Eagles Wake-Up Call: Taking Stock Of the O-Line

Philadelphia Eagles offensive line coach Howard MuddThe area where the Eagles are most likely to shake up personnel during the bye week is the offensive line.

The problem? They don’t have a lot of options. We’ll see if they sign someone or even make a trade. But given the way the roster currently stands, let’s take a look at all five spots to see where things could be headed in the final 10 games.

Left tackle: King Dunlap won the starting job out of camp and was the man the first two weeks before suffering an injury. Since then, it’s been Demetress Bell. The Eagles are looking for adequate out of this spot, not great. They know none of their current options is going to be Jason Peters. I thought Bell gave them adequate a couple weeks ago against the Steelers. But he struggled big-time against the Lions.

The key with Bell is this: Do you think he can be significantly better a few weeks from now? If the answer is yes, you stick with him. After all, this is the guy the Eagles targeted in the offseason to fill in for Peters, and he comes with a track record of having started 24 games prior to 2012. But if you anticipate him playing more games like last week, you have to make a change. One option, and probably the most likely, is to go back to Dunlap. The other (and a longshot) would be to throw rookie Dennis Kelly into the mix.

Left guard: Evan Mathis has not been as consistent as last year, but he’s the least of the concerns on the offensive line. The Eagles took a look at Chris Williams yesterday. He started nine games at left guard for the Bears last year.

Center: Jason Kelce’s injury has simply been devastating. He started the first two games, and since then, it’s been Dallas Reynolds. The offense had a pair of botched snaps last game, one of which resulted in a turnover. You can live with Reynolds missing blocks and getting beaten, but errors like the snap that sailed past Michael Vick will kill this team.

The Eagles have veteran Steve Vallos on the roster, but all signs indicate they’re not too confident in him. Remember, Reynolds beat out Vallos in the preseason. And even though the Eagles brought Vallos back, he’s been inactive the past two games. Instead of having him dress as Reynolds’ backup, the Eagles have gone with Mathis. So if you’re looking for a truly outside-the-box idea, that might be it – give Mathis a shot at center.

Last week, when I was asked Todd Herremans why the Eagles have improved against the blitz, he pointed to preparation and mentioned that Mathis had been going to meetings with Reynolds and Vick. From a physical standpoint, Mathis is better than Reynolds. And going over the protection calls probably wouldn’t be a major issue. But there are two major red flags. One is that Mathis has never played center in the NFL (yes, that’s a big one). And the other is this: If you’re weakening left guard to potentially upgrade at center, then what’s really the point?

Right guard: Danny Watkins continues to be way too up-and-down in his second season, specifically in pass protection. Does he have his moments? Sure. Watkins did a good job pulling in front of a LeSean McCoy run last week, and I showed with the All-22 how he did a nice job on a 17-yard screen. But overall, just too many mistakes.

I know some are calling for him to be replaced, but Watkins doesn’t look any worse to me now than he did for much of last season. And the truth is, the Eagles don’t have a lot of options to replace him. Dunlap played a game at guard last season and held up well. But asking him to play there every week is a different story. Kelly played guard in the preseason, but it’s unlikely that the rookie would be able to step in and provide a significant upgrade. The Eagles signed Nate Menkin from the Texans’ practice squad, but he seems like more of a down-the-road option.

In other words, I think they stick with Watkins and hope that he improves.

Right tackle: Of all the positions, this is where the Eagles actually have some flexibility. Todd Herremans has been up-and-down this season. And you know he can play guard at a high level. But the only reason you move him inside is if you’re able to adequately replace him at right tackle. Would I consider Dunlap adequate? Probably. But I have concerns about him holding up for a 10-game stretch. If they really like Kelly, he could be an option too.

I’m not sure replacing Watkins with Herremans and Herremans with Dunlap/Kelly is a significant upgrade. If the Mathis-to-center move is an option, then perhaps Herremans moves to left guard. But that would mean three of the five spots would be occupied by new starters – probably too drastic a shake-up for Week 8 of the regular season.

I’d say it’s unlikely that Herremans gets moved back to guard at this point, but given the struggles of this group, my guess is all options are on the table for the final 10 games.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Even if he wants to, Andy Reid cannot replace Vick with Nick Foles. Tim explains why.

While we are well aware of the offensive line’s struggles, this week’s All-22 analysis shows that Vick left too many plays on the field Sunday.

Reid is getting slammed by the national media for his decision to fire Juan Castillo.

The link between Todd Bowles and Bill Parcells was formed during Bowles’ playing days.

What does the Castillo firing say about Reid? Tim takes a look.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

SI.com’s Don Banks has the Eagles 13th in his power rankings:

Well, I’d say Andy Reid finally understands the urgency of the situation in Philly. It’s win-or-surrender-your-parking-space time. Firing a coordinator and benching a quarterback are two of the biggest cards an embattled head coach can play in midseason to try to save the ship from going down. Reid just did one of those, and looks ready to do the other any minute now.

Joe Banner was introduced as new CEO of the Cleveland Browns yesterday and was asked how his current situation compares to taking over the Eagles. Per the team’s Web site:

“There are a lot of analogies. You’re in a market with a fan base that’s just tremendously passionate and frankly, in running a franchise there’s nothing more valuable than being in a place where they care that much and there’s that much passion and interest. That’s very analogous to what I had in Philadelphia. The challenge is how do we take advantage of that and how do we reward that quite frankly, whether it’s a gameday experience, getting from your car to the stadium or buying a hot dog at the concession stand or how you feel when you walk out of the building based on how the team performed. We’re going to evaluate every single aspect of that and that’s again similar to Philadelphia. There will be some places where a little incremental improvement can be made and there will some places, frankly, where you’ll see dramatic changes, but it will take time.”

COMING UP

You should know by now that Birds 24/7 doesn’t believe in the bye week. We’ll have plenty of content to get you through the day.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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