Eagles’ reshuffled line stifling offense
Three straight losses since a Week 9 win (over the Matt Cassel-led Cowboys) have dropped the Eagles to 4-7. All three teams that beat Philadelphia have losing records and are not realistically in the playoff race. The inquest has begun, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, where Chip Kelly’s unit continues to splutter. One significant recent issue is an injury to OT Jason Peters, which has not only robbed the Eagles’ of their most talented lineman, but has also had a ripple effect on the rest of the line.
Missing the All-Pro
Over the past two years, Jason Peters graded amongst our top five offensive tackles. He finished fifth in 2013, recording a +27.2 grade. Last year, he ranked third, recording the fourth-best pass blocking efficiency rating at the position, and a +34.7 grade. This year, despite missing a couple of games due to injury, he’s ranked only just outside the top five, with a +14.5 grade (sixth-best in the league). He remains one of the better pass protectors in the league, and uses his athleticism to great effect in the screen game. Peters’ is also adept at blocking on the second level in the run game.
Any team would miss a player of his quality, but his injury has had a ripple effect on his teammates’ performances.
Lane Johnson was considered a future left tackle when he was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. However, with Peters already installed at the position, Johnson was given the starting job on the right side. After an inconsistent rookie year, Johnson improved in 2014, finishing 20th overall in our tackle rankings. Peters’ injury has forced Johnson to move over to the left side, though, and the results have not been good. Overall at right tackle, he gave up three sacks, a hit, and 10 hurries from 350 snaps—or a pressure every 25 snaps. In contrast, on the left side, he’s given up four sacks, five hits, and two hurries in 141 reps, or a pressure every 13 plays.
His struggles proved significant early in the Eagles’ loss to Detroit on Thanksgiving, where he committed a facemask penalty in pass protection, and then was beaten for a strip sack by Ziggy Ansah. If this was Johnson’s audition for the position, then he should be concerned about getting the job full time. We’ve seen players struggle with the transition previously—Michael Oher, for example, was outstanding on the right side as a rookie (27.9), but had difficulty in his second year when moved over to the left (-3.8 grade).
Johnson’s pass protection statistics by position:
|Position||Sacks||Hits||Hurries||Pass protection snaps|
A lack of depth
The Eagles haven’t drafted an offensive lineman since the first day of the 2013 draft, when Johnson was selected. They haven’t invested much in the offensive line in free agency, either. Initially, when Peters went down, Matt Tobin was moved to left tackle. That experiment was rapidly abandoned after he gave up a pair of sacks and four hurries against the Panthers. Tobin has now moved back to guard, with Johnson manning the left side, and Dennis Kelly taking over at RT. To be fair to him, Kelly has done a decent job. Overall, he has a +2.3 grade in three and a half games. Still, he’s allowed three sacks and 11 hurries, culminating in a -3.4 grade in pass protection. Although he hasn’t played great, Kelly has held his own.
The Eagles’ offense has a number of issues, from the struggles of DeMarco Murray and the running game, to a group of wide receivers who can’t generate separation. One of the biggest recent problems, however, is the reshuffle on the offensive line. Not only has Jason Peters’ injury taken the Eagles’ most talented lineman off the field, but it’s disrupted the performances of the only other reliable player at the position. It was an injury the Eagles could ill-afford, leaving an under-performing offense with even more concerns.