdotally, what seems to be a theme is that opposing defensives have sniffed them out really easily, which as you note, could be attributed to a lack of continuity by the offensive line, given the precise timing and cohesive deception that goes into being a successful screen team.

Question from Ross: Were the Cowboys dumb for using their first round pick on CeeDee Lamb when they have so many holes on the defensive side of the ball, or were they smart for going BPA?

He was my No. 1 receiver in that draft like he was for so many others, and to get him at 17th overall was incredible value. They did the right thing.

Question from Pragmatic: Best first round opponent for the Eagles?

Bears, by far. They send Nick Foles on these deep drops and run slow-developing routes down the field. The Eagles’ D-line would crush them. They would win that game. That said, I don’t like the Bears’ chances of being the top wildcard team.

The Bucs are a bad matchup for them, as are the Rams, though I think they’d have a fighting chance against the Cardinals in a cold weather game.

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